Why Quit Working After Winning a Mega-Lottery?

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 You would think that the reasons for quitting a job after winning a mega-lottery would be more obvious than the reasons not to. Like, who wouldn’t quit?

But, in Part I of this analysis, “Why Keep Working After Winning a Mega-Lottery ?”, I reported that up to 85% of surveyed real-life lottery winners in one 2004 study continued working.  

Another small-sample report about other winners, “10 Lottery Winners Who Swore They Wouldn’t Quit Their Jobs ”, (March 12, 2012),  revealed, as did the 2004 study,  a pattern of “work centrality” as a core value, e.g., close friendships at work, strong work ethic or the lack of competing values and pleasures.

The more central a value working is, the likelier it is that winners will continue to work.

However, a 1978 study (actually cited in the 2004 study) found almost the exact opposite outcome: Nearly 80% of surveyed $1 million dollar winners quit working (H.R. Kaplan, Lottery winners: How they won and how winning changed their lives. Harper Row (1978)).

What could have possibly motivated them then and those who would quit now (even allowing for however much more $1 million in 1978 could have bought then)? From the (disad)vantage point of an armchair, the following seem to be likely factors in deciding to take the lottery money and run:

1.    Being fiercely independent: Apart from any 100% self-sufficient farmers (who don’t yet have to buy Monsanto GMO, single-crop sterile seed) and can also weave, hunt, fish and build, everybody else who works has to make somebody else happy—namely a boss, clients or customers—and has to trade something for the necessities of life, including those of work itself. That includes any seed that must be bought every season or tools to harvest their bounty.

       That means surrendering mind, body, time or energy to someone, for their purposes, instead of exclusively one’s own.

Quitting means we can stop doing that. Those who are ultra-independently minded would love nothing more than to do that.

Even those, who, like many great lab scientists, dedicated healthcare professionals and philharmonic musicians, thoroughly enjoy their work have to pay heed to those who pay them, because, self-employed or not, they are exchanging their “labor” for something. (Note that the self-sufficient farmer works—and works hard, but is not employed by anyone, not even himself.)

But, when job satisfaction is intense enough, it can, for the likes of these folks, offset less intense cravings for independence.

This suggests that in the absence of such robust “work centrality” factors that could serve as offsets, the fiercely independent are likely to walk, not work.

2.    Extreme freedom-from and/or freedom-to desires: Anyone, especially, but not only, the fiercely independent types, when given the opportunity afforded by a big lottery jackpot, may quit for two interwoven reasons:  to enjoy “freedom from” (the demands of others and a job) and “freedom to” (use everything that is freed up or suddenly available—mind, energy, body, time, money—as they see fit).

This  “freedom-from”/”freedom-to” distinction is an important (but not original) one, at least because it distinguishes two very different subtypes of “lottery leaver” (i.e., someone who quits working after winning).

The first type—motivated by a desire to enjoy “freedom from”—may not have a clue as to (s)he wants to do with the lottery prize money or with the independence it will buy, but is absolutely certain of what (s)he wants to stop doing, viz., working. (S)he simply and absolutely wants to be freed from the necessity to work.

The second lottery-leaver type, on the other hand, is very motivated and clear about what to do with that freedom-to, how important it is and how it requires freedom from work, e.g., has dreamt of an around-the-world five-year cruise. For these people, “freedom-from” is a necessary condition for “freedom-to”.

Quitting because of a desire for freedom-to amounts to being pulled away from the job toward something else, whereas dumping the job because of the desire for freedom-from means being repelled and pushed out or from work (with or without being pulled toward some specific alternative).

Having strong feelings about one of these two forms of freedom does not entail having comparably strong feelings about the other, even though they are largely mutually facilitating and strongly correlated. 

For example, it is possible to quit only because of the pull of travel dreams, without necessarily loathing one’s job. Conversely, if the only thing a lottery leaver is sure of is that the job is Hell, anything will be better than that, even if there is no expectation of any beckoning Heaven. In this latter case, “freedom-from” is necessary, period.

Therefore, if a beaming mega-lottery winner tearfully grinning at a wall of flashing press-conference cameras exclaims, “I’m quitting to be free!”, the question remains whether she simply hates her job, loves the alternatives she’s dreamed of, or harbors both feelings.

For the employer being deserted, knowing she hated the job should prompt some perhaps overdue soul and policy searching.

As for the rest of us—the mega-millions of non-mega-winners, merely asking ourselves which, if either, kind of freedom we have or want, can be useful preparation for our own jackpot day and a valuable diagnostic in the meantime.

A homeless, broke drifter, reflecting in this way on his past and similarly contemplating his future, may say that he’s happy because he’s free—and that, because his needs and wants are simple, he doesn’t need a job or a lottery.

But what he can’t claim is that he’s free in both senses—“from” and “to” (e.g., free to sleep where he’d like to, on a clean bed, rather than on bedbugs), unless “freedom-to” means “freedom to minimize one’s needs, wants and resources”.  

Even though you almost certainly are not a drifter, do you want that kind of minimalist freedom, or, instead, more upscale versions of the freedoms a lottery jackpot could buy?  

Maybe, for you, the money doesn’t or wouldn’t equate to either kind of freedom, despite allowing one or both of them, or using them for some “higher” purpose. Thinking about this now is good preparation—for winning a lottery, or, otherwise, for having a winning life.

3.    Time-denominated money: Those who believe that time is money, not in the sense that time costs money, but that time is worth as much as, if not more than money, are likely to immediately cease to sacrifice time for money (by continuing to work)—especially if they feel their jobs are about putting in the time mostly for the money.

4.     Experience deficits: If because of or despite one’s work, there just hasn’t been enough life in one’s life, winning the lottery is the ticket to catching up and filling/thrilling in the gaps.

       The lottery winners  probably least likely to feel this way are those who are cautious or fearful, unadventurous, voluntarily inexperienced (by others’ standards), easily satisfied or over-stimulated, as comfortable as clams in a homey shell, or—at the opposite extreme—those who, thinking they’ve already done it all, feel satisfied, if not satiated.

These two types are the happy clams at the bottom of the sea, filtering the world (as it passes by and through them) and the contentedly roosting eagles home from the hunt and to stay—perhaps to try to teach clams how to fly.  

The lottery leavers?

               They’d rather take the 100 million clams and fly like an eagle.

By Michael Moffa