The Problem with the "Lottery Question" and What I Wish Someone Had Told Me

You know the question, “If you won the lottery, what would you do?” Yeah, that one.

For many people, this is a fun question to answer. But not for everyone.

The primary problem with the question was that for a number of years when I was so beaten down and depressed, I simply couldn’t answer it. I couldn’t imagine or dream of what might be possible. Nothing sounded interesting. Every suggestion I received, every job description I looked at or any education program I researched sounded like it would require a lot of energy—energy I did not have.

I was embarrassed that I didn’t have a big dream or mission that I was trying to achieve and that I couldn’t articulate what I wanted beyond a vague answer like “help people” or “be happy.” These vague cliches sounded lame. If I couldn’t even imagine what I wanted, how could I find it or how could anyone help me?

I could articulate all the things I didn’t want to do, but was hard-pressed to generate one single idea that excited me or that seemed possible. I could hear how negative I was, and yet, I couldn’t flip a switch and move from feeling negative to positive. And that really frustrated me because I knew I “should” be more positive.

I wish someone had told me…

You feel stuck? Oh, yeah, that’s normal. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.

You’re exactly where you need to be right now. This stuck feeling won’t last forever. The answers will come when you stop fighting the stuckness.

I am always impatient to find the answer that will fix my stuckness. I’m learning that often what I need to do is take a deep breath and just BE. Here are some questions/journal prompts that I’ve found helpful to explore when I am stuck:

  1. In this moment (literally this moment), what is good in your world? For example, in this moment, my dog is sound asleep and snoring so that I can write without distraction. I get to wear super comfy clothes because I’m working from home. My car has a full tank of gas. I have air conditioning in my house. Everyone in my family is healthy. The reason this can be helpful is that it moves us out of anxiety about the future or dwelling on the past and into the present. It’s not just about gratitude. It’s about being present.

  2. What’s the least you can do today? I know this may seem like a strange question, but when I am stuck, part of the problem is that I have unrealistic expectations about what I can accomplish in any given day. I have a tendency to focus on all the things I “should” do—meaning all the things I’m NOT doing—and my mental to-do list grows, and I’m quickly overwhelmed. I’ve found that less is more. If I put only one thing on my to-do list, I can get that item done and call the day a success. What usually happens is that I get that item done, plus a bunch of others. Seriously, try it. My accountability partner and I started doing this and I’ve found it does wonders for setting me up for success.

  3. In what way is the situation you’re in perfectly (but probably not pleasantly) designed for you? What’s the pattern you keep reliving? For me, the pattern was that I spent 15 years settling for jobs that were “good enough.” I knew they weren’t quite the right fit, but I thought I could make them work. They were paying the bills. I mean, they were boring, went against my values and I was only using about 10% of my talents, but I tried to live with that. My last full-time job paid me more than any other job I had and even though I worked with great people, it pushed me so hard physically, mentally and emotionally that I had to get OUT. Its extreme “wrongness” is what forced me to be open to being a self-employed life coach.

  4. What could you let go of? Maybe you’ve heard the saying, what we resist, persists. What is the belief, assumption or sacred cow that you’re hanging on to? I’ve held on to so many things that were unhelpful, it’s hard to count. Most recently [read: the last five years], I’ve been afraid that in order to be successful as a coach I would have to work all the time. I don’t want to work all the time, so I have been avoiding planning. Nothing ever goes according to plan anyway, so why bother? Well. Turns out that when you plan, you save yourself time and a whole lot of anxiety. Go frikking figure. What I had to do was re-define what I really meant by “working all the time” and then get honest with myself about how counterproductive not planning had become.

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Portland, OR

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