08 Nov 2019 Running, money, and the importance of practice.
When I was a freshman in high school, someone convinced me it would be a good idea to run cross country as a way to get in shape for basketball season. Looking back I don’t believe that was particularly good advice, since there is very little overlap between “cross country shape” and “basketball shape,” but I ran anyway, and it was “fun.” I was not very good at running 3.1 miles in a row at anything approaching a fast clip, and I mostly hated the actual running part, yet I found the whole experience of being on that team to be deeply meaningful and yes, even fun. Why is that?
Recently I have started running again, mostly on a treadmill at the YMCA at lunchtime. I still mostly hate it. Every time the belt starts moving fast enough for me to have to begin running to avoid being flung off I think to myself, “What have I done?” And yet, somehow, I can honestly say I love that I’m running again. As I talk to runners I hear a similar tension, no matter if they are a novice or setting PRs in marathons and 10Ks. The tension of the suffering and deep enjoyment of being a runner. I suspect that over time and as runners get better, the act of running and the identity of being a runner become harder and harder to parse out. My question is, Do runners run because they believe in running? Or do they learn to believe in running because they run?
In this country, and maybe most places in the West post-Enlightenment, there is a pervading idea that your belief system is mostly in your head and determinative of your actions. Whether your belief system is faith-based or politically-based or economically-based or whatever, your actions–your ethics, your practices–will surely follow. Or so the thinking goes. I’m not so sure.
Lots of people who believe running is really good for them do not run! And what’s more, those who actually take the first step and begin running quickly realize they hate running more than anyone and start thinking of all the ways they would like to disbelieve. At the beginning especially, belief and an idea that we love running are not nearly enough to make us runners. But if we’re lucky, we’ve got some runner friends to commiserate with, who help us get out for the second and third and fourth runs, and then all of the sudden we are believing in running with our heads and our legs.
This is why run clubs or cross country teams don’t start at the shoe store with the gear and the new shoes and a pep talk about how to believe in running. No! They simply get people together to run. The act or practice of running itself drives the belief that the running is worthwhile. And the belief pushes each individual to run a little bit farther or faster and to show up the next time. Churches have liturgies and sacramental practices. Political parties have bumper stickers, rallies, voting, and scapegoating. Sports teams have games and chants and uniforms and colors. The belief and the practices are two sides of the same coin, and the practices often come first.
All of that is a long introduction to what is from here on out a very short blog, because all I really have to say in relation to personal finance is this: A set of values around money requires a corresponding set of practices–often in community–or else those values will never be realized.
Lots of people believe they are savers and barely save. Lots of people believe they are givers but their tax returns suggest otherwise. Lots of people believe they are goal-based planners but are not actually engaged in doing so. Lots of people believe they are investors but are either hoarders of cash or speculative bettors. Lots of people believe they are “family people” but aren’t making the vocational adjustments they need to for time with family to be a reality.
Look. I’m right there with you. It’s easier for me to assume my intellectual beliefs are driving my day to day financial decisions than to look at my day to day financial decisions and ask myself what I really believe in. I need someone like my cross country coach and team to provide accountability and a structured set of practices that reintegrate my beliefs and my actual financial habits. That’s part of what we do at Beacon. There’s not nearly as much sweating involved, and hopefully no shin splints, but there is the level of accountability, structure, and coaching required to make sure your doing and believing are aligned and that your finances are as healthy as can be.