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Life's Work Ruined

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"Forty years down the drain..."
Mr. Wilson note , Dennis the Menace

Alice has been spending years of her life focusing on a single great project, putting most or all of her leisure time and free money into it. Finally, it's approaching completion...but just before she can reveal it to the world at large, an unlikely and destructive chain of Disaster Dominoes and violent intruders conspires to utterly wreck everything she has accomplished. Cue Big "NO!". Or if you're looking to mix it up, Angrish. Specially if she had No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup.

Also a typical comedic relationship between the Mad Scientist, Wrench Wench, or Gadgeteer Genius and The Ditz or resident Cloud Cuckoolander.

If a villain is the victim of this, be prepared for a vicious and frightening Villainous Breakdown.

Compare to the relationship between the Spanner in the Works and the Chessmaster. See also All for Nothing.

Can also involve I Coulda Been a Contender!


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  • There were a couple of nineties Wrigley's commercials where someone has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (an astronomer seeing Haley's Comet and a lady who had saved up for years to see an extremely elusive whale) blown because their gum ran out of flavor and they had to search their pockets for another stick at just the wrong moment. Someone else comforts the totally bummed person by offering them some gum with longer-lasting flavor.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Instead of death, this is the punishment villains in One Piece get for their heinous actions, as the running theme of the series is following your dreams. All the villains have a central dream or ambition they work towards, problem is their methods often involve stepping on anyone in their way to achieving them. Their plans draw the attention of the protagonists, who are Nominal Heroes whose methods are unlawful themselves, when their actions Kick the Dog they personally befriended.
  • In Girls' Last Tour, this happens to two side characters. Kanazawa, who's spent a long time mapping the city, drops his maps when the elevator he's riding on tilts to the side. Meanwhile, Ishi completes the makeshift airplane she was working on, only for it to break apart in its maiden flight.

  • In How to Make an American Quilt, the protagonist's dissertation on quilting traditions gets blown away by an aggressive storm. She's pretty cheerful about it, though, because she's learned that love is more important than work. Or something.
  • Similarly, in Wonder Boys, Michael Douglas' character feels pretty good about losing the several thousand pages of his second novel, probably to indicate that it didn't measure up to his brilliant first one.
  • In the first Dennis the Menace movie, Mr. Wilson spent forty years growing a plant that only flowers once for a few seconds. So he invites the neighborhood to the flowering, but Dennis causes a distraction at the crucial instant by screaming that Mr. Wilson's house was being robbed. Thinking Dennis was Crying Wolf, Mr. Wilson then lays into Dennis with a Tranquil Fury-laden "The Reason You Suck" Speech, which leaves Dennis in tears and runs away in sadness. However, Dennis was telling the truth, and even ends up at the robber's mercy later note .
  • In Twice Upon a Time, Synonamess Botch drives his head nightmare writer Scuzzbopper to attempted suicide (and a Heel–Face Turn) by dismissively throwing his manuscript for a "Great A-Murk-ian Novel" out a window. He later experiences it himself when Ralph tricks him into prematurely detonating his entire arsenal of nightmare bombs before time starts back up, leaving the Rushers unaffected.
  • King Triton destroys Ariel's collection of salvaged treasure in Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989) after finding out that she was secretly in love with a human prince. This unfortunately leaves Ariel vulnerable enough for Ursula to take advantage of her for her Evil Plan.
  • Avengers: Endgame is built on the heroes invoking this and the villain's attempts to stop them. Thanos has dedicated his life to "balancing the universe", i.e. preventing an Overpopulation Crisis through brutal campaigns of slaughter. In the movie preceding this one, that goal is realized, and Endgame follows the heroes as they use Time Travel to gather the MacGuffins needed to restore the universe. When Thanos from the year 2014 learns of their plan, he follows them to the future with a revised Evil Plan: as far as he is concerned, he is a hero who is saving the universe from itself, and their "ungratefulness" means that they and everyone else must die so he can make a new world that will think of him as a hero.
  • In The Mad Magician, Ormond rings down the curtain on Don Gallico's debut performance as Stage Magician Gallico the Great. Ormond reveals that the contract Gallico signed means that all of the illusions he create belong to Ormond; even the ones Gallico created on his own time. This means Gallico can never appear on stage and, to add insult to injury, Ormondo sells 'The Lady and the Buzzsaw' illusions—a trick Gallico had spent years perfecting to be the climax of his act—to The Great Rinaldi; a magician Gallico hates.
  • The Man with Nine Lives: After being revived from being a Human Popsicle, Dr. Kravaal discovers that the gas he and the others had inhaled before being frozen allowed them to survive, and is the key to making the freezing therapy he has devoted to his life to developing actually work. One of the others, angry at having his life stolen away from him, grabs the paper containing the formula for the gas, rips it up and tosses it into the fire. In anger, Kravaal shoots him and then resolves to use the other survivors as guinea pigs until he rediscovers the formula.

