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And the numbers are…


What would you do if you could do anything?

Imagine this: it’s a quiet Friday night. You’ve had a good week at work, a glass of wine or two, a good meal and you’re just checking your EuroMillions Lottery Ticket - more in hope than expectation.  But then something extraordinary happens - you check the numbers twice, three times, four times but they stay the same.  More importantly, they stay the same as the numbers on the TV screen.  You stare in incomprehension as the excited presenter explains that one lucky person - you! YOU! - has scooped the jackpot. You are a multi-millionaire.  What happens next? How does this story develop?  What do you do with the money?

If you like, take a couple of minutes to jot down - in as much detail as you can - what you would do with the money. Have fun with it and don’t feel constrained by the amount; it’s a fairly elastic sum of money - enough not to have to worry about running out!

I use a version of this kind of scenario fairly regularly on workshops.  The idea behind it is to try to help delegates uncover what they would ideally like to do with their lives if the biggest restriction - the need to go to work to earn money - was removed.  It’s a fun exercise and works best if you get people to do it on flipcharts in groups (working individually; they can’t share the money with each other) which gives you the opportunity to compare the results when they’ve finished.

The usual things come up regularly: as you’d expect, new cars and new houses feature regularly, as do holidays and cruises.  But also, people set up their own businesses, contribute to charities, establish foundations - a whole range of activities different to what they do normally.  Stephen Covey attributes this similarity to a saying from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who, he claims, stated that there are four things that everyone wants, four “wants” that unite us all.  We all want to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy.  I don’t know whether the attribution to Lao Tzu is true or not - I certainly can’t find the quote anywhere - but I know the truth of the sentiment. Time after time, wherever I’ve done that exercise (and I’ve conducted it with hundreds of people) the results are the same and always fit into one of those four categories.  

My first job, when I was eighteen, was as receptionist for a company that never had any visitors.  On my first day, I was told to make sure I brought plenty of books, newspapers and magazines to read. At first, it felt like a dream come true - being paid to read - but after a week or so I knew how dull doing nothing can be and how guilty I started to feel as I realised I was being paid to do nothing.

The point is, doing nothing isn’t easy; as human beings we have a drive to do things, to set goals and accomplish them.  Even when the obvious need to work - to earn money - is removed, we still look for other things to do, to meet those needs.  Which of those “wants” is uppermost in your mind today and what will you do about it?

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