When I found out I had won $112 million dollars in the California Mega Millions jackpot eight years ago, I wasn't even watching the TV. The winning numbers had been announced a few days before, but my kids and I had forgotten to check. Then my father called and told me to look at my ticket. The random numbers aligned.
I felt elated, like I was floating.
When you win the lottery, you can either opt to go to the state lottery office or receive the check in the mail (you can also accept one lump sum or installments). My brother, father, and I decided to go collect the check, in one lump sum, in person. It was more exciting that way.
On the way to the state lottery office, I remember thinking that this money was coming at precisely the right time—and that I had willed it into my possession.
I'd generally played the lottery about two to three times a month, and friends and family always said, "Oh, you know, a lot of people try and win." And I would always say, "Yeah, but I'm going to win." I had been focusing on winning for so long that when I did finally win, it didn't even feel random; it felt like I had made it happen.
My trick? Whenever I bought my ticket, I would visualize winning. At first, I picked my own numbers. But then, as I would visualize the money as my own, I'd pick whatever quick, random numbers flashed into my head.
I even chose that exact number: $112 million. I decided that I would win that amount.
The first thing I did with my winnings was go house-hunting. I had been living in Hawthorne, California in a 1,100 square foot house raising my late brother's five kids (at the time, they ranged in age from eight to 17 years old). I was working as an account executive with a computer technology firm; I sold specialized software training for computer techs and major corporate organizations. I was financially supporting the kids, myself, as well as helping my dad out here and there where I could. Money was tight but we were okay. I've always known how to work with what I've had.
When I asked the kids what they would like in our new house, they unanimously said, "a pool!" So I looked for a house with a pool. I found a 4,000 square foot home in the Pacific Palisades that was the house I had always imagined myself in. It wasn't crazy decked out; no huge big backyard. But it felt very open. Nearly 10 years after winning, I'm still living in it and I still love it.
Next, I upgraded my car: I bought a used Mercedes-Benz R-class.
Then I set up a film production company—something else I always envisioned myself doing. A couple of the kids were getting into acting (I had paid for them to take acting courses prior to winning), and one of my daughters was getting a lot of work. I started going with her to different sets where she was filming and getting a good sense of the business.
I had taken a two-day business course at the Hollywood Film Institute with the founder, Dov Simens, about a year before I'd won. I remember being in the class and he asked everyone a question: How many of us had the money to make a film? Some of the class raised their hands. And then, how many of us intended to have the money to make a film? I raised my hand for that one.
Later on, I bought a lot of little things: a trainer, a trip to Paris. I've donated to charities I have always admired. But I look back now on the first time I took that business course and realize that I was getting myself prepared for the new life I felt sure I'd have. That's the thing about money: You have to prepare yourself for wealth. You have to mentally prepare for what is going to occur—at least as much as you can.
That's why I think I'm an anomaly as a successful, stable lottery winner. I prepared and recruited people like financial advisors and lawyers (who I began researching before even winning) to help me get in the correct mindset of possessing this much money.
My financial situation has shifted since winning the lottery. I've had many losses: businesses that have gone south and people who have stolen from me. But I've learned to trust myself more than anything. My intuition has become my most valuable asset.
And yes, I still play the lottery once a week. After all, it's only a couple of dollars.
Cynthia P. Stafford won the California Lottery in 2007. She is the CEO of Queen Nefertari Productions and serves on the Board of Directors of The Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles.
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