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Max Roytenberg


Max Roytenberg, posted March 27, 2015, Phoenix, Arizona



I am not a psychologist, much less a psychoanalyst. But, like most of you, I cannot help speculating about the way people around me behave. Of particular interest to me are the individuals who inhabit the public spaces, inevitably attracting the focus of our attention. With the social media all the rage, events surrounding these individuals capture massive public attention. Out of the blue, things appear to happen with stunning suddenness, and individuals become public darlings. Then, poof, it may all go away. What happens to people after the flood of public adulation melts into nothingness? Don’t we desperately grasp to arouse that continued attention?




I remember once I had a role in a play, a Little Theatre production in our small suburban town. Shortly afterwards, as I was mowing my front lawn, a car slowly passed me on the road in front of my home. As the car passed, I heard someone say in a loud whisper, “isn’t that so and so who had that starring role in the play?” Immediately, I was lost, transformed-I was a famous thespian. For the next two weeks, I did not meet anyone in my community without subtly trying to steer the conversation toward the play in which I had performed, hoping for more adulatory comments. I was totally star-struck, as if I had been inoculated with a disease. I cold not help myself. I totally lost control. Fortunately, I GOT OVER IT. (Did I really? Does one ever?)




So, I understand a little why so many performers fail to survive the challenge of the fame and notoriety that they achieve. Still, I speculate about that. Get ready for it! I have a theory.





Why do these young people flame out like a match at the moments of what appear to be those of their highest achievement? Why do they persist in self-destructive behaviours when they have so much to live for? Why, so often, is this phenomenon associated with the creative arts? I believe that these young people, captured by fame at an early age, lack the balance and perspective that a more mature person may have developed. It may also be that the personality traits that may have been at the roots of their success, a slavish addiction to the limelight and notoriety, may carry with it the fear that they are not capable of carrying on the performance that will sustain their success. Could this lead to burning the candle at both ends? How many times have we seen those who have peaked early, among the casualties of mid-life crisis? Often, don’t we remember them only then?




To what degree does overwhelming success flow from some happy conjunction of a whole variety of factors that are unlikely to bear repetition? The right part, the right director, the flowering of talent, just the right co-star support-there are so many variables that may not be repeatable. So much can be the result of the luck of the draw meeting great talent. We know of many talented people who do not get the recognition they appear to deserve. There are exceptions of course. People like Bob Dylan and Beethoven persisted over the whole of their lives, but we remember the flame-outs more often because we so much regretted their passing from the scene.



Looking back, I can see associated patterns in my own history, and I wonder at how I coped with events. Many of you have probably done the same and have the same questions. Why do we rise to the challenge in some instances, and in others, prove to be hopelessly inadequate? Does the way, and the order in which these challenges occur play a role in our ultimate performance?



In my first job I soared up the ranks until I hit the glass ceiling. I noticed that my boss had been in the same job for twenty years and got the hint. In my next employment, begun with great hope and aspiration, I never quite fit in. I did some good things, but I

never really lived up to what was expected from a college graduate in an environment of high-school superstars. It was an appreciation for my own capacity for incompetence in some environments that may have kept my ultimate success in my next job from going to my head.




In that next effort, being the only one with the power of sight among companions who were almost totally blind to our realities and the actions necessary to cure our illnesses, I had power like I was a dictator. But, dancing safely in a hail of gunfire, as eloquently described by Churchill, to achieve victory without enduring serious wounds, was an exhilarating experience. I experienced being the sole reason that the world had changed in an important and positive way for thousands and thousands of people, innocents rescued from financial disaster and blessed with bright futures. Accomplishing the impossible, out of sight, knowing it would come with opposition, no recognition and only reluctant acquiescence, was a part of the deal. Soon forgotten, but for a brief period, nevertheless, there was a circle in which I was hailed as a messiah. (I was once asked by those who, furious, were forced by circumstance to agree to my demands, did I think I walked on water.) Those who have built institutions that have survived, owing to their stewardship, will understand what I feel. I stored away that feeling of satisfaction to relish in my future quieter moments. At least, I had done that with my life, if I had done nothing else.




There is no question in my mind that that experience was my career high point, barely recognized by the outside world, understood only by a few discerning observers. There were other jobs that yielded rewards in other ways. I do not diminish the role we can play during our personal journeys, improving the lives of the people immediately around us. I had the glorious experience of recapturing life with a childhood sweetheart, of fathering healthy children, of initiating small improvements in the world around me, doing what most of us try to do in a working life. But none of these accomplishments made me feel like a master of the universe, as I did after succeeding at that risky and challenging task. It was a heady feeling. In some ways, even as I aspired onward and upward, with some success, from the point of view of career achievement, for me, it was downhill from there. Chasing after material gains just doesn’t give one the same charge.



I am grateful for having survived the experience of peaking too soon. What is your story? Are there people out there who still remember you? 

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