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
- scuba diver
- professional athlete
- park ranger
…all in their perfect form, of course.
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:
- 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.
I would rather win the lottery and then invent my own job which would involve helping individuals and communities. Being your own boss really unleashes your creative ingenuity to make progress in the world. Nice thought provoking piece, thanks for sharing.
I love Shobir’s answer. If I won the lottery and used the money wisely, I could invent my own job and make sure it’s perfect. Plus I don’t think there’s really a “perfect” job out there anyway.
Like you, GE, I’d opt for the perfect job. This is all a hypothetical fantasy where I’d be convinced my job would continue to be perfect, and I enjoy it so much that I wouldn’t mind being there all day long, each and every day – I’d prefer it to almost any other activity even if I weren’t getting paid.
Of course, as much as people may enjoy their jobs, that’s a very far-fetched scenario for…practically everybody. So if I were to somehow be presented with this scenario in real life, I’d take the lottery winnings.
I actually opted for the lottery. =)
Let’s not get bogged down by the minor details ;)
“Having to not work for income at all? You get freedom and control back.” This is my goal with the endstate that the dividends from my investments providing the funds to live off of. Make my money work for me so I can focus on raising the family.
I think it does not matter what you pick. Picking either would give you an easy shot at the other.
Just curious how having the perfect job would “give you an easy shot” at winning the lottery?
My perfect job would pay me a $10M salary, wouldn’t your’s?
Haha wait I wasn’t done reading the article and jumped to the comments too early. Ya… no, the lottery is the obvious answer. A $103k passive salary would give you the opportunity to make the perfect job, whereas a $52k less living expenses would result in somewhere around 10 years to FI.
Within the confines of the statements above, the lottery is the obvious answer, I would think.
Having the perfect job would not give me an easy shot at winning the lottery. But it would give me a better than average chance to increase my earning potential.
Yes, lottery is my choice hands down. But do I play? No.
I chafe at my lack of freedom on the job every day.
I would choose to win the lottery! I would invest the money and use it properly.
Our lists of dream jobs are eerily similar…But can one ever put a price on freedom?
Lottery of course, duh!