Win the Lottery or Have the Perfect Job?

Someone recently posed an interesting brain teaser to me,

“Would you rather win the lottery or have the perfect job?”

Details were lacking, and it got me thinking (which was probably the point):

“Perfect by whose standards? And for how long?”

“How much in lottery winnings are we talking about?”

The more I thought about it, the more I was entertained by the question. It forces you to consider the variables, which, are variables that we can actually construct in our own lives. And it really pushes you to question your values and maybe even re-construct them a bit.

My initial gut response to this questions was,

“Lottery, of course. There is no such thing as a “perfect job”!”

But what if there were? What if you could choose any profession you’d like, and it was meaningful, fun, rewarding, prestigious, powerful, or any combo of qualitative adjectives you desire? There would be none of the bureaucracy, bullshit, or difficult individuals or policies that make most good jobs bad. And it would last as “perfect” indefinitely, never to be tainted.

What would the job be for me? Oh, the possibilities!

  • wildlife biologist or photographer
  • adventure photographer
  • hiker
  • scuba diver
  • cyclist
  • professional athlete
  • coach
  • park ranger
  • teacher
  • humanitarian
  • musician
  • philanthropist

…all in their perfect form, of course.

win lottery or have perfect job

OK, well, hmm… an extremely fulfilling job like that wouldn’t even be “work”. It’d be a blast. Extremely fulfilling in a way that money simply could not provide. Maybe the perfect job is the way to go, after all.

But wait, what does the perfect job pay? Because $10 million a year sounds just about “perfect” to me. And how much were those lottery winnings again?

Relevant questions. So I’ll try to draw a line in the sand for you – the perfect job pays you the median U.S. household income of $70,784, with appropriate cost of living adjustments for geography and annual inflation adjustments.

The lottery? Let’s say it paid you the same in the form of an annual annuity (with geographic and annual inflation adjustments). Not enough to buy you a private island, but enough to very comfortably live on in any geography for the rest of your life.

In a hypothetical fantasy world where the perfect job existed and existed indefinitely, I think I would opt for that. The life satisfaction that would come from that would outweigh the added monetary benefits of winning the lottery. I might be able to live a pretty sweet life with that lottery stipend, but would likely never reach the same level of fulfillment.

In the real-world? I’m opting for the cash. Here’s why…

Despite our search for it, it’s extremely rare (if not impossible) for someone to realize and maintain a job that is indefinitely a perfect fit for them – always rewarding/fulfilling, no BS, no annoying co-workers, no bureaucracy. A perfect job is only one rule change, one bad colleague, one management change away from being a shitty one. Then what?

This is not to say that people can’t find rewarding work, that they can’t find a job that they love. We can. And we should try. And for the purposes of this discussion, let’s even assume that we could all find at least a “great” job.

When I look at the perfect job versus lottery question, what it comes down to for me are two things:

  1. Control
  2. Freedom of Time

If you are employed by another, you have little to no control over the external inputs. And by virtue of working for others, you have little to no freedom of time. Your employer, in many ways, owns your time for ~5 out of 7 days a week.

Self-employment gives you back a little of each – you have control over much of the work you do and more freedom to do it when you want to. However, you still have to maintain happy clients, finish by deadlines, and do things you don’t really want to do.

Having to not work for income at all? You get freedom and control back. That’s what money can give you. In fact, I think it’s the most valuable thing that money can give you. And with it, you can not only choose what to do with it (wildlife biologist, athlete, teacher, <fill in the blank with your preference>), but you could jump around whenever you wanted, and there is no longer all of the pitfalls that come with being beholden to another for a continuous stream of income for the rest of your life.

Yeah, so it’s not realistic to find a “perfect job”, but it’s also not realistic to win the lottery (one might object). To that, I would respond with, “How much IS enough?”. Even if the lottery were half as much (or less) than what I posed earlier, so as to comfortably meet my basic needs, I’d still opt for that. And that’s an amount that is attainable for just about everyone. No fantasy required.

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