  • The Accursed Kings: Enguerrand de Marigny is preparing a new law that will expel the Lombards from France, allowing the kingdom to seize their riches. The Lombard banker Tolomei shows up, having heard of this law, and proposes a deal: the Lombards will make a substantial one-time payment to the kingdom, the law doesn't get passed... and Tolomei doesn't need to show anyone the paper signed by Marigny's brother the archbishop proving he'd been selling off holy relics.
  • Amy burns Jo's manuscript in Little Women. It's clearly stated that Jo spent years (she's fifteen) of her life on this thing and that it's irretrievable as Jo destroyed the original manuscript after copying the stories to the one Amy burns.
  • A more benign variation occurs in The Moomins, where a philatelist ruins his ability to add to his collection of every stamp in the world ever by finishing it (ignoring the fact that new stamps are always being issued somewhere in the world). After a bout of depression he becomes a botanist.
  • In C. M. Kornbluth's short story "The Mindworm" (about a psychic vampire), the main character walks in on an artist who has finally set aside the time to undertake his Magnum Opus and unceremoniously smashes the raw material he painstakingly acquired. Apparently emotional states were like flavors, and he wanted a unique dish.
  • In the Knight and Rogue Series Ceciel spends her whole life experimenting to find a way to give humans magic. When she finally succeeds her test subject responds by trashing her lab, wrecking all her potions and burning all her years of notes before managing to convince her she failed anyway.
  • In A Clockwork Orange, Alex and his droogs shred the manuscript of F. Alexander's book A Clockwork Orange. Alexander rewrites the book from scratch; within two years it has been published.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Blackadder the Third centers on Baldrick's unwittingly destroying Dr. Samuel Johnson's life's work, the very first English dictionary. Johnson is, of course, enraged...until it turns out the manuscript that Baldrick burned was Blackadder's life's work, a novel that he'd spent over seven years writing. And then at the end of the episode, Baldrick really does toss the dictionary into the fire.
    Blackadder: Thank you, Baldrick — seven years of my life up in smoke. Your Highness, would you excuse me a moment?
    Prince George: By all means.
    Blackadder: (leaves the room) OH GOD, NO!! (returns) Thank you, sir.
  • Played with in an episode of Reno 911! where an author's novel manuscript is trapped in a burning building. He pleads with the cops to go in and save it, but they want to know if it's any good first. He describes it, but it turns out it's a derivative knockoff, and they let it burn.
  • Played for laughs in a British sketch show starring ex-Goon Michael Bentine. A guest on an interview show has spent ten years building a magnificent model of St. Paul's Cathedral out of matchsticks. Unfortunately the heat of the studio lights cause it to catch fire. The interviewer mutters, "Well, I expect we'll be seeing you again in ten years. Only this time I'd suggest taking the match heads off first."
  • In the Midsomer Murders episode "Orchis Fatalis", someone takes revenge on an orchid collector by pouring weedkiller over his priceless orchid collection. This being Midsomer, things soon escalate to murder.
  • The sketch-comedy show Almost Live! regularly featured a kung-fu parody called "Mind Your Manners with Billy Quan"; the fights would sometimes start with the same oaf thoughtlessly destroying Billy's latest painstaking masterpiece. The bulk of every episode involved Billy beating up the oaf in a deliberately cheesy martial arts duel as punishment for violating whatever rule of etiquette the episode is about.
  • In a Wings episode, Lowell shows Joe the model blimp he's spent years creating and makes Joe promise not to play with it. Joe plays it with anyway, and it promptly gets smashed behind a door.
  • In Power Rangers Samurai, Serrator spent 200 years preparing his master plan to conqueror Earth and the Netherworld, starting with cursing Deker and Dayu. However, when Deker refuses to comply at the pivotal moment, causing Serrator's 200 year ambition to go down the drain, the Nighlok loses it and goes on a vicious rampage.
    Serrator: Two hundred years of planning, ruined in an instant!
  • Columbo: In "Any Old Port in a Storm", the murderer Adrian Carsini does this to himself. He murders his half-brother by leaving him bound in his wine vault and turning off the air conditioner so he suffocates. However, while he is away, there is an unexpectedly hot day that raises the temperature in the uncooled vault to the point where the wine oxidizes; destroying his priceless collectionnote 

    Myths & Religion 
  • There's a legend about Saint Albertus Magnus who supposedly had built a working android, which could walk, would do household chores, and according to some could even speak. Albertus' greatest student Thomas Aquinas destroyed it (thinking it was the result of demonic possession), after which Albertus was said to have spoken: "The work of fifteen/twenty/thirty years is ruined." In Latin, of course.

