“I am too poor to buy cheap things.” I first heard that phrase when I was a young man, and it has stuck with me ever since. The idea is that when you buy cheaply made wares, you’re obligated to repair or replace them so often that, in the long run, you generally wind up losing money on the deal.
You also spend a lot more time and trouble than if you’d just invested in a higher-quality item in the first place.
The way I see it, this advice applies brilliantly not just to purchases, but to life decisions in general. Which is why, when faced with difficult choices, I’ve tended to prefer solutions that emphasize quality over convenience, elegance over ease, and long-term investments over short-term returns.
Interestingly, as I’ve gotten older, what I used to perceive as long-term time horizons (say, three to five years) now seem like short-term horizons to me. And my notions of long-range planning have, in some cases, begun to extend beyond my own life span.
In fact, although I can’t claim to have mastered the practice, I see increasingly great wisdom in the traditional Iroquois philosophy that suggests all significant decisions should be considered in light of their potential impact on the next seven generations.
Over the 25 years I’ve been building Life Time, I’ve certainly had no instinct to the contrary and seen no external signal that I should be thinking any other way.
If anything, my feelings about doing things with a longer-term focus on quality have gotten stronger over time. I frequently find myself talking to team members and executives at every level of the company about doing the right things well, and doing them for the right big-picture reasons.
I know it can be tempting to do otherwise. But over and over again, I’ve witnessed situations where people chase an easy buck, or go after an easy win, only to find themselves trapped in a devil’s bargain.
The price? Wasted resources, wrecked careers, sullied reputations — and sometimes, lives that have to be rebuilt from the ground up.
From athletes to artists, the true legends are generally not those who accomplish one extraordinary feat or bring home one incredible win. They are people who produce an exceptional body of work over time, who keep coming back with new energy and repeat their successes over again.
A lifelong string of such accomplishments rarely comes as the result of making “whatever” choices or following a path of least resistance. It comes from having an abiding focus on quality, purpose, and integrity.
Sometimes peer pressure or insecurity can make us vulnerable to sacrificing our ideals. And when that happens, we usually feel it in our guts. Something inside us knows it’s not right. And when that alarm goes off, we would do well to listen.
I remember back when we started this magazine, in 2001. It was clearly a big idea with an incredible long-term return. But in the short term — every fiscal quarter, in fact — it looked like a sizable line-item expense. So for the first few years, at virtually every board meeting, I got harangued for spending what seemed like a lot of money on something that would have been an easy budget item to cut.
But every time I even thought about it, I heard that alarm go off. So I pushed back, hard. I knew how much value the magazine brought — to our brand, and to the world at large. I knew that it was changing lives, and that it was the right thing to do, for our members and for health seekers in general.
Today, 13 years later, this magazine is still one of the things I am most proud of. The same is true of our Life Time Foundation (currently focused on transforming public-school lunches). And, ultimately, it’s true about every club we build, every event we produce, all of which just keep getting better.
Once you experience a higher-quality product or service, it is hard to settle for less. Once you access your own inner strength to deal with a tough situation, it’s much harder to back away from that capacity.
In any area of life, from health and relationships to career and finance, settling for mediocrity will rarely net you impressive returns. Investing in excellence generally turns out to be a much better bargain. And the dividends it pays over the long haul are satisfying indeed.