Powerball fever is winding down. After a week of growing mania over who would win the $1.5 billion prize in the multi-state Powerball lottery, three winning tickets were drawn Wednesday night. I, too, fell under the fantastical spell of instant riches, twice laying down my money, uncertain as to whether or not I wanted to win. Perhaps I am better off staying with the life hand I’m already playing, I thought.

What does it mean to have the golden ticket? Is it more advantageous to have riches land at your feet or to work for them? There is a long-standing belief that winning the lottery inevitably leads to long-term tragedy. This is not necessarily true. In many cases, having a sudden windfall didn’t fundamentally change a winner’s level of long-term happiness or cause them to trade work for a life of leisure. They were essentially who they were before they won – spendthrift or work-oriented or happy or charitable. They were just richer and able to feed any inherent indulgence more easily.

Such proclivity for consistency was relevant to me this week. I attended a certification course for a globally recognized personality tool I offer as part of my coaching service. Of course, to prepare for the course I took the assessment myself. It was rather rigorous and although there were no big surprises there were a few notable “a-ha’s” in my feedback. As was stressed in the course, success has less to do with being born clutching life’s Golden Ticket and more to do with full awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses and, most important, what one does with that knowledge. For me, the feedback confirmed who I know myself to be, yet revealed connections about my drivers, strengths and blind spots that allow me to use these aspects with greater skill.

In truth, people succeed in spite of their strengths and weaknesses just as often as they do because of them. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and renowned entrepreneur, has dyslexia and was once told by his school’s headmaster that he would become either a criminal or a millionaire. Albert Einstein was far from a stellar student and suffered from speech problems in his youth, leaving his parents worried about his future prospects. And we all know of successful people whose well-masked “defects” never seem to get in their way. If being perfect were the price of admission to the halls of success, those halls would be pretty empty.

What this substantiates, for any professional, is that it’s futile to want to win the career lottery. Success is not ordained. It’s earned. Walk into any work place and look for the person who, on paper, has it all. Is that person necessarily the one with the fastest career trajectory or the most success? Nope. It’s cruel irony that often the one with the greatest odds in their favor is not the automatic winner. Life is not Powerball. And like those lottery winners whose sense of life remains relatively constant in spite of their winnings, life only truly changes through what you do with your abilities (or winnings) as opposed to merely possessing them.

The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus observed, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  If I may paraphrase him a bit, it’s not what you possess but how you use it that matters. I’m glad that Powerball fever is winding down. Now I can stop dreaming about holding the Golden Ticket and instead focus on smartly playing the hand I’m dealt.








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