It’s December 31, 2021, as I write this and I just completed my last run of the year. I literally ran home (well, duh) to calculate my total.
$4.78. That’s how much I collected in found change throughout the year.
It started off as just a fun stunt.
I would sometimes find loose coins, or even bills, on the street during my runs. I always stopped to pocket them. I’m embarrassed to say I did this even during the spring of 2020, when I wouldn’t touch my groceries before putting on three-ply gloves.
But a few days into 2021, I had an idea.
What if I put aside all the money I collected and see what it amounted to after a full year?
My friends and family had some interesting reactions.
My husband Steve teased that my running funds wouldn’t allow me to quit my day job.
My friend Vickie expressed disbelief that I bothered to bend down for even the pennies. “Hmm, I never thought to do that,” she said.
Elissa, who likes long walks and has a competitive streak, wanted to turn it into a challenge. Which one of us could collect more by year’s end? But after a few months, and an unfortunate encounter with a fake $100 bill in a ditch, she was out.
So, mile after mile, I soldiered on alone.
On the cusp of the finish line, with fewer than five dollars added to my bank account, I can’t conclude that my experiment was financially fruitful.
But I gained something unexpected through my year of collecting change on runs — affirmation of six important life lessons.
Lesson #1. When you’re searching for something, you’ll find it.
Although my goal was to find and collect money during my runs in 2021, I rarely thought about this as I put on my running shoes and set out the door. For safety, I ran with my eyes forward, not glued to the street. I was usually distracted anyway — by how my body was feeling at the time; by the music or podcast streaming through my AirPods.
But then I would it would appear — a penny here, a quarter there.
I didn’t have to work hard to see it. And even when I ran with others, I always seemed to be the one to notice stray change.
I set the intention and let the rest take care of itself. Not by sitting back and doing nothing, but by taking forward action. In this case, I just ran. Usually around 20 miles a week.
I applied this in other areas of my life. Like my job search in the latter part of this year. I found the same results.
“Don’t hold anything too tightly — just wish for it. Want it. Let it come from the intention of real truth for you and then let it go. And if it’s supposed to be yours it will show up and it won’t show up until you stop holding it so tightly.” — Oprah Winfrey
Lesson #2: Sometimes you have to go where the money is.
There are certain roads in my town (my own included) on which I have not found a single cent. Others, like those outside the elementary schools, which get lots of foot traffic, or near commercial stores, where people are regularly taking money out of their pockets or wallets, are going to have the best odds. If you’re in the mood to get lucky, you need to go where the action is.
This realization helped me decide on routes for my short-run days. And it helped me change my perspective — literally and figuratively.
It also reminded me of the 80/20 principle, which says that 80 percent of our results in business and in life stem from just 20 percent of our efforts. The goal of the principle is to help you achieve more with less time and toil and let go of whatever is not working or has little return on investment.
I found more money applying this principle (on my runs and in life) in 2021.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” — Dr. Seuss
Lesson #3: Detours can yield the biggest riches.
During the pandemic, I went searching for a route less crowded than my usual two-lane road that runs the length of our town. I ended up finding a quiet cemetery with a private path just a mile away. The path was often good for some loose change. One morning, though, the cemetery gate was closed and I ended up doing a loop through some side streets in a decidedly less affluent part of the town to reach the mileage I wanted.
The streets on that detour ended up being littered with coins. In less than a quarter of a mile, I had added an extra 40 cents to my loot.
I was reminded that day that, despite what I say in lesson #2, sometimes you find money — or opportunities — where you least expect. And that sometimes in life, your detours take you exactly where you need to end up.
“The strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours.” — John Piper
Lesson #4: There will be heavy days to make up for your light days.
I went on many runs and completed many miles in 2021. Nearly 300 runs overall and ~1000 miles total. I didn’t find change on every run. Some days I came home with 28 cents, others 17 cents or even 2. But many, many days, I returned empty handed.
That didn’t stop me. I held out hope for the day I would find not loose change, but a crisp $1 or $5 or $20 bill.
That day didn’t come in 2021, but there’s always next year.
“Some days are just bad days, that’s all. You have to experience sadness to know happiness, and I remind myself that not every day is going to be a good day, that’s just the way it is.” — Dita Von Tesse
Lesson #5: On dark days, coins glitter more brightly and are easier to see
My most lucrative running days — with the most coins seen and collected — happened on the darkest, rainiest days of winter 2021.
The coins were just way more visible when there were no solar rays to compete with. They practically glittered on the dank roads, often reflecting beautifully off muddy puddles.
This was the most surprising and optimistic lesson I learned in all of this.
“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lesson #6: Slow and steady wins the race
I couldn’t end this exploration without reminding us all of this classic running metaphor.
And it’s true, no?
I didn’t collect a lot of money running, but I stuck with it and made enough for a fancy cup of coffee. I also made more than my friend Elissa made walking. And I’ll bet I made more than you.
“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” — Benjamin Franklin