Would you even want to win the lottery?

Stairs light

I’ve spoken before about how it’s not worth it to play the lottery. As my college roommate once said to me (unimprovably, I thought), “you have about as much chance of winning the lottery if you play as if you don’t play“.

And he’s right. The odds of winning either the Mega Millions or Powerball are in the realm of 1 in 300 million. Put into percentages, that’s 0.00000033%. Which is, effectively, 0%.

But let’s say that math doesn’t matter to you so much as the aspiration of untold riches.

And those riches are indeed real. Recently, the Mega Millions jackpot was up to $1.6 billion. And one person won it. A single person, going to get that much money.

Mega Millions
Mega money, mega problems

Yes, there’s taxes and the annuity and all those details. But even if the winner takes home a measly one percent of the winnings, that’s still $16 million.

Wouldn’t you want to be that person? Wouldn’t you want to be the person to collect that $16 million check?

I say you wouldn’t. Hear me out.

You think you feel like a fraud now?

You probably feel a little bit like a fraud, don’t you. In some area of your life, at least.

Whether it’s your job, your home life, your social life, there’s probably some part of you that feels like you are faking it, and that you don’t deserve what you have.

Case in point, even John Lennon is quoted as saying “Part of me suspects I’m a complete loser“. If he can feel like an impostor, you can feel like an impostor.

Now, let’s give you $16 million dollars. No strings attached.

Are you going to feel carefree, happy-go-lucky, easygoing about it? Maybe at first.

But $16 million is a heavy burden. You are going to feel that weight.

Going from normal income to huge windfall, becoming a steward of that money, is likely to make you feel like you don’t deserve it. That this shouldn’t be all yours.

If you’re not careful, and even if you are, this can create emotional havoc in your life. Sudden Wealth Syndrome is a real thing and it has real-world consequences for you.

You think you’re popular now?

Let’s say that you’re 100% certain that you’ll feel like you deserve it, or that it doesn’t matter to you whether or not you deserve it (as I’ve long argued that “deserving” isn’t a useful construct).

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You will immediately become a focus. Of people. Of family. Of friends. Of the media. Of whomever.

When people know that you have a lot of money, they will likely treat you differently. The subtle power dynamics of wealth will shift quickly once your wealth shifts quickly.

And it’s not a shock to expect that you might be the target of solicitation. That long lost uncle who’s been down on his luck may decide to get in touch all of a sudden. Your cousin with the two young children may ask for a “small favor”. To say nothing of local institutions.

People who know you well may not change their view of you, but others in your weaker orbit may. If you doubt this, imagine if someone you knew just won $16 million. Would you treat them exactly the same? Do you know for sure?

Is it any wonder that that person in New Hampshire who won the $650 million Powerball lottery wanted to keep her identity secret? Wouldn’t you?

That’s the weird thing about wealth and display: the people who don’t have wealth try so hard to make it look like they do, while the people who do have wealth generally would rather that everyone just ignore them.

You think you’re broke now?

Finally, although it seems preposterous, many people who win the lottery lose it all. I can’t find reliable statistics on this, but it’s certainly not uncommon.

Why do they lose their winnings? Because they never learned how to manage it. It’s as if you went from Level 2 of the video game of life to Level 20. Just because you are playing at that level doesn’t mean that you’re prepared for it.

Alfred Lord Tennyson famously said that “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all“, but I don’t know if we can really say the same for lottery winnings. Another of my favorite quotes about the lottery comes from a winner: “I wish I’d torn that ticket up“.

Play the level you’re at

The lesson here is that quick solutions are never the effective ones. Managing money takes practice, and these skills take time to develop. As you get better at handling money, you will find that you will have the capacity to handle more. You can’t rush the process. And you really don’t want to.

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