5 Lessons On Financial Well-Being From My Half MarathonNov 10, 2023
Training for and running a half marathon carries many parallels with our financial lives–some more obvious than others. Recently, I trained for and ran in the Charlotte Half Marathon, and it reminded me of five important lessons for our journey with money.
I invite you to reflect on your own life and journey with money as I share these reflections from my own experience.
1. Long Driveways, Financial Well-Being and Wealth
I love listening to other people’s conversations. Yes, I am an ear hustler. Running in a half marathon gives you a lot of opportunities to overhear bits and pieces of conversations.
As we ran through the wealthy neighborhood of Myers Park, I could overhear a couple of guys making comments about the large homes and how wealthy these people must be. One of them said, “You know how you can tell they are wealthy? It’s the length of their driveway.”
I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation–but this idea about the length of the driveway serving as an approximation for wealth got my gears turning. How do we evaluate wealth? Naturally, there are the formal ways like net worth, but there are so many other smaller markers of wealth, such as the length of driveway that people have.
On our journey of financial wellbeing, we are invited into a deeper reflection about what it means to be wealthy. For many of us, we will start with a single factor like a long driveway or a certain net worth; what I have found over time, however, is that we need a more expansive and nuanced definition of wealth to include not just financial numbers or long driveways, but also mental health and relational connections in order to truly feel wealthy.
2. Running Your Own Race, Being Inspired By Others, and Social Comparison
We are social creatures, and as such, our brains are wired to compare. This is partly the reason why the two guys were making observations about the different lengths of driveways and what that meant for those individuals’ levels of wealth.
Social Comparison Theory helps us to normalize that we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. I have often tried to stop this psychological process, due to imperatives like “ Stop Trying To Keep Up With the Joneses” or “Comparison is the Thief of Joy;” yet, what running this recent half marathon reminded me of is that my brain and mind are going to compare myself to others, and that is neither an all good nor an all bad thing.
What is more important when it comes to the process of social comparison is being aware that you are doing it, evaluating what impact it is having on you, and then moving forward. Let’s give an example.
Earlier that day, I started the race with some friends who planned to run the race in two hours. I knew I hadn’t trained for that pace, and that it was going to be more like three hours for me. As we made our way down the road, I observed the pace of the runners and my own to continually see that I needed to slow down. I was inspired by the faster runners, and it made me excited to be amongst them, and I also knew I needed to slow down.
Much later in the race, I was running at my pace. As I looked at the runners around me, for the most part, I would have a sense of gratitude. Every once in a while, I would have a thought come up saying that I was better than them and could run faster. My brain was comparing myself to the slower racers and remembering when I used to be able to run a two-hour marathon. I would then remind myself, This is where I am now, and it allowed me to return to enjoying the race.
When we learn to leverage social comparison and hold an awareness of its impact on us, it can help us move to greater levels of financial well-being. It is important to be mindful of who we are comparing ourselves to, so that we can have helpful frames of reference both for running and developing wealth and financial well-being.
3. Cresting the Hill and Allowing Old Memories To Flow
Our memories are such a large part of our lives and shape its meaning. For me, running the Charlotte Half Marathon brought up old memories I hadn’t anticipated, and actually led to another level of healing and integration of my own story and memories.
As I crested the hill and began running down Queens Rd West, I felt tears start to stream down my face. This road is iconic and beautiful, with stately homes and massive trees–it is like something off of a movie set. My mind returned to being 26 years old and having recently been married, and moving to Charlotte. I had been focused on building wealth in this new chapter of my life. I didn’t know fully how I would do it, but I knew I wanted it.
I enrolled in an MBA program at Queens University, which was located in this wealthy part of town. In those days, I would often go for a run down Queens Rd. West before classes started, dreaming of what it would be like to own one of these fine homes.
Now, seventeen years later, my life and relationship with wealth has changed a lot–it has matured. In that moment, I felt a sense of compassion for the young man I once was. On the outside, he was full of hopes, dreams, and aspirations, but beneath the surface, he was driven by insecurities he did not even know existed. There was a quiet and subtle compulsion to become wealthy. The unstated thought at the time was, If only I become wealthy, then everything else will be okay.
It is in my own hero’s journey of self-discovery and healing that I can reflect back on that time and see myself with compassion. When we go on a journey of self-discovery and healing, we can return to a familiar place and see it with fresh and more experienced eyes. I now know there is no amount of wealth that can bring an internal sense of security and relational connectedness.
As the tears flowed, I took them as a sign of my own growth. I allowed them to move me, and then when they passed, I continued on. I still enjoyed seeing the beautiful homes, but the shadowy side of social comparison did not entangle me in a game of comparison suggesting that I am somehow not enough because I do not have one of these homes.
4. Being Supported By Strangers Helps
Learning to trust and enjoy the support of others is a large part of financial wellbeing. Sometimes you have brief interactions with people that give you the encouragement to keep going on your journey with money.
I was reminded so clearly of the value of social support during the half marathon. There were people lining the streets with encouraging signs like “Hit here to power up” (yes, it was a piece of cardboard with a mushroom on it: a reference to Super Mario Brothers). And somehow, the simple act of hitting that piece of cardboard did give me a brief power-up for running a bit further.
We need regular doses of external support while we are on our journey with life and money as well, much like I needed them on my half marathon. At the same time, though, there was no one else who could run my half-marathon for me; I needed to do it.
When we are on our journey of financial wellbeing, one of our most important sources of social support can be spouses. Finding and creating ways to continually support each other on your shared financial life together is an essential part of financial wellbeing and financial intimacy. Who knows? Maybe even a cardboard sign with a mushroom on it saying “power up” can help the two of you through some tough times.
5. The Hug At the End Meant The Most
Over the course of the half marathon, I would think about my wife and three boys. We had planned for them to see me at the finish line. As I got further and further into the race, I realized I was on both a physical journey over 13.2 miles and a psychological one.
I had three hours to reflect on my life, hear stories about driveways and wealth, high-five two women running their first full marathon, see so many smiling and cheering faces, cry in acknowledgment of my younger self, high-five an old neighbor who was one of the police officers blocking traffic, and experience so many more unforgettable moments in-between.
It was the end of the race that mattered the most. I made my way towards the finish line, and I saw my family cheering me on. I ran up to them and burst into tears, took in a big group hug, and then went on to run across the finish line. Seeing my family there and supporting me was so layered and meaningful.
There are many thoughts, feelings, and experiences tied to the race; Charlotte, wealth, and my own journey were all with me along this course, and for that I am immensely grateful. The same is true of our race with money.
In Reflection, Financial Well-Being Is So Much More
It is and is not about the half marathon. The event created the goal and opportunity to run, but that is not the why. The why is about who I became in the process of training for and running the half marathon. Similarly, financial well-being and wealth are not the point; it is who you become in the run through and towards achieving financial well-being and wealth that truly matters.
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