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Why do lottery winners end up in ruins?

November 20, 2008

Been talking to my associate about managing success when the topic of lottery winners came up and how many of them are tragic tales.

Case 1
Kenneth and Connie Parker were winners of a $25 million jackpot. Their 16-year marriage disintegrated just months after they became rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Case 2
Jeffrey Dampier, a $20 million winner, was kidnapped and murdered by his own sister-in-law.

Case 3
Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in the Virginia lottery in 1993. Now she’s deeply in debt to a company that lent her money using the winnings as collateral. She borrowed $197,746.15.

More stories here and here.

If you think a lifetime of hardship prepares us for success, think again. There’s something about wealth that can make things worse than when we first started.

We’ve all known someone we cannot recognize after they hit it big. Sometimes the humblesness and wide smiles would disappear, replaced with alcoholism, self-imposed isolation and frequent stays at the hospital. These new rich don’t call you out for coffee any more. You have to call them. Often, they don’t call you back.

We’ve also seen companies, big brands, who spend lavishly on themselves after scoring some successes. We hear of rewards like luxury automobiles and insane management bonuses. Many of them have been, or are in the process of being wiped out by the present financial meltdown.

When we say wealth doesn’t last 3 generations, we are actually being optimistic. Some sweepstake winners lose it all in months.

So, is there such a thing as preparing ourselves for success?

You can dream up all sorts of fancy investment plans for your money but will it stop a crazed relative from going after you for your money as Mr. Jeffrey Dampier found out? Or having acrimonious fights with your spouse over the money as the Parkers found out? Or the sudden appearance of a child who claims you are his long lost father?

And will preparing yourself for all this mess up your mind and turn you into the person you hate?

There is a lesson in this, for me at least. When you make a ton of money, keep your mouth shut. Stop the urge to throw a party to tell everyone you’re the new Mr. Rich Guy. Just be your normal self. If you can do that, you’ve won half the battle. The other half is managing greed. What can you expect from flaunting a 10-room mansion, a German sports car and big gold rings on your fingers after living in a run-down apartment for 20 years? I am constantly amazed at the things people do to undermine theimselves after they’ve succeeded.

But humans are humans. We crave to be loved. We want to be seen as superior above the rest because it makes us feel special. If we tell people that we’ve just won a million, everybody wants to be our friend. It’s instant feel-good. I think this intense craving for love and admiration, this desire to be treated as a taikor after so many years of being treated as a nobody, is why we cannot keep our mouths shut.


So sudden wealth comes with a self destruct button. But I do believe wealth can last 3 generations. There’s a saying, “A fool and his money is soon parted.” The challenge is to not be the fool.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2008 9:44 am

    Yeah, all my comments on other WordPress blogs seems to be banned by Aksimet, sigh…

    Just a comment here… hitting the jackpot is very much akin to reaching retirement isn’t it? If made public, there is a social upheaval, especially if the lucky[?] one is from the lower class. You are unlikely to be able to mix with genuine friends. Of course, it’ll be easy to attract all manners of unsavoury characters that boosts the ego and encourages one to fritter away one’s wealth. Same goes for relatives and even close family members.

    Without work, the main part of a person’s life is flushed down the toiler. Just like a retiree, it seems that there’s no purpose to life anymore. It’s all to easy to pick up bad habits such as alcoholism and isolation. Pressing the “self-destruct” button is all too easy.


    So Akismet thinks you’re a spam taikor. But maybe it changed its mind cause it let your comments thru today.

    Yeah, weak-minded people are so easily sweet-talked by conmen, and the sudden lack of a worthy cause could lead them do things that make their fortunes bleed.

  2. November 20, 2008 9:52 am

    That’s why in Malaysia, they never announce the winner publicly whereas in the States, they do. Still, it’s hard to keep your mouth shut if you really won so much.

    Yeah, we like to share good things and that’s a plus. But while the intention is good, the crocodiles are all waiting.

  3. LC Teh permalink
    November 20, 2008 10:30 am

    Any material that can withstand sudden changes within its own environment has got to be tougher, stronger, more fluid, more resilient, and adaptable to the catalyst of that change. Anything weaker will be destroyed or emerge reformed, deformed and/or you have to give it another name.

    Those who hit jackpots and come out still standing on their two feet probably are many and who managed to stay out of the limelight and carry on with their lives. Perhaps they find their wins are not that overwhelming or they don’t let it spin them out of control.

    Perhaps it’s meant for us to work and earn the money and be gradually rich or gain whatever we want. But still it takes character to be able to keep things in control and not let situations, others or wealth control us.

    Maybe its like a diver’s decompression chamber. If you decompress too quickly, you explode. I notice that people who are eager to impress you with money are relatively new to their wealth. These are the “nouveau riche”. They’ll drive by you in their expensive cars and then look back in the mirror to see if you’re looking whereas those who come from a family that’s been wealthy for 2 generations just couldn’t be bothered.

    You’re right, character makes the difference. What I’m surprised is how easy it is for someone abandon that character of a lifetime of conservation and engage self-destruct mode. Its like breaking free of prison and running all over the place, forgetting that a car can run you over.

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