THE REPETITION COMPULSION OF A SUCCESSFUL LOSER
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
When I am on the verge of material success I am compelled to ruin my chances. I learned to control this virtually suicidal urge somewhat over the years. I succeeded in not ruining my opportunity until it was enormous and certain. And then unbearable anxiety would set in, and I would blow my top, blow everybody off.
Realizing that I had just done what I had sworn to never do again as long as I lived, I lived regretfully for some time thereafter.
And then I did it again: I made the worst career mistake in my life. Three months later an even greater opportunity arose because of that mistake, and then I blew that one. I was in a state of shock that I can only describe as utter panic. I had chosen penury over being somebody for millions of dollars.
The only thing I could salvage was my greed for knowledge in hopes of being wise one day, a foolish endeavor according to the Oriental sages. I retreated into the stacks of the library to be what I always wanted to be, and that was not an enormously powerful and wealthy person.
In fact, my phobia was the fear of owning property, of being burdened down with things, so I gave my last few things away and spent my life savings on my abstract pursuits. Of course my one and only goal was rather grandiose: Saving the world with me in it. My version of World Salvation included saving stuff people need and also stuff they want if that makes them happy and does not harm others.
My behavior was not unique. I have heard of the “fear of success” and the psychology thereof. I have tried some of the therapies to relieve myself of the condition. Sigmund Freud referred to the syndrome as repetition compulsion. He associated the habit with a so-called death instinct, and surmised that habit itself is a sort of petrifaction or deadness. I must add that habit is the biggest help we have.
Maybe my repetition compulsion was not suicidal after all. Could it be that I somehow did not want the material success at hand because I wanted some other kind of success, a success that seemed like failure to others?
Perhaps my two major failures, the biggest mistakes in my life, the ones that apparently ruined my chances of fame and fortune or at least considerable financial security in my maturity, were actually the best mistakes I had ever made in terms of being the so-called Nobody of the classics, the freelancer who lances the eye of the single-minded Cyclops so that he and his comrades can get away with the sheep.
Perhaps so-called failure was my success. I had stranded myself in an ark of civilization, a great library in the middle of nowhere. I was a complete failure, but I believed I was the richest man on Earth. I had no personal hope for success except to be one of the greatest authors the world would ever or never know, and I cared not which.
Well, now, having been taught by the works of the greatest authors I found in the stacks, I know I am not that great, but I stay on track, and I am happy with my small progress.
Ludwig Gumplowicz made me mad along the way because he said by the time one finds out what is really going on it is too late.
This all might seem to be “sour grapes” to those in want of other things, but the fruit is sweet to me. It is an escape from the pathetic little man that I was, into intercourse with the greatest minds, and for brief moments, the Mind.
My career is writing. I ask nothing for my work and expect nothing useful from it. I do appreciate everything I get, which over the last sixteen years is a few compliments, 16 Likes, and $50 from a Catholic magazine.
That’s just how I am. I can’t help it because I don’t want to help it. I know people can understand how I feel, for we have some things in common.
Lately I have experienced some regret, almost enough to make a grumpy old man out of a happy-go-lucky fool. I need to get out and around, meet some people. Liz took me to Wal-Mart on the I-95. I got some badly needed shoes and two pairs of trousers. That adventure convinced me that I need to expand my horizons materially, find the means somehow to travel to those places in Europe I dreamed of visiting on a train. Maybe I can save the world with me in it after all.