A few years ago I was at a party talking to someone I didn’t really like all that much. She was catching me up on her life and I was only half listening when she told me this new technique she has for helping her clients set goals for themselves: “I ask them what they would do if they won the lottery.”
She paused, waiting, anticipating the moment when I would recognize the sheer genius of this question.
I must’ve faked some facial expression because I remember her continuing.
“It gives them insight into what they really want. What will make them truly happy. It strips away all their perceived obstacles and barriers and answer their question: what is my purpose.”
Okay, maybe that isn’t word-for-word, but it was something very much like that.
I excused myself to refill my wine, and started to think about what I would do if I won the lottery. But then I was distracted by a grin telling me he took extra care while preparing his charcuterie and cheese plate; he didn’t use the same knife to slice the cheese that he used to cut the meat. Just for me.
It seriously doesn't take much for me to fall in love.
Still, I never forgot the lottery question. I revisited it time and again since that party, though I never spent much time with it. After all, I’ve done those sort of exercises before: envisioning what the perfect day in my perfect life would look like:
I would get up, go for a run, come home to my rowhome in South Philly, have coffee and breakfast that was vegan and gluten free, shower, go to my home office, work on my manuscript or television script or whatever writing was paying me that day. Work until lunch time, eat something healthy enough to serve Gwyneth Paltrow and then get right back to it until 3:30/4 ish when I would call it a day. All with my rescued pit-bull at my feet.
So when lottery-mania gripped my actual office this week, and we all started fantasizing about what we were going to do after we won millions, I started to say something about opening a used book store in South Philly when a co-worker I respect greatly but belittle publicly because I have to maintain the upper hand in all my relationships cut me off, “I can’t believe you would still be in South Philly.”
“Of course I would …” I stopped myself.
In all my vision boarding, I was always in South Philly. But this wasn’t a vision board. This wasn’t what I wanted from this life. This was what I would do with my share of a 500 million dollars. This wasn’t my life. This was Beyonce’s life.
And if I had Beyoncé's life would I still live in South Philly?
Hell the fuck no.
Don't get me wrong. I love Philadelphia and in this fantasy there would be all kinds of paparazzi-street-style snaps of me in over-sized sunnies, Uggs and an Eagles' knit cap. But I wouldn't stay in Philadelphia.
"I would move to Vancouver."
“Nice,” said well-respected co-worker.
It was then someone else's turn to talk about what they were going to do with the money.
But I couldn't pay attention. I had achieved it. I had removed all the obstacles and my imagination was ready to show me my purpose. I would move to Vancouver. A high-rise. Between the beach and that park my sister and I walked through. It would have three bedrooms and my computer would be set up near the kitchen on a shabby chic desk and friends and family would visit all the time and I would work at a bookstore or a knitting store or a yoga store. Maybe I would become a yoga instructor. I would write and read and knit and row and travel and judge people who came into the bookstore asking for books by Ayn Rand or who didn't know Cervantes is in the poetry section.
I turned to start an email to my sister. She had recently returned from a trip to New Orleans with a voodoo doll for me with a mission for me to find my bliss. Wait until I told her I had a path to happiness.
Even without the millions, I suddenly had a goal. An apartment in Vancouver where friends and family will visit and I will write and work part time at a bookstore.
Every decision I would make going forward would be made with that goal in mind.
Except. As I started to type, reality started to set in.
Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities in North America. A hell of a lot more expensive than Philadelphia. And I can’t afford to live in Philadelphia as a bookstore clerk. So how in the world was I going to live in Vancouver working a part time job?
More likely, I would be working multiple part-time jobs (but hey, they have universal health care so I won’t need the health benefits), living in a one-room apartment, with my computer balanced on a more shabby than chic desk, shoved all the way in the corner because I never put my pullout bed back to a couch unless company is coming over and company never comes over. Not that it really matters where my computer is because I don’t have time to write. Or read. Or run. Or take classes to become a yoga instructor. Because I am always working to pay rent and buy noodles.
As for friends visiting. They do. Once. But now they are off travelling to other awesome places. Sometimes I join them but mostly I use my extra money to visit my family.
Speaking of family, I can no longer make monthly visits to my mom and dad because I simply can’t afford the airfare.
And this is when I realized just how stupid it is to try and determine a person’s purpose by asking them what they would do if they won the lottery.
Yes, if we strip away the specifics we could ascertain that I want to spend my life writing, drinking with my friends and family, traveling and judging people.
But I knew all of that already.
Sadly, however, that is not a career that pays my bills.