Is Your Career Really Your Most Valuable Asset? I Say No

I came across an article recently at Free Money Finance that argued strongly on behalf of the idea that one’s career is their most valuable asset. To quote:

But I wanted to have one post where I listed the main reasons I think it’s so important to your financial health, so here goes. It pays all your living expenses. Without it, you couldn’t survive. It is the source of all of your investments — retirement, college for your kids, and so on. It helps you acquire other big assets like your home and cars. In short, it’s the source of everything you have financially — unless you inherited a ton of money — the source of your net worth. Even though spending less than you earn is the way to getting wealthy, you must have some income (and the higher the better) to spend less than. In other words, even a miser can’t get rich spending less than he earns if his income is zero.

I found this article about three months after walking away from a very stable and healthy career in order to chase my dreams. And thus, not surprisingly, I don’t agree with the premise.

Your career is not your most valuable asset. Your career is just a series of employments that hopefully build into something that can produce useful income to you, but the career itself is not the valuable asset.

The valuable asset is you.

If you work on building yourself as an asset – constantly adding new skills, new friendships and acquaintances, and new approaches – you’re not building your career at all. You’re building inherent value in yourself, value that you can carry from job to job within your current career or that you can take with you if a great opportunity presents itself.

Investing time in your career is great if it maximizes your value, but if you’re merely toiling away in obscure drudgery, you’re not investing in anything other than the same old paycheck you could get by doing any number of things.

Instead, invest in yourself: personal growth, education and cultural literacy, personal appearance, self-confidence, public speaking, diet and exercise, mental and spiritual health, networking, and perhaps most importantly, feeling good and relaxing. These steps may add value to your career, but they unquestionably add value to you.

Why is investing in yourself more important than investing in your career? There are several strong reasons.

First, you retain that personal value regardless of what happens in your career. Let’s say you work for ten years at a company and it goes under. If you spent all of your time investing solely in your career, you’re likely up the creek. If you spent your time investing in yourself, you’ve got the personal assets and contacts needed to quickly move on from there.

Second, investing in yourself often overlaps with career investment. For example, look at making contacts. Having a huge network of people can help you in your current career, but can help you greatly in making the leap to something completely different. My own personal network of people was key in enabling me to leap from my old career to my new writing-oriented career.

Third, it greatly expands your potential horizons and hands you countless little opportunities. If you’ve built value in yourself, you don’t have to spend your time merely looking straight ahead at the next move within your career path. Many, many other avenues open up to you – sideways leaps within your career to something different, perhaps a giant leap in your current career, or a jump to something entirely different. If you’ve made yourself valuable, those alternative choices open up.

Fourth, it allows you to center around the true values in your life. Investing in your career means you stay late at the office every night so that you have the best chances of advancing in your career, Investing in yourself means you do what’s most valuable to you – spending time with your family, building a larger network of people, improving yourself, and learning new things.

If you want to truly succeed, you need to be more than just a warm body filling a slot in a company and cranking out work product. To become more than that, you need to invest in yourself first, not in whatever might give you another inch in whatever happens to be your current career path.

Remember, it’s you that provides value to your spouse and your children, not your career. If your company shuts down and your career path blows away, ask yourself what’s really left over and use that as your guide.

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