Four runners take their position at the starting line of an 800 Meter race. That’s two laps around a regulation track in what has now become a sprint even among amateur athletes. It is one of the most grueling running events in the world of Track & Field.


All four athletes possess essentially the exact same aptitude and ability. When it comes to physical fitness, mental acuity, natural talent, and athletic skill, they are virtually identical. All four have enjoyed top of the line coaching with cutting edge training on the latest and greatest equipment in state of the art facilities. Whatever uniqueness separates them as individuals has absolutely no bearing on their athletic equality. When it comes to sheer athletic prowess, these four athletes are quadruplets.


However, one runner crosses the finish line far ahead of the others in impressive time. The second place runner finishes well, but not anywhere close to the winner. The third place finisher completes the race long after the previous two runners, arms and legs flailing, lungs burning, barely crossing the finish line before collapsing in a heap of hurt on the track; his breakfast splashed all over his running shoes. The remaining athlete finishes a lethargic last, not even close to the three runners in front of him. He wasn’t walking, but he would have were it not for the fact that the entire ordeal would have just taken longer to complete.


If all four runners are virtually identical in athletic ability, what separates them so dramatically from each other at the finish line?


As it turns out, the answer isn't attitude. Each of the four athletes had a very different level of interest in their quest to run the 800 Meter race.


The first place athlete is intensely interested in all things running. From nutrition to acceleration, from kinesiology to physiology, he is passionate about learning every little nuance of what it takes to be a world-class runner. He is eager about putting in the extra time to push himself further past where it is comfortable. He embraces the pain that precedes the rewards he enjoys with the sacrifices he makes.


The second place finisher is just as interested in running as his faster teammate. However, nobody is teasing him about wanting to be the next Olympic 800M gold medalist. He is diligent during practices, pays attention to what his coach is telling him, and watches other runners to see what he can learn from them. However, he’s not going to put any extra time and effort into his race. He enjoys being on the team and the exhilaration of competition, but track is not his primary interest. He’s more interested being one of the athletes permitted on the infield than he is taking his place on the podium.


The third place finisher likes all this talk about running faster. However, if the truth were told, he’s just not all that interested in what it takes to do it. It looks like a lot of really hard work. He dabbles in the race. He reads about sprinters, talks to other runners, listens to what the coaches have to say, and shows up for practice each day. However, he’s in it more for the camaraderie than the conditioning. While he can tell you a little about the latest strategies and fastest records, the threat of personal discomfort in the form of sweat and soreness quickly douses any enthusiasm he has for getting better at running the 800 Meter.


Every bit equal to the other three athletes when it comes to ability, the fourth place finisher just doesn’t care much about anything that has to do with all this running in circles faster than anybody else. As his coaches have observed and he affirms, “He could care less.” He’s not interested in the learning, the work, or the competition. He’s certainly not interested in the pain. While all the other athletes are doing the hard work, he’s working hard to avoid it. He’d much rather be somewhere else doing anything else than running, sweating, and hurting.


Interest Makes the Difference


The difference between the four athletes is their level of interest.


It’s a classic case of the age-old adage: “You get out of it what you put into it.” With greater degrees of interest come greater amounts of return and reward. It’s true in sports. It’s true in education. It’s true in career. It’s certainly true in life!


The phrase “You get out of it what you put into it” is a proverb; an observation about the way life generally works. A proverb is not a guarantee or a promise. It is an idiom, of sorts, declaring the way life works “nine times out of ten” or “more times than not.”


·      “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

·      “Early bird gets the worm.”

·      “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

·      “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

·      “Better safe than sorry.”


A proverb is about learning lessons from what the patterns of life teach us.


Proverbs are coined by people who have found that life works a certain way most of the time, deduced a lesson from the pattern, and then turned a phrase in such a way that others could benefit from the advice.


Wise people heed the lessons of a proverb. Foolish people? Well, there’s a reason why they’re always running around trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. They don’t pay attention to the way life works. They don’t listen well, or worse, they ignore really good advice. In turn, they make a lot of lousy choices. Their lives usually reflect the complications and consequences that come with dismissing the really wise advice offered by popular proverbs.


As a Life Coach, I have had a front row seat on the enormous wisdom packed into the proverb “You get out of it what you put into it.” I have seen first hand evidence that people generally get out of life what they put into it. This is very true when it comes to many of life’s important pursuits and responsibilities.


To help clients evaluate important arenas of life where they want to see progress, I have identified four levels of interest that make or break what we experience in the various pursuits of our lives. These four attitudes are true about everything, whether we are talking about our relationships or our money, our health or our careers.


Level of Interest #1: Apathetic

Apathy is one level of interest. Not a very good one, of course, but it is how some people go about critical arenas of their life. Some people are apathetic about their health. Some people are apathetic about their finances. Others are apathetic about their career. And still some people, well, they are just apathetic about everything.


