For many young people, particularly people under the age of thirty, there’s quite often more value in investing in yourself than there is in investing in stocks. A well-conceived investment in your future can continue to pay dividends over the rest of your life. Some investments in yourself can even be worthwhile near the end of your career.
In my own life, I’ve found that some of the most valuable things I’ve ever done were investments in myself. My parents invested in braces for me when I was in junior high, straightening out some crooked teeth. I invested the cost and time to get a college education. I’ve even invested a lot of time – an amount that some of my friends have believed was excessive – carefully figuring out who I was, what my true talents are, and what I should be doing with my time. I did all of these things pretty early in life, before I was thirty, and they were all worth the time and financial costs associated with each of them.
Here are some specific examples of what I’m talking about.
Education This is the obvious one – there’s a reason so many people go to college straight out of high school – it’s a great investment. Post-secondary education can vastly increase your earning potential over your life, even if you choose a degree that isn’t “money.” Even if you didn’t get the needed grades to get into college, learning a trade in trade school – like learning to be a carpenter or an electrician or a plumber – also vastly increases your earning potential.
Later in life, education can still be very valuable, but in a somewhat different way. Many people don’t realize their deeper passion until later in life – if you return to school with that burning passion in your gut, you’ll be in a much better position to get through school successfully.
Steps anyone can take to get started with further education include figuring out what you’re passionate about and where your natural talents lie, then seeking education that can maximize and cultivate those passions and talents. For example, I have considered enrolling in the creative writing program at the University of Iowa, because I’m passionate about writing and believe I have a modicum of talent in that area that could be cultivated.
Specialized skills These are things that you don’t necessarily learn in school (or at least don’t major in). Skills such as the ability to speak in public, the ability to present in a dynamic fashion, the ability to communicate with others, technical certifications, and so on are valuable. Most of these skills primarily cost time rather than money – you can build them by participating in groups like Toastmasters.
Steps anyone can take to get started with further specialized skills include identifying skills in others that you’d like to acquire, figuring out what you could do to work on those skills, then setting aside the time to work on them. For example, I’d like to continue to hone my public speaking skills, so I’m getting involved again in Toastmasters.
Appearance I’ve written about the value of personal appearance before, but it’s true – the first impression most people get of you is your appearance. The investments here are a mix of time – practicing good hygiene every day, keeping your hair cut well, and so on – and cost – dental work, nice clothing, and so forth. Remember that your appearance is an investment – you’re maximizing the first impression that you give people, as well as the continuing reinforcement of that impression.
Steps anyone can take to get started with personal appearance include simply bathing every day, brushing your teeth, using deodorant, and other basic tasks of personal hygiene. If you have problems with your teeth, talk to a dentist – I know that my braces made a huge difference for me when I was in junior high, for example.
Therapy Many people have something on their mind that would feel good to relieve, if nothing else. Others might have some psychological issues that need to be worked around. The biggest key is to talk about it, whether to a therapist or to a close friend. Talk about the things that bother you, upset you, and keep you from being happy. One of my closest friends and I spent several years where we basically functioned as therapists for each other – it not only built a very close bond, but it helped us both come together as people.
Steps anyone can take to get started with therapy include just talking to a friend or loved one and laying out the things that really bother you. If you don’t have anyone, a therapist will also work. Some people may find that they do in fact need psychological help, but for most of us, relieving the burden of the things on our mind is enough to make us feel much better and more confident about our lives.
“Feeling good” By this, I mean things like massages, free time, meditation, aromatherapy, and other environmental things that can improve good feelings in ourselves. I’m not talking about spending for the rush of spending – I’m talking about investing in experiences that genuinely improve our outlook and feelings on life. If something genuinely lifts your mood consistently without negative repercussions – like getting a massage from your spouse or spending twenty minutes each day praying or meditating – then do it.
Don’t be afraid to invest time or money improving yourself, particularly early in your career. Over the long run, education, skills, strong appearance, and a grounded and positive outlook on life will pay enormous dividends for you. The key is to not become obsessive about each individual area, but to balance things – a strong appearance is great, but if you’re spending an hour each day “getting your face on,” your time can probably be better spent working on learning a skill, for example.