Investing in Yourself Can Yield Returns Far Greater than Any Other Investment
We spend a lot of time worrying about investing and are quick to gauge how things are going by looking at quarterly statements. It’s all dollar signs — bank accounts, 401(k)s, the value of your home — these are the things we invest in and can easily determine whether or not it’s a good investment. These are all important investments, without a doubt, but are these things what really matter?
You often hear about how your home or your career are your greatest assets, but I think that’s a little shortsighted. If you take a look at your net worth or your personal balance sheet, yes, you can argue that your home is one of your greatest financial assets. And if you have a steady job and a rewarding career it’s easy to see how important that asset is since it will provide income for years and possibly decades to come. But in the end, these assets pale in comparison to your true greatest asset: yourself.
You Are an Asset
You are an asset. Think about that for a minute. If you work for someone else, you are an asset to that company. If you’re married, you are an asset to your spouse. And it goes without saying, but if you have children you are an incredible asset to them. You’re an asset to the community you live in, to your neighbors, and to those you interact with on a daily basis.
Photo: Lalji and Raadheesh
Take a moment and look at yourself in the mirror. No, not a mirror in the physical sense, but look at yourself from the outside. How do you look to others? How valuable are you to those around you? Do you stand out as an important asset, or do you slip by as just a run-of-the-mill person? These are difficult questions to answer, and the answers may not always be obvious.
Becoming a valuable asset is important on both the professional and personal level. When most people talk about being an asset it has to do with getting ahead in the workplace. This is certainly important if you’re trying to keep your job, advance your career, or enter a new line of work, but it’s equally important on a personal level. These two aspects of your life are more interconnected than you may imagine. Investing in your professional life will impact aspects of your personal life, and investing in yourself on a personal level will undoubtedly help your professional life.
Invest in Your Health
Before you can make improvements in other areas of your life you must first take care of some of your most basic needs. We need to step back for a moment and forget about money. Money is important, but without your health, it’s worthless. Understandably, you’re probably groaning at the idea of what it will take to improve your health. You’re thinking about diets, lots of exercise, and cutting out all the fun stuff in your life. I agree, none of that sounds like much fun. But we’re not talking about making drastic changes overnight. Habits that have developed over the course of years can be hard to break, so it’s best to make small changes over time that will lead to healthier habits.
1. Get More Sleep
We live in a 24 hour world and it is taking its toll on sleep. Between the internet, TV, Blackberries and iPhones, the day doesn’t end when you come home from work. These days we’re constantly being interrupted and our work lives are bleeding into our personal lives. This added stress and lack of down time can really cut into your sleep. While it isn’t uncommon for people to get by on just six hours or so of sleep, studies have shown most of us still need more.
I know, I know. There are only 24 hours in a day and you already can’t get everything done, so how on Earth can you be expected to get more sleep? If you like to hit the snooze 5 times every morning, find you can’t concentrate until you’ve had your first three cups of coffee in the morning, or could pass out at your desk after lunch, then you’re not getting enough sleep. Think about all of the time you waste when you aren’t completely focused or working inefficiently because you’re fighting the urge to sleep. Instead, use that extra hour you’re wasting throughout the day by being tired and get some extra sleep. You’ll wake up feeling better, your body will be rested, and you can make better use of your waking hours, not to mention improve your overall health.
2. Eat Better
This doesn’t mean you should go on a drastic diet and try to cut 20 pounds in a month, but just a few little changes in your diet can go a long way. Start with breakfast. It really is the most important meal of the day. Breakfast will jump-start your metabolism and prepare your body for a full day of work. I always had difficulty finding time in the morning to squeeze in breakfast, but I’ve found that just grabbing a granola bar or something before heading out the door helps a lot.
Next, just be a little more conscious of what you’re eating and make an effort to make small changes here and there. If you drink a few sodas each day, start by replacing one with something else to drink. Ideally water, but even juice or something would be a good start if it’s the caffeine that you really crave. Over time you’ll find that you crave soda less and in the process you will be cutting out a lot of calories from your diet. If you’re looking to cut back come dinner time, consider cutting back on some of the pasta or rice and throw in an occasional salad. Again, even if you do this just a couple times a week you will begin to create healthy habits that will lead to a healthier you over time. I’ve struggled with working salads into our dinner menu here at our house, so that’s why I put together this visual guide to help you prepare a salad that stays fresh all week.
3. Go to the Doctor
Medicine has come a long way in recent years, but nothing beats preventative medicine. Why wait until you have symptoms before going to the doctor? By then it might be too late and your only option might be something drastic. Unfortunately, the cost of health care is a major problem in this country so it’s no wonder so many people put off going to the doctor until absolutely necessary. But if you have health insurance, use it.
There’s no doubt about it, but going to the doctor is an inconvenience if you aren’t sick. You may have to go late after work, take a few hours off, and otherwise waste a good part of your day. At the minimum, you should be at least getting your annual check up. It might not be the most exciting appointment in your calendar book, but if you can help keep tabs on your health and possibly receive advanced warning of a serious problem that may develop in the future, the last thing on your mind will be the few hours you “wasted” by going to the doctor.
Invest in Your Personal Self
What’s important to you? That’s what we’re going to try and answer right now. Take a moment to think about what you really enjoy and what matters most to you. Spending time with friends? Family? Being outdoors? Helping others? Just reading a good book? Now that you have an answer, how often do you get to do these things? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably, “not often enough.” Life is too short to be stuck running around constantly trying to meet deadlines, make more money, and constantly put things off until the future. You need to make time for the things you love.