An apathetic attitude is characterized as lazy, half-hearted, or lackadaisical. This is the person who lives with an “I don’t care” spirit. Not that somebody has to care about everything, but when we take that spirit with important responsibilities in life, we generally “get out of it what we put into it.”


Level of Interest #2: Attentive

An attentive level of interest pays attention to more details related to responsibilities in a particular area. In other words, they start to listen more closely, learn more about a subject than they knew beforehand, or recognize some of the rules that affect the way things work.


To be attentive is to be interested, to pay attention, to learn, to listen, to begin being aware of something in a way or to a degree that you were not previously. A person who takes a new interest in a diet begins paying closer attention to what they eat, how much they eat or how the food they consume helps or hurts their efforts to lose weight. In other words, they become attentive to what they’re eating and drinking.


Level of Interest #3: Active

To take an active interest in something is to become more engaged in the subject. Words like involved, proactive, and responsible describe the active level of interest. People exhibiting an active interest in their finances start practicing skills and honoring rules that are fundamental to wise money management. They start moving their money into better investment vehicles, working with a monthly budget, and take a whole different attitude about their use of a credit card.


Level of Interest #4: Avid

When it comes to an avid interest in something, words like intense, dedicated, proficient, or focused come to mind. People with an avid interest in a particular subject are often pretty intense; passionate. These are people who really know their stuff; they possess a wealth of information and experience.


Avid is not about crazy, obsessed, or over the top. Avid is about committed, disciplined, intelligent, and skilled.


“Avid” is just the word apathetic people use for committed people who possess the passion and discipline their critic’s lack. Put another way, “Obsessed” is the word lazy people use to describe the dedicated.


The level of success we enjoy in any pursuit or responsibility is governed by the wisdom of the “you get out of it what you put into it” proverb. This is true regardless of whatever topic we are discussing: physical fitness, financial management, child rearing, business development, or personal relationships.


Let me suggest a simple exercise. Take out a sheet of paper and write down a list of the important arenas (roles, responsibilities, ambitions) of your life. I generally use five key areas:


1.    Personal (internal well-being and spiritual vitality),

2.    Physical

3.    Financial

4.    Relational

5.    Vocational


Your list may include more subjects. You can also divide one of the suggested topics into greater specificity. For instance, you might divide Relational into spouse, children, friends, and key work associates. It’s your list. Make it as personal as you’d like. (May I suggest, “You’ll get out of this exercise what you put into it.”)


Once you have created your list, assign each item a number based on the level of interest you are currently giving it in your life.


·      1 Point: Apathetic (“I don’t care.”)

·      2 Points: Attentive (“I’m trying to do better!”)

·      3 Points: Active (“I’m learning and doing the best I can right now.”

·      4 Points: Avid (“I’m giving this my priority.”)


You don’t need to be avid about everything in your life. I encourage my clients to shoot for taking an active interest in the most critical arenas of their world such as relationships and finances. However, if there is a particularly crucial arena of your life that continues to frustrate your expectations or ambitions, it is probably going to require an avid level of interest until it looks and feels more like you want.


This is what we often call “our focus” or “one of our top priorities right now.” When our relationship with one of our teenage children has become unusually difficult or dramatic, we need to make it one of our primary areas of interest. We need to become extremely diligent – avid - about learning and doing whatever we can to improve the relationship. It takes precedence over our golf game, or in some cases, even our work if we understand the enormous significance it holds compared to every other pursuit of life.


I just don’t understand the man with the scratch golf game who gripes and complains about the disappointment of his marriage. Or the woman who knows all the latest trends in clothes and accessories but can’t get along in a healthy fashion with her teenage daughter. Both are a bad case of an avid interest in the wrong things when more important priorities deserve greater attention and effort.


You’re going to have to amp up your level of interest in that arena where you want see improvement. That may require some reading, some learning, some mentoring, some skill development, and some reordering of priorities. It will definitely require more time and energy. Nothing gets done in our lives without the appropriate distribution of time and energy toward it.


Like a professional golfer concentrates on his putting after he recognizes it has become a weakness in his game, we have to focus on those areas of our lives where we want to see greater progress, growth, or change.


“You get out of it what you put into it.”


Whatever level of interest you take in the crucial pursuits of life will generally return a corresponding reward. Like planting a garden, you get out of it what you put into it. If you give your marriage the active attention and intimacy it deserves, you will enjoy a dynamic relationship with your spouse. If you disregard the important disciplines of sound financial management, you will suffer the consequences of insufficient resources for your needs.


In one way or another, we all line up at a starting line for a race against the crucial roles and responsibilities of our life. Whether it’s raising children, nurturing a marriage, managing our money, or pursuing our career, the level of interest we give to these priorities will determine the kind of race we run.


Just remember, “You get out of it what you put into it.”


Runners, on your mark.

Get set.