  • Old Harry's Game: A posthumous one, when Karl Marx finds out just what the long-term effects of Das Kapital actually were, rather than ushering in the glorious utopia he thought it would. Not least because of all the hours spent sitting around writing it when he could've been dating.

  • Hedda Gabler burns the only copy of Lavborg's manuscript, on which he'd staked his future. Unhappiness and deaths ensue. This is Ibsen, after all.

    Video Games 
  • A major part of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney involves this: Valant Gramarye has been waiting for seven years to inherit his mentor's magic tricks by virtue of Zak, the actual heir, being declared Legally Dead after having gone missing all that time (unbeknownst to him, Zak is already dead). Turns out they passed on to someone else. And he finds this out on the day he was due to finally perform them.
  • This is Lady Vayle's reason for revenge against Artix in AdventureQuest Worlds and DragonFable. She had dedicated her entire life in the pursuit of necromancy in order to bring her brother back, but thanks to Noxus being a dick and Artix destroying the crystal that had her brother's spirit orb inside after having to destroy the Monster from Beyond the Veil that her brother's body had become...yeah.
  • In the Interactive Fiction game Damnatio Memoriae by Emily Short, you have very limited time to hide or destroy all evidence of your supernatural powers before your room is searched. One of the damning pieces of evidence is your book, years in writing, that describes faraway lands (which you couldn't have possibly written without using your magic.) If you don't manage to hide it, other options are either to destroy it (at which point the character bleakly remarks he'll never be able to muster up the energy to write it again) or magically change its apparent authorship, so that someone else is credited for your life's work.

  • Misfile: An angel misplaces two years of Emily's life that she'd spent working incredibly hard at school so she could get accepted to Harvard. Now she'll just have to do it all over again!
  • Helen and Micah first met in Mac Hall when he accidentally jumped off a balcony and just barely missed landing on her semester project.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Jean Poule is of two minds about this. On the one hand, the destruction of her grand experiment produced Molly the Monster, her adoptive daughter who she loves dearly; but it also crippled her scientific career.

