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1) I don't want to put in overtime day in and day out to get ahead in life, only to pop my clogs at 50 at the height of my career.

In English, the structure "only to" comes in handy to express the idea of unexpectedly ending up with a disappointing result. The use of "..., чтобы ..." comes to mind, but if I go for this structure, I'm not sure how to distinguish it from the preceding "to / чтобы".

Or in another example:

2) So I searched, bending over on all fours, for a car key this driver dropped on the sand, only to leave with a sore back and without so much as a 'thank you' to show for it.

How do Russian speakers commonly express this idea?

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I think it's better to disregard, for the purposes of translation, the (quasi-)causal component implied by "to" in the English expression. From what I know about its use, "only to" can equally describe a reversal of fortunes that happens quite independently of the preceding events described.

And, even if the causation is there, it's just better Russian to ignore it. Russian likes counterbalancing where English likes sequencing.

Therefore, perhaps anticlimactically, I'd say the choice is between а потом, а в итоге, а в конце концов (more literary), or even a simple а. Perhaps English needs the somewhat intricate "only to" precisely because it doesn't have an equivalent of а, that quintessentially Russian "this vs. that" or "before vs. after" conjunction.

Не хочется вкалывать изо дня в день, пытаясь чего-то в жизни добиться, а потом в 50, на пике карьеры, дать дуба.

В общем, я ползал на четвереньках, ища ключ, который этот водитель уронил в песок, а в итоге остался только с болью в спине — даже «спасибо» не сказали.

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My suggestion contains parts of those already offered

... только ради того, чтобы (в результате/в итоге/в конце концов)...


For the second sentence though in my opinion none of the suggestions would idiomatically work, since it describes a consequence which has already materialized.

Instead it requires some sort of conjunction with the word пока

.., пока (в итоге/в конце концов) у меня не разболелась спина, и (я не ушел,) не получив / удостоившись в награду даже благодарности / даже благодарности в качестве вознаграждения

One can say ползал на карачках .., чтобы (в итоге/в конце концов) уйти с разболевшейся спиной... but it's not idiomatic.

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A simple чтобы will do:

  • ... чтобы в 50 лет на вершине карьеры сыграть в ящик.
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1

Maybe ради перспективы.

Я не хочу изо дня в день рвать задницу на британский флаг и делать карьеру ради перспективы в 50 лет отбросить копыта.

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