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Franz von Stuck: Wounded Amazon (1905)

"I'll never erase those debts my Fuccesses inflicted …"

I speak today of Success that feels like failure, the advancing through terrifying turbulence, the wounding of the enthusiastic optimist. We've all been through this, where the cost of advancement hardly seems worth the effort, though we convince ourselves that it probably will be, eventually, even if it doesn't feel worth it that day. Success can be a terrible taskmaster, demanding much more than we would have willingly invested when we started, but often no more than we'd enthusiastically part with under coercion, as necessary to turn off the punishment or nudge us across some promising finish line. We imagine the expense worth it, though validation of that presumption usually has to come later. We might always carry the scar of that Success, for that wound might have made all the difference, a debt carried forward, a down payment never actually repaid. Sometimes Success changes more than one's fortune.

One might learn to approach each opportunity warily as if Success features teeth and claws once it has wounded.
We might remember feeling betrayed without ever really understanding what happened, how that glowing upside opportunity came to feature unanticipated liability, and how our naivety came undone. Lengthy contemplation won't reveal the connection. One might never understand the causation, how good intentions turned into malign extensions, how the wounding actually happened. One remembers the isolation, the sequestration, the lengthy separation from their once innate optimism. We learn that even good fortune might well inflict consequences, bitterness along with sweetness, and sour surrounding sweet.

Wise ones might catch themselves opting to fail, for inevitable failure seems superior to punishing Success. A pattern of left-footed engagement might emerge as a form of protection such that failing replaces the more naive notions of Success, with nothing any better in contention. This pattern can become life-long and even rather satisfying since it reliably sets up self-fulfilling results. If one expects to fail, the resulting failure can seem like a Success since it occurred just as expected. It delivered a promise, just the same as any Success might, and therefore satisfied its purpose. No, it's not absurd to suggest this as a lifestyle and one more common than the uninitiated might imagine. The wounded optimist might adopt the purpose never again to experience such an insult to their optimism, even if that requires aligning himself with a perfectly predictable pessimism—anything to avoid fresh wounds.

I recognize in myself this ability to deflect and select a soft failure over a difficult Success. This has not become my whole lifestyle yet, though I suspect it most certainly could become my dominant choice. As is, I often have to force myself to make a deliberate choice, usually a Damned-Whatever-I-Do one, between deliberately wounding my naive optimism or foregoing even a modest win. I'm not always up to a challenge, and I'm not usually in desperate need of a Success. I can rest on my previously collected laurels and put up a pretty good defense against improvement. When I choose, I might believe in free lunches for a minute, just long enough to sign the contract and obligate myself to whatever happens next. I hold such tenuous leverage over whatever might come next. I can't believe myself a victim, whatever happens then. My greatest Successes—this I can confidently report—have cost me the most, and many never adequately repaid the debt they created. They produced Success by other measures than happily-ever-after profits. I'll never erase the debts those Fuccesses inflicted. Thank heavens for my Fuccesses, I guess.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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