In 1988, a man named William ”Bud” Post III won the Pennsylvania Lottery jackpot. He was awarded a sum of $16.2million (over $35 million today) to the envy of pretty much everybody in the country, and probably the whole Western world altogether.
William was, of course, delighted with this win. His mother had passed away when he was a young boy, and he was sent to an orphanage to end up with god knows who. As a young man, he undertook a variety of jobs – a cook, a painter, a truck driver – each as uninspiring and dead-end as the last.
At the time of his win, Post had less than $3 in his bank account – at 49 years old. He had served time in jail for issuing invalid checks, and his lottery win seemed to be the catharsis of a lifetime of struggle. He had finally made it. All the years of the bullshit he had to endure were worth it – as he had finally been on the receiving end of some good news. At almost 50 years old, his life could finally begin.
(Actual odds of winning – 1 in 380,000,000)
Post went apeshit with his spending – he blew $300,000 on gifts and other novelties straight away and even bought a fucking plane despite not knowing how to fly it. Hell, why not? The money was all his and he could do whatever he wanted with it. He had been chewed up and spat out by life for long enough, and it was finally his time to shine.
When we think of stories like William Post’s, there is an understandable feeling of jealousy. Here was a guy who lady luck plucked out of obscurity and handed over a golden throne to. Whilst everybody else was at work, Post woke up one morning, bought a ticket, and was set for life. He was truly was a rags to riches story, minus the part in the middle where the person actually does some work to earn their fortune. It was like the gods had provided him with a cheat code for life – suddenly he was rich behind his wildest dreams – suddenly, he was complete.
Well, he was for a while.
Like most material things in life, the idea of winning the lottery turned out to be better than actually winning it for him. His extreme wealth only brought out the worst in not only himself, but in those few people who were close to him. Shortly after his win, his brother tried to murder him. He was jealous, and hired a hit-man to take out his brother and his wife – the attempt failed. However, one-third of Post’s winnings were given to his girlfriend after she had sued him. Soon, he had racked up so much debt his mansion was repossessed, and he tried to scare off the debt collector by firing a shotgun at him. He also tried to gun down his sixth wife a few years later.
“Everybody dreams of winning money, but nobody realizes the nightmares that come out of the woodwork, or the problems” – he said, before going on to say ””I was much happier when I was broke.”
He died at age 66. For the last few years, he had lived off food stamps and a weekly retainer. Post died a destitute, debt-ridden, shotgun-wielding shell of his former, wealthy self.
We all know that adage ‘money doesn’t buy you happiness’ – that is not a novel concept, and Post’s story isn’t just an example of that old saying. We are all, or have been, Robert Post before – we may have not had his millions, but his story is relevant to almost every human on Earth.
We all are obsessed with not only being happy but being ‘complete’. If you’ve ever seen or read Fight Club – you’ll be aware of the narrator. Hoarding furniture, ornaments, trinkets, and everything else in the Ikea catalogue he can get his hands on, his apartment becomes the microcosmic representation of his pursuit of completeness. When his apartment explodes, he doesn’t just lose his objects, but his sense of identity along with it.
Life is Not Mt. Everest, It’s More Like Mt. Vesuvius
The tragic mistake both William Post and the narrator in Fight Club made is their idea that that completeness is akin to climbing a mountain, with a visible start, visible steps, and a visible climax.
Post thought he had ascended to life’s summit after his lottery win, yet he was not aware that a multi-million-dollar bank account meant dealing with multi-million-dollar problems. The unnamed narrator believed that he was just one carpet rug away from clawing to the summit of his life’s work.
That’s because life is not a mountain and completeness doesn’t greet its climber after their journey to the top. Life is more like Mt. Vesuvius, as it can (and will) fuck you for no rhyme or reason and at a moment’s notice. Cheerful, right?
Just one wank away from completeness…
Life doesn’t care if you’re complete or not, it just does its thing. It doesn’t care if you have an imported Japanese coffee table or an antique Aztec rug – because these things are meaningless, fleeting, arbitrary concepts. Life will devour these things in a pool of hot, flaming lava if it wants to, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
Well, That’s Depressing – So How Do I Feel Complete?
Going back to our old friend Mt Vesuvius, who decimated an entire civilization in 79AD (that rascal!) – one thing we do learn is how much life can change, for better or worse, in an instant. William Posts ‘Vesuvius’ moment was him winning the lottery. His life changed in a flash, but it ultimately ruined him, and his mega wealth started a chain of events that eventually fucked his life up beyond repair.
However, once we let go of this need for ‘completion’, we can start to let life do its thing. You aren’t a job, a house, a car, or a six-pack away from completion. Life is fundamentally an unfinished project – it is Mount Vesuvius deciding it wants to erupt. It doesn’t care what’s underneath, you just better be ready when it does.
I could do a whole separate post about the perils of the self-help industry, and how it markets ‘buy this book and you’ll be complete’ – when in reality, it wants the exact opposite of that. The self-help industry’s worst nightmare is a world full of actualized people, as nobody would want their books or products anymore. It markets the notion of ”completeness’ and makes up problems you didn’t even know you had in order for you to spend your money.
The whole notion of ‘completeness’ is one of the most enduring, frustrating, and profitable myths…
In the words of Fight Club director David Fincher…
”A work is never completed, but merely abandoned. A work of art is never completed, only abandoned. Books are never finished—they are merely abandoned. Films are never completed, they are only abandoned.”
Life, and people, are never completed. They are, and always will be, unfinished.
So let go of this need and wait for the volcano to do its thing. It may end up being a good thing.