91: What If You Won the Lottery

91: What If You Won the Lottery

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

What If You Won the Lottery

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.

~Henry Ford

At the early stages of my career, I totally hated my job. “I have no idea what I want to do. I cannot stand banking,” I whined to my brother.

He replied, “Imagine that you just won the lottery! What would be the first thing you’d do?”

Without even thinking, I blurted out, “Oh my God! Move to Italy!” I had dreamt of living there since childhood. Me living in Italy. Impossible! Debt-ridden, I couldn’t even afford to take a vacation.

But what a fantasy. Italia. My mouth became a Fountain of Trevi envisioning my antipasti (appetizer) of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, followed by homemade pasta: farfalle al salmone or maybe spaghetti drenched in a rich pesto sauce. Was there any Italian food I didn’t love? No matter what I chose for my primi piatti, I always had room for dolci (dessert): tiramisu or an ice-cold strawberry gelato. La dolce vita! A deliciously rich espresso slid down my throat.

I chuckled. My overactive imagination took off like a Formula One Ferrari. I visualized the gorgeous hotel concierge as I, albeit in terribly broken Italian, asked him to please fax a resignation letter to my boss. Per favore.

“Then do it! Move. I’m sick of hearing that you hate your job. I’ll come visit.” My brother’s voice brought me back to reality.

“I don’t have the money. And I don’t speak Italian.”

“Jennifer, if you wait until you learn the language, you’ll never do it. Moving there will force you to learn Italian quickly. You know, money or lack thereof, has always been your obstacle. Why are you letting it hold you down?”

“I have a ton of debt,” was my stubborn answer.

“Well then, do whatever it takes and get out of debt. Start saving. Focus on moving to Italy. Call it a birthday gift to yourself. Hang up with me and call your buddy who lives there. Ask him if he’ll help you find somewhere to live. Goodbye.”

The dial tone drowned out my, “But...”

Before I chickened out, or realized that it was rather late in Milan, I grabbed my address book and punched in Piercarlo’s number. What was I doing? This was insane!

Being the epitome of a charismatic Italian, even half asleep, Piercarlo told me to book a flight and he’d meet me at the airport. He even offered to introduce me to his friends and help me get an apartment. My hand quivered as I hung up the phone. This was more doable than I thought. But I had to figure out how to pay off my credit card obligations.

By focusing on my specific goal of moving to Milan by November 1st (or sooner), I threw all my energy into getting out of debt. I stopped carrying cash and put my credit cards in my freezer so I couldn’t use them. That halted my impulsive spending. I brought my lunch to work, stopped going out for dinner and went to the library to check out tapes on how to speak Italian. Curtailing my spending helped reduce my outstanding credit card balance faster. I found all kinds of ways to save. I cancelled magazine subscriptions, cable TV and my health club membership and took the money refunded and threw it at my debt. My brother was right. Nothing was as crucial as getting to Italy.

What did I need to do before I moved? I made a list of everything and started doing tasks daily. While physically I may have been in Los Angeles, mentally I was in Italy. My usual work stress was greatly diminished as I ticked off the days on my calendar. I packed my suitcase! I put my passport inside and every time I saw it in my bedroom, I was reminded that this was actually happening. The more actions I took, the more my dream became reality.

Sometimes the timing isn’t perfect. My deadline got pushed up when Piercarlo called to say that I only had until October because then he was moving to Sierra Leone to work for the United Nations.

Out-of-my-mind terrified, I boarded the plane to Milan with about $1,200, more money than I had ever saved before, a few days before Piercarlo left. I didn’t know what would happen in Italy, but one thing was for sure, even on its worst day, it had to be more interesting than my boring life as a stressed-out, debt-ridden banker.

So, imagine. If you won the lottery, what would you do? My imaginary lottery win forced me to listen to my inner voice and that imaginary lottery ticket turned into a real plane ticket. Deciding to move was a turning point in my life. My brother Sean knew that money had always been my obstacle. He simply removed money from the discussion and asked me to envision a different reality. Because so many of us use money as an excuse not to do something, I love this way of thinking and still use it when I’m trying to decide my next steps.

~JC Sullivan

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