I will never play the lottery. Why? Because I can’t think of anything worse than winning.
I realize this sounds crazy. It may even seem straight-up un-American. Not that everyone plays, but to be so vehemently against winning? Who wouldn’t want free money? But here’s the thing: It’s not free. It comes with a price. And the price I’d pay for hitting the jackpot would never be worth it to me.
It’s not because I’m afraid of turning out like one of these 19 lottery winners, who lost all their winnings–and often much more. Although their stories serve as good evidence of the perils of getting a huge, and unexpected, sum of money. (Not only did these winners not rise up and achieve anything great with their winnings, but most ended up in far worse circumstances than before their windfall.)
There are other, very real fears for me behind winning the lottery. While they may not be enough to convince you to turn away a boatload of cash, they’re worth thinking about before you hand over some of your hard-earned money for a lottery ticket.
When I was an associate editor at Body+Soul magazine (having taken a $15,000 pay cut to shift into the low-paying publishing industry) a fellow editor posed the question: If you won the lottery, what would you do? People said they’d quit (in varying dramatic ways) or buy a bed and breakfast in Vermont or write a novel, or just tell people what they really thought. In other words: If they had the money, they’d finally do what they really wanted to do.
I knew that if by some weird stroke I’d won a lottery I didn’t enter, and had millions to my name, I would get up the next morning, shower, and go back to my desk. I loved being an editor, loved what I was creating and getting paid to do (even if it wasn’t much). If a chunk of money was enough to lure you from the thing you do every day, then why were you doing it in the first place?
If you truly want to do something else with your life, why wait around for a potential windfall to make it happen (And risk the very strong possibility it will never come to pass) ? Start taking the steps now.
Money is no replacement for drive and ambition. If you have too much money handed to you that you didn’t earn, but simply won through luck and a few dollars for a lottery ticket, you could certainly quit and buy yourself that hotel or yacht or private plane. But then what? Having that much money might cause you to lose your drive to work toward the goals you’d had before you won. Buy yourself a new lifestyle with money you won and it could, in fact, throw off your entire sense of self worth. (Though you might enjoy it, it’d be hard not to wonder: Do I deserve this? I didn’t earn it.)
#2. You’d be pressured.
I can’t stand junk mail and solicitations. Try multiplying that by a thousand once you’re listed as a lottery winner. Not just solicitations, but your own friends, or distant relatives from some far-flung branch of your family tree, would appear to make a case for why they should have part of what you got. I get scared when someone on the street with a clipboard makes eye contact with me. I couldn’t handle this. Period.
#3. Things will never be the same.
The friends you get after you win the lottery may not be the friends you’d want. And the ones you had before? I’m not saying you’d lose them all, but you would lose something that connects you, just as you might expect when one person all of a sudden has much more than anyone else. You can’t pretend you’re like them anymore, because you’re not. Try saying, “$200 for a pair of jeans? Are you crazy?” after you hit the Powerball. Because you can’t. How can you split a bill at dinner? How can you say, “Wait, I didn’t order two merlots? Did you?” How do you not just pay the whole bill? Every time. After all, you won the lottery!
In fact, it may seem like you don’t have the right to complain about anything anymore because everyone thinks that your money can fix whatever ails you. And it can’t.
You need human empathy, love, and connection to thrive, and money can’t buy that. Win millions and you may suddenly find yourself instead a source of envy and frustration among friends. Suddenly they can’t relate to you, and you feel a chilling separation from what everyone else shares. No thank you.
#4. You’d be trapped.
I saw a documentary once about a lottery winner from Texas who had ensconced himself in a gaudy, horrible manor. He had statues of famous people brought in and they stood in ghostly poses around the property. Sometimes I like to eat with Reagan, or take my coffee in the morning on the porch with Dolly Parton. This man was utterly alone, behind locked doors to keep people away—strangers, lookie-loos, people who for whatever reason thought they deserved a piece of what he had now. Because he didn’t earn that money—he had gotten it through plain old dumb luck, and so he had money without respect. And that’s not power; it’s a prison.
I’ll take freedom—to earn, to connect, to dodge solicitors, to complain, and to ask for what I deserve, any day. What about you?