The New American Dream: Investing In Yourself

Photo credit: moritzaust

Photo credit: moritzaust

I was never too jazzed about going to school as a kid. I didn’t like the way it was structured and found most of it boring. If the subject matter didn’t interest me, I tuned out. If I were growing up now I’d probably be put on ADHD meds. If I had a good teacher I would try a lot harder even if I wasn’t interested in the subject. But if I had a bad teacher and I found the class boring – Game over.

Even while I was in high school I realized that I wasn’t being taught a whole lot of usable skills. It wasn’t until after I got out of college that I began to take interest in educating myself. College was a great experience/maturation process, and don’t get me wrong I had a lot of fun, but anything I did learn in the classroom I could’ve done on my own for far cheaper.

A few years ago I began my personal Age of Enlightenment, and since that time I’ve had a hunger for knowledge and learning that I never had before. Maybe it just took a few decades for the seed to sprout, but ever since it started it’s been growing exponentially. I noticed my outlook, focus and interests were all heading toward the same point, and my reading list followed in lockstep. I’ve read a little bit of fiction over the past decade if my wife recommends something she thinks I’ll like. But honestly, if the material isn’t getting me toward where I want to be in life, it’s hard to hold my interest.

My approach to investing is to put money into the things I actually use. It’s not a very sexy strategy, but it makes sense to me. If I use Google and Apple products and I like what they produce, it makes sense to me to invest in those companies. But who is going to invest in me other than me? When I started looking at myself as an investment, it made sense to put my money where I would have the greatest return. With the widespread availability of free information at the push of a button is there anything I can’t learn from Google, Kahn Academy, Coursera, or buy on Amazon at minimal cost?

I’ve gotten my best education from my own self-education. I rarely hesitate when purchasing books anymore. If I have even a slight interest in it, or feel it will benefit me at some level, I’ll get it. If I can take away just one good idea from a book then it was worth my time and money. All you need is one good idea to get you started. As I’ve said before, ideas are dangerous. And we could all use a little danger in our lives.

In my own experience, I’ve found that I learn best by doing. Telling me how to do something and showing me how to do something are two completely different things. Show me how to do something, let me try it myself and correct me when I’m doing it wrong, and I pick it up 10x faster than if you stood in front of me and explained ad nauseam how to do the same exact task.

For a lot of career paths I think the traditional college route may be a waste of time and money. I think certifications are the new higher education. Now, if you have any aspiration of being a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc, then you’ll have to go the traditional route. But if you have any desire to do anything creative, or non-traditional, you might be better off doing some self-education coupled with an apprenticeship. In Robert Greene’s book Mastery, he discusses this concept at length. You can also see an interview of him discussing this on Chase Jarvis’ blog.

After you’ve taken the initial step of investing in yourself and self-educating, the next step would be to learn from a seasoned veteran, or master, in the field. Everyone needs a coach or mentor. If you want to learn how to build something, doesn’t matter what it is: a house, a website, or a business, the best way to learn is by getting your hands dirty and actually doing it. It all starts with trying. Whatever it may be, even if it’s just the tip, just for a second, just to see how it feels, you have to try it. Make an investment in yourself.

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