Lottery Winner, Sort of

First Posted 18-Jul-2015

You fight, from your first job until you quit work somewhere past age 60. You strive to achieve your dreams, make an impact on the world, leave a significant legacy. You work to break through the legacy of your parents and ancestors to a better life. It’s hard, it seems relentless, impossible, like you are fated to this misery. For some of us, that’s the end of the story. We die unremarkable, anonymous, only a two line mention of our death in the classifieds of the local paper.

Some of us, though, somehow, after all that work, get the job, are gifted the windfall, get that phone call we have been waiting for and suddenly experience a disruptive paradigm shift. We are now responsible for wealth beyond our wildest hopes. We have to figure out how to live now that our dreams came true. It changes the game for us. We actually have to do our answer to, “what would you do if you won?”

I’m one of those that engender concern from my family each time I call home. They worry what I’ve done this time, what peril I’ve found myself in, what new hell they must listen to me narrate, what pitch for help I am asking for this time. I’ve bumped along from one miserable temp job to the next until this has become my career.  I can’t tell you why some of us get lucky and get a taste of success or why the vast majority slog along in anonymous, small misery. I don’t have a better answer to either old question: why good things happen to bad people or bad things happen to good people. I’ll leave it to someone else to decide if I am good or bad. I do seem to walk about with my own satellites of bad luck. I have my share of haters and I’m not at all successful. Poke around the Internet if you really need answers to those questions.

It’s not the expected narrative that I would get a job that pays double what I usually make. Too many guys like me circulate from jail to half-way house to shelter to the street to jail, sometimes holding jobs long enough to stay off the street a bit, sometimes not. It’s usually a relentless and depressing endless iteration of hard times and trouble ending in an unremarkable death and burial in a public cemetery. It doesn’t happen, usually, that a guy like me would get a job like this. Yet, I did. I did get the job after fighting for over a decade to get out of a difficult marriage, repair the damage to my life, get off the street, get to where I could rent a house, and enjoy what I have accomplished. The job I have pays roughly twice my average annual income for the last decade. It is as close as I’ve come to winning the lottery to date.

Now, it’s a different problem. Instead of having to juggle bills like so many, I have to figure out how to behave with twice the income I’m used to. I have my wish list, my list of stuff I want. I have my desires like most folk. I have my answer to the question, “what would you do if you won the lottery?” I’m not remarkable there—pay off debt, own property, own a car or two outright, travel some, take care of my future after I can’t work any longer, take care of those close to me, and after that, find healthy ways to give most of it away. The job I have pays a sh*t-ton of money compared to what I have been earning. I could probably purchase most of what’s on my wish list without jeopardizing my bills.

I did it the other way. I tried to spend my way to happiness. I can talk about the FUB because I did that. I chose to buy things that had a momentary satisfaction while foregoing the obligations I have that keep me out of jail and off the street. I’ve been in jail, been homeless more than once. I know how to live like that. There is no new ground there for me, no new frontier there. This, having a house, furniture, the usual bills of suburban life, this is new ground for me. This is the paradigm shift I never thought I’d experience. Yet, here I am.

We are not promised tomorrow. There is no guarantee that I won’t wake up one morning to figure out that my personal apocalypse has occurred. That within a few hours I’ll be warming the chair of one more who needs a bed in a shelter or calling a jail cell home. It hasn’t happened yet and until it does, my revolution involves some well trod ground–accruing cash, paying down debt, repairing my credit rating, building an emergency fund and growing the balance in my investment savings account. All very grownup things I’ve not done yet with any consistency and are way overdo. Somewhere in the middle years of my marriage when I lost a job that paid six figures I swore that if I ever had that kind of money again I’d not repeat the same behaviors again–behaviors that almost put my wife & son on the street with me. I guess it’s time for you, listener, to stay tuned because I don’t have a job that pays six figures but still, it pays a lot and now the measure of my words from then is being tested.