Sunday, August 16, 2009


I had the pleasure this weekend of visiting with my grandkids other grandma, Alice. We were talking about yard sales, and the subject came around to Beanie Babies (which she had gotten at a yard sale for the girls and brought with her). Alice said that she knew a woman who “back then” thought Beanie Babies would be a good investment, only to increase in value. At least that’s what people told her. At any rate, she now has a Beanie Baby worth practically nothing, for which she originally paid $700.

You hear the word “investment” tossed around frequently in a troubled economy. Everyone wonders what to invest in. Stocks? Real estate? CDs? Oil? The choices are many.

Investment has three major definitions. The first: “The action or process of investing money for profit or material result.” The second: “A thing that is worth buying because it may be profitable or useful in the future.” Both of those, of course, deal primarily with money. I like the third definition: “An act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.”

I think a lot of life’s results are the results of what we deem worthy of investment. Most of the time, we don’t really see it as investment. We associate the word investment with money so much that we forget the third definition - time, effort, or energy. Money, of course, can also be used in the third definition - you can invest money in causes, such as the environment, that you likely won’t see immediate benefit but which you feel will “pay off” in the future.

At work, for example, I’m trying to teach other MTs that taking the time (unpaid time, off the clock) to learn our word expander inside and out, to build glossaries, to find shortcuts, is an investment in time that will eventually make them more productive after a while. Of course, during the time they’re doing the “investing,” it seems to be a waste. The payoff comes later - but it will come.

Then we stretch the definition of payoff to involve others. I’ve told this story before, but there once was an elderly man who was planting an apple tree. A young boy came by, watched for a while, then said, “You know, old man, you’re never going to live to eat one single apple of that tree.” The old man replied, “I know, but others will.”

The best investments, it seems to me, result in a payoff not for ourselves, but for other people, whether it involves money, time, effort, or energy. We had a local man die last year who bequeathed an investment of a million dollars to our new emergency room. He will obviously never reap the benefits, but he did it anyway. Ed invested in the future of the ministry when he paid a year’s tuition anonymously for a deserving fellow student at the seminary where he was attending. We invest in future generations when we recycle and look for alternative forms of energy. We invest in the future when we spend time with our children and make memories with them, when we take action to help families become functional again, when we write a poem or piece of music to be enjoyed in years to come. We could never have heard the great composers if they hadn’t invested time in writing and editing their symphonies, or the great singers such as Beverly Sills, if they hadn’t invested time in learning and practicing.

Our society is so addicted to the instant gratification that we forget some investments take a long time to “pay off.” Long-term benefits versus short-term pleasures. It can be a hard lesson. Sometimes in the Journey to Simplicity, we don’t see the results of your choices until they become cumulative. Then we can finally see some results - but it can take years of wading through difficult choices.

My hope for the world is that we are choosing our investments wisely, and that we have the patience and wisdom to understand exactly what we are investing and why.

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