What do gym memberships and higher education have in common?

Over time, we adopt numerous roles. One of the most dominant is that of consumer.

As we mature we learn both the written and unwritten rules of purchasing goods and services, including the rules of the game surrounding fairness, competition, and expectations.

Meanwhile, in this day and age most people, living in advanced industrialized democracies, who have a functioning credit card and internet connection, can purchase just about anything on-line.

That’s because many of the items that we needed or wanted to buy at retail stores are now available for sale on-line, and they can be shipped to almost anywhere Fed Ex or UPS drivers can get to, sometimes on the same day.

This situation has both advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side we have accessibility and convenience. No longer do we need to travel to a store, and possibly deal with fellow consumers, pesky sales people, and long lines at the checkout counters. Websites that amalgamate different products allow us to sort by price, etc.

The immediacy of these kinds of transactions is seductive. We have developed very high expectations from vendors and shippers and the people and organizations who provide these kinds of goods and services.

In a complimentary fashion, unless you are buying a bookcase from IKEA, no actual labor is really demanded of you, and thus most economic transactions that we participate in, we purchase the product or the service, sit back, relax, and enjoy the benefit it provides.

For example, we subscribe to Netflix. We look at its offerings and because they are abundant, scroll through the movies and series until we find one that interests us.

Alternatively if we want to buy a sofa on line, we chose the preferred manufacturer, size, the pattern, and the delivery date. And some weeks later it arrives, and we use it.

Then again there are other types of purchases where you buy it, but in order to receive the benefit it requires you to work.

There are only two kinds of commodities that I know of that fit under this category: gym memberships and higher education.

With a gym membership, regardless if it is a high end establishment like Equinox or a cheaper variety like Planet Fitness, you pay your monthly or yearly membership fees, but you need to visit the premises and do the work to receive the benefit.

With higher education, you apply, are hopefully accepted, and regardless if it’s a prestigious ivy league university, or a low ranked educational institution, if you don’t go to class, hand in your assignments, or sit for the tests, you will not pass your classes and eventually graduate.

The problem arises when we expect gyms and educational institutions to behave like other traditional economic transactions.

That’s because when you pay for a gym membership or higher education, you are paying for access to resources. However, just showing up is not sufficient. No one will do the work for you. Hoping to get fit without going to the gym or passing classes without doing the required work will not give you the benefit.

(Indeed sometimes the work you do is insufficient: you don’t push yourself enough with your exercise routine, or you fail your algebra test, but this is a different story. And this does not take into consideration unscrupulous educational institutions like diploma mills that will give you a degree without attending)

Unfortunately the truism about gyms and educational institutions is often lost on many people who treat gym memberships and higher education as a hobby or as ending simply after enrollment.

Getting fit and earning (not buying or obtaining) a diploma, or degree requires hard work and diligence. If it was simply a matter of purchasing one, then everyone with means would participate in this activity.

Photo Credit
Photographer: Nenad Stojkovic
Title of photograph: Man doing deadlift exercise in gym closeup.