Is It Worth It?

Posted on August 29, 2012


Is it worth it?

This is the question that is part of everything we do or attempt to do. Is what we sacrifice worth what we gain? Is the time that we give up with family worth the benefit we gain for our finances, or fitness, or personal fulfillment? Is the money we spend worth the vacation, education, or new car?

Sometimes the answer is clear, as in the case of showing up for work everyday (often sacrificing other interests or time with people you care about) in exchange for providing for your family. But many times the answer is not so clear. Anyone who has tried to find the difference between spending $4,000 on a car and $6,000 on a car knows that it can be hard to be certain that the additional $2,000 you spend really gets you $2,000 worth of car.

I just finished my attempt at running a 50 mile ultramarathon. (The inclusion of the word “attempt” is a bit of foreshadowing.) I ran for 8 hr. and 44 min. and covered 38 miles. At which point I was done. I couldn’t answer the question, “Why are you doing this?” and it weighed on me with each step. Since I wanted to end the day in a good place, since I ran farther and longer (time-wise) than I had ever run before I was able to DNF without shame or regret.

And yet I did not do what I set out to do. I failed to meet my goal.

So was it worth it?

I had been working toward this race since I signed up for it last November. I logged 859.2 miles over innumerable hours. I spent money on entry fees, shoes, gels, shorts, socks, and sports drinks. I took time from Caryn and the kids. I took time away from writing both this blog and my book. I neglected house projects and several important relationships.

And I still failed to meet my goal. Was it worth it?

I have thought about this a lot in the last three days and have come up with only one reasonable answer: Who cares? 

“Was it worth it?” is the wrong question.

I attempted something unbelievable, something that stands alone. You don’t fault the Mona Lisa for not being Guernica. In fact, you don’t even ask if a beautiful painting was “worth” it. You ask a different set of questions, questions like, “What was the artist trying to say in this piece?” or “What were they reacting to that had come before?” Or better still, you don’t ask any questions, you simply revel in the presence of something that reaches into the deeper reality and puts what they pull out on display for all to see.

So I don’t know if training for, but not completing, a 50 miler was worth it. Maybe I’m glad that I didn’t finish, because if I had this post would have been as short as “I DID IT!” Maybe I’m simply justifying the past to feel good in the present. Maybe I have no idea why I do most of the things I do. All I can do is keeping living like an artist. My canvases are my writing, my running, my children, my way of being in the world. I cannot always explain them, but if they are well-done then when other people experience them, perhaps they will be moved toward the deeper reality which is our true home.

(In Was it Worth It? Part II, I’m going to examine this idea applied to faith.)

photo: vaXvine

Posted in: risk