    Web Original 
  • Gavin's Project Orwell software in KateModern. When it gets stolen, he becomes bitter and delusional.
  • In To Boldly Flee, Phelous is teleported to the Nostalgia Critic's house right before he discovers the Cure for Cancer.
  • In Double Rainboom, Twilight is revealed to have been developing a performance-enhancing potion since Magic Kindergarten, and once it's finally finished, Rainbow Dash ends up drinking every last drop, which causes her to gain enhanced flight capabilities, until the effects wear off and cause her wings to sprain. Through this, she ends up performing the titular Double Rainboom, which ends up decimating all of Ponyville.
  • Parodied in Klay World: Off the Table. Dr. Bob tries to communicate with the klaymen in the truck using a walkie-talkie, but it won't work (because the machine the walkie-talkie is connected to lacks an antenna). Then Bob complains that he wasted five minutes of his life building the walkie-talkie, and says he will draw a picture of all the things he could've done otherwise.
  • In the penultimate episode of Battle for BFDI, it's revealed that the Announcer, the host of the first season, has returned to Earth to take the prized BFDI away from the current host, Four, but he has a genuinely good reason to. He had seemingly left after the first season finale, but he wanted the show to continue, so he funded BFDIA in the background on an extremely tight budget, until it just couldn't be supported anymore. After he returned to his home planet for good, he caught wind of the fact that Four was hosting a new season of BFDI, and was offering up the BFDI as a prize, which turned out to be the last remaining archive of the first season in existence. Without it, Announcer had basically just lost ownership of his own creation without his concern, and he wanted to get it back no matter what it took.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Bart ended up destroying George Bush Sr.'s memoirs.
    • Homer says this word for word at the beginning of "The Wettest Stories Ever Told", when he figures out the pattern of the wall decor and Lisa points out a break in the pattern.
    • In "The Miseducation of Lisa Simpson", Horatio McAllister finally finds the treasure he spent the past 40 years looking for, only for it to be stolen by Mayor Quimby by way of redistricting by redline.
  • All of those times an Ancient Egyptian is making the final few taps on the nose of the Sphinx, only to have a chase go by and make him make ONE too many taps. Poor nose!
  • Batman: The Animated Series plays this for the tragedy it actually is when Mr Freeze, after his body decays beyond use and leaving him a disembodied head, costing him the last hope he had, sets out to make everyone else as miserable as he is by destroying their life's work. The cases we see has him destroy a painter's masterpiece and an archeologist's greatest discovery.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: "MY CABBAGES!!!"
    • The Legend of Korra: "MY CABBAGE CORP!!"
    • Also from The Last Airbender, in the episode "The Library" the scholar Professor Zei is distraught to discover that the ancient library of Wan Shi Tong he's been seeking his entire career is almost entirely buried under the desert sands. He remains upbeat, though, and it's subverted anyway when it turns out the library is still fully accessible.
      Zei: (distraught) THE LIBRARY IS BURIED!? My life's ambition is now full of sand! <Beat, Zei pulls out a tiny trowel, cheerfully> Well, time to start excavating!
  • SpongeBob SquarePants's crashing into a truck loaded with fruit punch ruins an old guy's memoirs which were written with red ink.
  • Garfield and Friends: A "Screaming With Binky" segment featured a diamond cutter who spent decades studying the Klopman Diamond to figure out where to hit it to split it in half, turning it into two priceless gems and one wrong move would instead turn the diamond into a worthless pile of dust. Well, it was ''Screaming With Binky" so, does any troper need to write what happened?
  • In the I Am Weasel episode "The Legend of Big Butt", Weasel shouts this when he discovers that Loch Ness Monster, like his last expedition, was a hoax by the Red Guy. Ironically, him ranting hysterically about it makes him miss the actual Nessie showing up behind him, alongside Santa Claus, the Abominable Snowman, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and a UFO.
  • In the Christmas Episode of Danny Phantom, this was the trigger for the Ghostwriter's attack against Danny, for destroying his Christmas poem, but also because he didn't feel any real remorse over it.
  • Dr. Heinz Doofenscmirtz's evil plan in one episode of Phineas and Ferb is to destroy an art piece his brother Roger is unveiling because, as children, Roger accidentally stained Heinz's masterpiece. As Roger presents the piece, he explains that it is Heinz's childhood painting; he'd never seen anything more beautiful, so he'd spent the past 40-some years painstakingly restoring it. Unfortunately, Heinz's plan is already in motion, so he destroys the painting before anyone gets a chance to see it.
  • Averted in Gravity Falls, but at a great cost. The backstory presented in "A Tale of Two Stans" reveals that the author of the journals was Stan's estranged twin brother Ford. He'd spent most of his life studying the paranormal and compiling his three journals of research. When he learned that one of the projects, split between the three journals, could enable Bill Cypher to destroy reality, he hid one and summoned Stan to take another as far away as possible. Stan, who was expecting a reunion, threatens to just burn the journal, rather than go through the trouble. Ford panics at the thought of losing all his hard work. The ensuing fight results in Ford going through a portal, which is then immediately destroyed.

    Real Life 
  • Subverted in Real Life with Sir Isaac Newton. In his early career he was not very good at getting himself published, he tended to just let the finished work pile up on his desk. One day his dog knocked over a candle and much of his life's work up to that point went up in flames. So he sat down and wrote it all out again. "Diamond! Thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done!".
  • Sadly not subverted when Erich Bessel-Hagen gave his mathematics thesis to his friend Carl Siegel to review it. Siegel decided to go over the thesis while he was taking a boat trip, but he didn't like it, so he tossed it overboard. Mind you, this was the early 20th century and a good number of decades before the invention of the personal computer, so it's not like he could really have a copy of the thesis saved on one. Bessel-Hagen did later manage to receive his doctorate, but still.
  • Alfred Russell Wallace was a Victorian naturalist whose work paralleled Darwin's. In 1848 he began a 4-year expedition to the Amazon collecting plant and animal specimens. In 1852 he took ship back to England with his collection. Four weeks later the ship caught fire. The crew abandoned ship but most of Wallace's collection was destroyed. At least it was insured.
  • DeathOnAStick, who spent a year and a half on a single game of NetHack, spending most of that time collecting rocks, transforming them into gems, putting them into bags, and creating pet giants to hold the bags full of gems. Then they accidentally drank a cursed potion of gain level, which moves you up a dungeon level, which put them past a Point of No Return. Without the collected gems.
  • Legendary animator Richard Williams spent three decades working on his Magnum Opus The Thief and the Cobbler, only to have it taken out of his hands and completely butchered by his distributor.