Photo: Alex Bramwell
Whatever it is that you wish you could be doing, find a way to make it happen. This is easier said than done, I know. But it can be done. Now, we aren’t going to be working any miracles here and have you living on a tropical island when you have responsibilities here at home, but let’s start with gradual changes. Find days to incorporate what you love to do into your regular schedule. The bottom line is that you just have to make time. Don’t make excuses. If you can make time to run to the dry cleaners every week, you can certainly set aside a half hour each week to do something you really enjoy. Whether it’s just sitting down with a glass of wine and a good book, a stroll with your kids through the park, or volunteering your time for a good cause. You just have to force yourself to set aside some time and do it.
It’s all about balance. Our lives are filled with responsibilities, deadlines, and work to get done, but these things can’t control us. You need to invest in creating some personal time. Even if it is just 30 minutes a day, the more you can introduce the things you love into your life, the happier you’ll be. Your happiness will begin to spill over into the other areas of your life. You’ll perform better at work, have better relationships with your friends and neighbors, and overall become a greater asset to everyone you interact with. All the time you put in at work and money you save doesn’t mean a whole lot if you aren’t investing in what makes you happy.
Invest in Your Professional Self
A healthier and happier you can go a long way, but if you really want to invest in something that can pay huge dividends, consider investing in your professional self. It doesn’t matter if you’re making minimum wage doing factory work or a veteran executive with a corner office — investing in yourself will shape your future. When most people talk about investing in your professional self, the advice has to do with getting additional education, certifications, or experience so that you can advance your career. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that advice, but I want to touch on a few different areas.
It’s not who you know, but what you know, right? If only it was that simple. If people really got to where they are simply because of what they knew, every CEO would be an Ivy League grad with a Ph.D. You can probably see where this is going. Obviously, it can help to have a solid education and a lot of experience, but it is hardly the only path to success. Just as important as having the knowledge and skills to do a particular job, you need to have connections. These connections will open up opportunities that can be used to leverage your skills and find a path of least resistance to reach your goal.
Photo: Mike Johnson
When it comes to networking you should strike a balance between quantity and quality. With the advent of the internet, the ability to build a massive network is incredibly simple. Just hop on Facebook, Twitter, or any of the number of social networking type sites and you can almost instantly build a network of hundreds or even thousands of people. While numbers are good, connecting with 1,000 people you never get to know and just connecting for the sake of building a connection will probably be less effective than a network of 20 people who are in your line of work and that you interact with on a regular basis.
One of the best ways to network professionally is through LinkedIn. Unlike many of the other social networks that are filled with updates from people about what they had for lunch, their favorite music, or who they are currently dating, LinkedIn is more about business. Here you’ll be able to connect with coworkers past and present and join groups based on your interests or background. These professional connections can lead to a number of interactions you may not have otherwise had access to that can help launch your career in a new direction.
While LinkedIn is great for professional networking, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss the likes of Twitter or Facebook, either. With these sites, you really get out of it what you put into it. If you focus your efforts on networking with other like minded-individuals and actually foster your relationships, you can open many new doors. At the same time, if you just sign up for the sake of signing up and expect great things by befriending as many people as possible, you’ll probably be disappointed.
Finally, don’t forget about local networking. Become a part of your local community and seek out networking opportunities right in your own backyard. Even many of the smallest towns have local organizations, clubs, or functions that will allow you to get to know your neighbors while also allowing you to build your personal and professional network. You’d be surprised at the diversity within your own community, so take some time to regularly get to know the people around you.
2. Build Your Personal Brand
When you think of Coca-Cola, Nike, or Microsoft, I bet you instantly know who these companies are and what they produce. You’ve also probably formed opinions of each of these companies or their products based on how they present themselves and your past experiences with their products. This is a brand.
What if I told you that you were your own brand? It might sound a bit silly to think of just a regular person as a brand, but it’s true. The way you represent yourself and how others see you is your own personal brand. Whether you like it or not, your actions and words speak volumes about who you are. This reputation can follow you for the rest of your life, so it’s obviously important to build a positive brand as opposed to a negative one.
So, what does your personal brand say about you? When someone types your name into Google, what do they see? Do others see you as you’d like to be seen? And when you meet someone for the first time, are you leaving a good impression and clearly displaying what you stand for? In today’s fast-paced world you may only have a few seconds to make an impression. Depending on how you’ve developed your brand, you may have left an unforgettable mark, or simply fade into the homogeneous background with everyone else.
Personal branding is a topic that goes far beyond the scope of this piece, so I’m going to recommend a few great places to get started. First, you’ll want to check out Dan Schawbel’s Personal Branding Blog. Dan is also the author of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success. Leo Babauta from Zen Habits also has a great piece on personal branding as well. Make an effort to determine what your personal brand says about you and invest some time in creating a personal brand you’re proud of.
Invest in Yourself for Unmeasurable Returns
It’s easy to get caught up with money. It drives everything we do from paying for food and shelter, to being stashed away for 30 years so we have something to spend in retirement. But as important as money is, it’s just as important to take a look at the bigger picture. Yes, your 401(k) is important, your home is important, and being able to afford a comfortable lifestyle means a lot. But none of this matters if you’re unhealthy, unhappy, and have few prospects.
This is especially true in difficult financial times. When the news is filled with gloom and doom, your investment accounts drop like a rock, and you can’t sell your house, it’s easy to get caught up in the feeling that things are just helpless and it’s all out of your control. Well, it’s true that you can’t control the economy or magically make your retirement account go back up, but there is one investment you can make that will pay off. When you invest in yourself you might not be able to immediately put a dollar amount on the gains, but over time you will have realized returns far greater than those money can buy.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.