Why I Love My 40-Year-Old Spreadsheet
For the past 40 years, Tom Bogan '72 has tracked every workout and event in the same spreadsheet. The long-running accounting of activities has offered the opportunity to revisit a life's worth of experiences.
“This will change the world.”
I actually said those words out loud to myself while working on a rainy Saturday in December 1979. I’d spent the past eight hours on an Apple II learning to use VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet for PCs and the application that would transform the Apple II from a hobby computer into a business tool.
Back then, finance was manual, time-consuming, sometimes mind numbing. Then came VisiCalc, which co-inventor Bob Frankston aptly called “a magic sheet of paper that can perform calculations and recalculations.”
Contained within this stack of floppy disks was a future I had not thought was possible, that would launch my career on trajectories I’d never imagined, eventually leading me to a life in the tech sector where I helped lead some of the world’s most successful software companies (including a cloud planning pioneer that would take financial planning and analytics places spreadsheets could never go).
These disks, I soon realized, held digital transformation itself. For finance, and even for me.
Born to run, then bike
A few months after learning VisiCalc, I took up running. I would never be anything more than an average runner (in five marathons, 3:28 is my personal best). I had been inspired by Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Shorter and Boston great Bill Rodgers and exercise and fitness became a lifelong passion. I later swapped running for elliptical and other cross-training workouts. Then in the 2000s I switched to cycling, which is my primary sport these days.
I mention this only because through it all, I have tracked every workout and event in a spreadsheet that I have continuously updated for four decades. That’s right: Same spreadsheet. For 40 years.
Honestly, I feel a kinship with this thing. My 40-year-old spreadsheet has seen me through a lot of changes, from the early Timex and Casio running watch days to new wearables and cloud-based apps that chart and analyze our progress. All those are great, but nothing grounds me like my spreadsheet. It has survived migration from VisciCalc to Advanced VisiCalc, then to Lotus 1-2-3, and finally to Excel.
Some fast stats after 40 years
2020 marked my 40th year of tracking my workout data. Here are some highlights.
- 8,059 workouts averaging just under 4 workouts a week
- 4,315 runs and 243 walks for 25,370 miles or roughly the equivalent of the earth’s circumference at an average pace of 9:01 a mile
- 1,861 bikes for 38,209 miles or 1.5 times around the world averaging 16.2 MPH
- In 2020, I worked out 364 days
- Total workout time: 443,971 minutes
However, in writing this piece, what stood out to me was not the statistics but the experiences these numbers held. I remember the majesty of the SF Bay the first time I discovered you could run from San Francisco’s Crissy Field to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge (back in the day, you had to hop a fence at Fort Mason). Running past the Opera House in Sydney Harbor, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and Hyde Park and London Bridge. Singing “A Day in the Life” while passing the Albert Hall. Feeling chills rounding the track at Olympiastadion in Munich. The beauty of beaches in Hawaii and Newport, in Martha’s Vineyard and the Netherlands.
I see thousands of runs and bikes along the river in Boston and on Cape Cod, and all around Palo Alto. I can feel my chest heave as I climb the Path of the Gods in Positano, Italy and biking the hills in Tuscany. I relive my nervousness at coming upon a group of Wallabies in Hunter Valley, Australia, because I honestly didn’t know if it was safe to pass a group of Wallabies.
I remember good walks (sometimes) spoiled on the majestic fairways of Augusta, Bandon Dunes, Cypress, Pebble Beach and Scotland.
I see thousands of people biking alongside me to raise money for cancer research throughout 12 Pan Mass Challenges. And I recall the sadness I felt on runs after I’d lost my Mom in 1995 and my Dad in 2009.
It’s all there in my 40-year-old spreadsheet. It’s a reminder of how fortunate I’ve been to have had that journey, and to be able to reflect on my experiences in the context of a broader world.
Every stat tells a story, and that brings me to a final thought. When we see the endless, heartbreaking tally resulting from this global pandemic, it’s vital to remember that behind each of those numbers is a story, too, as rich and important to someone as my story is to me. It’s a life that has been lived and lost.
In the end, what counts most isn’t technology or tools, but our experiences and our interactions with others. May you find your own way to appreciate your journey, because I am so enjoying mine.