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Matsubara Naoko: Weeping Beech Tree (1967)

"I was SupposedTo want what that Success offered, but didn't."

I've always struggled with SupposedTo expectations, the ones that insisted upon one specific response. I couldn't always muster such a reaction, but I also noticed that the very injunction tended to nudge most of my motivation to comply right out of me. I'd start plotting how to avoid satisfying the expectation instead. I became a terrified learner, for instance, strapping myself in for another ordeal the first day of every quarter, certain only that I would shortly feel overwhelmed with expectations with which I'd feel unable to comply. I came of age understanding that I should be self-employed if only I possessed a talent.

Oh, I could work for someone else, but it helped if I could concoct a story that reframed the relationship from me depending upon their job to the job more depending upon me.
I thought of myself as an independent contractor, doing my bidding. Sometimes I'd resort to outright fantasy, and my more authoritarian bosses did not always appreciate my attitude, but the perspective worked well for me. Part of this little agreement with myself came the notion that I would never achieve anything like conventional Success, which I imagined came exclusively from doing someone else's bidding. In my story, I was not the successful sort. I set about learning those ropes.

I mostly learned how to avoid buying things. I avoided collecting the usual toys the men as boys tended to accumulate: no golf clubs, no skis, no second car, no machines. I found a serviceable manual push mower and learned to pride myself on my primitive tools. I declared myself incapable of operating power tools. I claimed my older brother's bicycle leftover from our old paper route days. My friends bought mountain bikes. I kept that '63 Schwinn. Others went on trips. I stayed home and read about faraway places. That first house lost value every year we owned it. My job offered job security without too much in the way of upward mobility. I had a family. Responsibility. I settled in by lowering my expectations. I would call whatever I already had Successful and learn how to settle for that. Alternatives seemed impossible, so why bother any further?

I eventually blew up that life, or it blew up on me. I went out into a different world which turned out to be not all that different after all. I came to work with some of the most successful people in the world. So why were they hiring me to provide advice? I found their situations universally unenviable, for most maintained far too many toys for my liking. Their lives seemed more burdens than liberations, even with those bundles of stock options, or, perhaps, because of them. Their sports car came with an ugly commute attached, ditto their Pacific Heights home with a view. On the other hand, they could easily afford any lifestyle in the world, so why that one?

I was fortunate since I never learned to lust after success. My passions never manifested in current fashions. I consumed inconspicuously, almost exclusively, in ways that only I would probably appreciate. I shunned competition, never very interested in one-upping anyone. I eventually became unemployable, no longer the owner of any skill for which anyone would be terribly interested in hiring. I became a writer at my own insistence. I wrote stories about my unenviable existence. Success found me performing on a stage of my own making with a small collection of the most interesting people. I consider myself a successful refugee from the many distractions Success was SupposedTo provide to our best and brightest. I was SupposedTo want what that Success offered, but didn't.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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