Many things in life have different costs. Best to understand what the return on that investment will be and focus on things that will improve life the most. For me, running has always had an amazing return on investment. I wrote two years ago about the month I spent running 100 miles and drinking no alcohol. The goal had initially been to take a pause from drinking, but a little forethought on the trouble I’d face made it clear an incentive to remain sober on Friday and Saturday nights was necessary. At the time, I hadn’t been in the running mood and could easily put some of that blame onto the worn out, less than supportive sneakers needed for the job. Anyone who has run 5k in last year’s shoes knows how damaging it can be. So I made the decision that if old shoes were ever the reason I wasn’t running, I would immediately buy a new pair. Those 28 days in 2015 completely changed my attitude towards running, drinking, and my own self discipline. Had I avoided an $80 purchase, even for a few weeks, it wouldn’t have been possible.
It’s easy to look at every purchase as a similar back and forth between cost and return. Big steak dinners and flights around the world make most people happier and can have life altering affects, especially a nice medium rare from Lugar’s. Channeling the right attitude can make a steak dinner as gratifying as a long run. The benefits I’m after, though, don’t subside with morning heartburn or face a long, haunting, transoceanic flight at the end of the week. Rather, like running, they are actions and resources that can be returned to, whether to brighten the day, settle fears, or enliven the world. At times, like most, I choose the easier path, the bacon and eggs over the morning run, but it’s the days when I’m ready to go that are most important. I can’t expect to always be on top of my game, but when I want to be, some old shoes can’t get in the way.
The lesson from the running shoes has been clear as day, an investment in myself is the best one I can make. Running allows me to sleep better, eat better, and look better. Tough decisions come into focus after miles in the park and there are few better ways to take in the sunshine or move on from a big night. All those benefits are alive in another form, books. The stories of a future president fighting with grizzlies or a new father fighting with cancer. A town which thrived on its religious diversity being ripped apart during World War 1 or a town ripped apart by segregation finding solace on the football field. A frightening future where free thought is suppressed, highlighted by punishment and fear, or happiness and bliss. The storylines are infinite and they inspire a depth of thought that modern life, outside the annual serving of inspired, well-acted movies, rarely lends itself to. None of this, however, is without cost. A single hardcover may run as much as a night out. But how often has the perfect cheeseburger changed your views? Huge coffee table books aside, I never avoid a book because of the cost. And if money is the issue, libraries shift the cost to time. There’s no greater investment than investment in myself and few offer better returns than books.
Finally, living an ocean away in the 21st century creates a host of situations that my ancestors would have found crippling. As recently as the 90’s, long distance phone calls would have isolated me far more than I am today. Fortunately, modern technology has shrunk the world and I can remain closer with people in California than in Chelsea. Data fees (which almost everyone seems pay) aside, the cost of communication is now one of time. First is the time to understand how these mechanisms work, understanding that a call over wifi, from a coffee shop in New York to one in Paris, is as good as free. Then there’s the time needed to download the app: Whatsapp, Messenger, Line, Skype, Google Hangouts, whatever it might be. The space is so crowded, two of the apps mentioned above are owned by the same people. But understanding these applications isn’t trivial, they all act differently, explode with outrageous stickers and emojis, and require time. But, they allow for interaction that didn’t seem possible years ago. From nearly anywhere in the world, anyone else is within reach. Call mom in for relationship problems, or recipe problems. Show off the new apartment with a guided tour, or don’t. Whether in London, New York, or Sydney, everyone’s a dial away.
This isn’t a call to run, read, or communicate, although we could all be a little better at each. Sometimes a bit of isolation or relaxation is exactly what’s needed. But at those moments when action is the best answer, when a simple tool or technology can enable such a satisfying result, being stuck empty handed is more than unfortunate, it’s unnecessary. We can’t expect to always be in the ‘flow’, driven by an internal resolution to transform our lives for the better. But when it happens, when an idea hits or a feeling overwhelms, it sure as hell won’t be a pair of sneakers that holds me back.