A few weeks ago I ran the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in NYC with 19 of my fellow coworkers. It’s a 3.5 mile race (slightly longer than a 5k) through Central Park in the early evening. The last time I ran it was in San Francisco when I was 23 years old and weighed 145lbs. Back then I finished it in under 22 minutes (06:15 mile pace) and was in the top 100 finishers.

This year I weigh closer to 190lbs and hoped to finish around 24:30 (a 7:00 mile pace). In the months prior to the race I had achieved this time more than once during my training. Unfortunately, on race day I wasn’t even close. I finished at 25:57 (07:25 pace) and almost collapsed after crossing the finish line.

My problem was that I had only trained on flat ground and the endless, rolling hills of Central Park crushed me. But what really messed me up was a mistake I made after mile 3. As exhaustion set in during the last half mile of the race, I looked ahead and saw what I thought was the finish line. So, I sprinted to what I assumed was the end of the race. 

Unfortunately, moments later my heart sank as I realized my error. I didn’t know it at the time, but I still had about 0.2 miles to go. At this point I was completely out of it, but pushed through the pain to keep running. And here is where I made my 2nd (and far worse) mistake. When I finally saw the actual finish line, I sprinted once again. It wasn’t that long of a sprint, but I shouldn’t have done it. That’s when everything became a blur.

I barely remember crossing the finish line. What I do recall is wanting to sit down, but the race organizers telling me that I had to keep moving. After stumbling along in agony for a few minutes, I found a tree and laid against it.

As I lay there out of breath I remember thinking, “How will my co-workers find me? How am I going to get home? I can’t even walk.” I also remember how heavy my cell phone felt in my hand. It was like it weighed 100 pounds. My fingers struggled to hold onto it. 

Ten minutes later I saw one of my coworkers and realized I had to call him. But my brain wasn’t working. I just felt stupid. It was like I was blackout drunk. For example, it took me a full minute to open my phone, find my coworker’s name, and call him. Normally it would take seconds.

Thankfully my coworker picked up and I was able to guide him to me. Another coworker brought me some bananas and I rested for a bit longer before heading over to our firm’s post-race table. That’s where I had one of the biggest realizations of my life.

As everyone was celebrating and feeling good, I was barely functional. Truthfully, I had never felt closer to death in my life. I’ve done hard workouts before. I know what it’s like to push myself. I’ve been running for over a decade. But what I experienced after crossing that finish line was something else entirely.

And for what? To have a 07:25 pace instead of a 07:30 pace? Remove my two sprints from the race and I come in maybe 30 seconds later. What difference would it have made in my life? None. I don’t win some extra prize by coming in at 25:57 instead of 26:27. 

So why did I do it? Yes, I wanted to push myself. Yes, I wanted to beat my goal. But, ultimately, I did it because I was selfish.

I was so focused on my race performance that I put it above everything else. I put it above enjoying the experience with my coworkers. And, most importantly, I put it above my own health.

It’s never been easier to be selfish. Our entire digital world revolves around it. We have social networks where your every thought and action can be publicly broadcast to the world. You can be on the “Me Show” everyday, if you so choose. Eugene Wei wrote about this back in 2019 when discussing how social media effectively allowed individuals to IPO:

One way to understand the impact of these public social networks on humanity is to think of this as the era in which humans took their personal thoughts and lives public at scale. Billions of humans IPO’d, whether we were ready for it or not, explaining why the concept of a personal “brand” became such a pervasive metaphor.

As someone who creates content for a living, I’m more susceptible to this than most. And while I try to limit it by posting less about my personal life, it still creeps up on me from time to time.

But, I’m trying to change that. I don’t want to be as selfish anymore. I don’t want to focus so much on my blog views or book sales. I want to spend more time talking with my friends and family. I want to help more people with their financial lives and their careers. Josh Brown once wrote:

Make yourself useful to smart, successful people. That’s how you should spend the first ten years of your career.

Surround yourself with smart, successful people and then bet on them. That’s how you should spend the next ten years.

I’ve done the first part, but I’ve been lacking on the second. Thankfully, after facing off with my own mortality, I’m starting to see the light. I’m starting to understand what truly matters in the end.

I was reminded of this fact after hearing the unfortunate news that one of my favorite financial writers, Jonathan Clements, was recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. I remember reading Clements’ Money Guide back in 2016 and thinking that it was too good because it covered basically every topic in finance. Now I feel sad that a man who has helped so many people with their money won’t have as much time to enjoy his. It’s truly a tragedy and I wish Clements all the best in his battle ahead.

It’s funny because you can sleepwalk through life until something big comes along and wakes you up. A catalyst that gives you new perspective. My catalyst came at the end of 3.5 grueling miles. It came after 34 years of focusing on myself. Let’s just hope that I don’t say the same thing about the next 34 years.

Thank you for reading.

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