Fearful minds worry about death and change, including a change in their own interests: that's why they're often attracted to things like "ranks," "seniority," specific "hobbies" and charting "progress"--a guaranteed program of progression provides reassurance of an ordered background against which the individual can move. For example, staggered military promotions, age requirements for formally studying certain sets of subject material at a school or university, age requirements for serving in various public offices, or assiduously logging heart rate for exercise sessions. The message from the uncertain mind is, here:
What in God's name would I do if I ran out of ______________? I'd, I'd...! *gasp gasp!*
Refusing progression except by the passage of time, linked to the current lifespan of the human shell, gives reassurance to the fearful mind that there are still things "ahead" waiting to be accomplished. Suddenly, the fearful mind has a purpose; a planned goal. Uncertainty is limited.
What happens when the top is reached? For those who never reach "the top"--most people--they are able to relax within the framework, always chasing the carrot on a stick without having to worry about why there need be a carrot and a stick at all. For those few who do reach the top, they often have a problem: where to go now?
Frequently, they break down. Famous artists, musicians or athletes who come to be viewed as on the top of the hill suddenly realize that there is nowhere left to go. Having been operating under the delusion that their ascension was a mighty struggle, they come to the top discovering that there never was any carrot. Yeah, the booze and sex and toys are nice, but it all wasn't really about that, was it? There's something else more, isn't there?
So, they crash. Retired multi-millionaire athletes suddenly find themselves unable to do anything with their lives, and end up returning to their earlier professions to re-play. Sometimes, this is a good thing--helping younger players enjoy the game--and sometimes it's a sign that they really don't know "what to do" with their life, except continue praying at the altar of progression.
Triumphant businessmen find themselves still desperately making money and attempting to increase the power and influence of their corporations; rainmaker lawyers or investment bankers struggle to out-partner one-another and get the $1.5M yearly bonus instead of the mere $1.4M that Johnson got.
Musicians or artists go back years later in attempts to revamp old material. They "slam" younger artists and try to rekindle the magical feeling of being on the slopes again, with the old hit that launched them into the miserable stratosphere of Nowhere To Go.
Or, all of the above destroy themselves with drugs or "fast living" of various kinds, attempting to burn themselves out to stop the crushing realization that the thing they were trying to get all along was of very little value.
Not that the winners of the game (necessarily) deserve more (or less) pity than those stuck playing it their entire lives. Yes, their illusions are shattered, but at least, in some sense, they come a bit closer to the truth than many sad, impoverished souls who struggle their entire lives to achieve something, always believing that there's a value in their pursuit. Is ignorance bliss, and is the true hell the realization of failure? Or is one a transcendent master only from having learned the truth, fallen, and broken free to look for something better?
Continued in Part 2: Cheap Thrills