Invest in yourself. If you don’t, who will?
As people get older, I generally see people invest in themselves less. It’s unfortunate.
An investment does not have to be purely monetary. We often think of an investment as putting money to work for us. An investment in education – a college degree – is one of the more costly investments people attribute to when investing in oneself. That can be a good investment, but not always.
However, an investment could be a walk in the park, donut’s every Friday with your kids, or reading a free book from the public library.
An investment in yourself can take many shapes. Regardless of the shape, investing in yourself can fulfill not only your own happiness and increase your self-worth, but make you more attractive to new career opportunities, significant others, and people in your life.
Let’s look at how you can invest in yourself, from traditional investments to a few less tangible ones.
A college degree is frequently thought of as an investment and the data supports it. According to Brookings, “At the median, career earnings for a bachelor’s degree graduate are more than twice as high as for someone with only a high school diploma…”
Of course this isn’t true in every case, but on average, it holds true. They found earnings differ among the major selected. Majors in the engineering fields earned more than majors who work with children or provided counseling.
Will a college degree be a good investment?
Likely, but it depends on how you approach it. Paying $200,000 for a four-year degree with expected earnings of $40,000-$50,000 per year probably won’t be a good investment. I’m looking at you, humanities and liberal arts majors. It’s possible that investment is worth it, but you are likely better off enrolling in a program that costs less to avoid trapping yourself in debt that controls your life.
Will an advanced degree be a good investment?
Let’s look at an extreme example – medical school. Before we do, please watch this video of Match Day.
Match Day is a day in March every year where graduating medical school students learn where they will be matched for residency, the next step in their training, which can be 3-8 years on top of an undergraduate degree (4 years) and medical school (4 years). In total, becoming a doctor is a huge money and time investment. It’s a minimum of 11 years of schooling and training and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The average medical school debt was $201,490 in 2019. On a ten year repayment schedule, the repayment is about $2,288 per month. In other words, it’s like another mortgage.
Is it worth it?
Assuming someone matches (there are many who do not), and becomes an attending physician, yes, usually.
Although medical school debt is high, average pay, even for lower paying specialties like Pediatrics, is high enough to support repaying the debt.
An education can be a great investment in oneself, whether it is a couple of years of schooling or a decade. At least in a monetary sense, much of the success rests on how much debt you take on and your expected salary.
Although there is nothing wrong with going to school for a long time and earning less, it should be carefully considered against alternatives because high debt with less income to pay it back can trap someone for the rest of their life.
Designations and Credentials
What happens after formal education? Designations! Credentials! Letters after your name!
In many careers, certain credentials can set you apart from other people. In my field, the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification, Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) charter, and CPA are important credentials to signal credibility, but also for higher pay.
In others, it could be the Project Management Professional certification or Certified Business Analysis Professional.
Credentials can cost a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Some are very close to useless while others are critical. In your field, you will need to determine which are worthwhile.
Books and Courses
Besides designations, books and courses can be an incredible investment. Growing up, my family had a rule that they would purchase any book I wanted. What an incredible privilege.
Thankfully, it was not too expensive for my family because I did not like reading growing up, or at least that’s what everyone thought. It turned out, I just did not like what most people read and had not found the right types of books. Now, I enjoy reading because I found the right types of books.
However, the rule sticks with me. In the age of Kindles and good public libraries, I do not need to buy every book I want, but I still do not hold back if there is a book I want to order. I see it as an investment – whether it is educational or not.
If I can find one idea or be inspired in one way from a book, the $15 I spent on it will likely be paid back more than 10 times, if not 100 or 1,000 times over.
What an incredible gift to gain access to research, knowledge, and thoughts from experts and entertainers for only $15 (or $0 from your public library!).
Courses, classes, and workshops can also be rewarding. My favorite type is a cooking class.
Does it earn me more money? No, I don’t cook for a living and never plan to make a living from food.
It’s an investment for Molly, my significant other, friends, and me. It’s an investment for Molly because I get the joy of making something tastier than I would make on my own. The way her eyes light up, her head nods in approval, and the “mmmmm” sounds more than cover the cost. And the best part? Once I take the course, I can make it until the day I die.
It’s an investment for friends because I get to host dinner parties and cook with friends, culminating in a meal shared together. We have great memories of dinner events.
It’s an investment for me because I get to eat better, healthier, fresher food. My body always appreciates when I cook as opposed to buying take out. Less salt, less sugar, and less oil. It makes a difference.
While my favorite type of class is a cooking class, you may find joy in a sales training, scuba diving, or writing class. The class can be personal, professional, or a combination of both.
Remember, it’s an investment in yourself.
The Intangibles – Health, Relationships, and Travel
In today’s go-go-go society, I find myself forgetting about investing in myself in other ways. I often get caught up focusing on the 401(k), Roth IRA, HSA, professional credentials, mortgage, and the list goes on. I forget simply being for a few moments can be an investment.
During a professional training the other day, we took five minutes to go through a guided meditation. Wow, what a reminder that five minutes can make a difference. I was more relaxed, my breath felt deeper, and I could focus better after.
That’s an investment. Five minutes. That’s it.
What about time with friends and loved ones?
One of the upsides about the pandemic was taking a nightly walk with Molly a few times a week. We did the same 15-20 minute walk around our neighborhood. We noticed what was in bloom and the critters around the neighborhood.
I have a new appreciation for hollyhocks. They started blooming in June, and the last bloom disappeared in February. What a gift to watch nine months of flowering. We laughed at the crazy squirrels in our neighborhood. They often go crazy chasing each other around the telephone poles. And then there are the crows. We enjoyed watching them fly up with a nut, drop it from a wire, and repeat the process until it opened. On good days, they would find leftover burger wrappers and go to town on them.
The walks also gave us a chance to talk and unwind from the day. I’m not a “sit yourself down and have a discussion at the kitchen table” kind of person. Walks are a great platform for those big life conversations.
Those nightly walks were an investment not only in myself, but in our relationship.
Travel can also be an investment. I’ve never met anybody who regretted traveling. Whether it was camping a couple hours from home or spending the year traveling the globe, lessons are learned, relationships are formed, and new memories are etched into existence.
I remember traveling to Spain, Nicaragua, and Mexico. I saw how other people lived, which brought me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to speak another language. How Spain shuts down in the middle of the day for their siesta, I don’t think I’ll ever understand, but perhaps they know how to invest in themselves better. It’s a dead period in the afternoon to recharge and eat with family. Perhaps they are on to something.
There was also that time I went to Panama with a friend, and we went ziplining after staying out too late. I am terrified of heights. This was a huge feat for me. We also got pulled over by the police going the exact speed everybody else was going. That was an interesting encounter. I never tire of telling stories from that trip.
I’ve touched on cooking and healthy eating, but exercise is another investment. Running, push ups, walking, weight lifting, basketball, stretching, yoga – it doesn’t matter. Find something you love, or at least don’t mind doing, and do it regularly. I personally love tennis and running, but could stand to stretch more or do yoga.
A 15 minute run in the morning will release endorphins and give you a positive feeling. It’s great for reducing stress, boosting confidence, and can improve sleep.
Again, 15 minutes. That’s all the investment you need. My guess is once you start, you’ll build a habit of doing it more and for longer because you’ll love the way it makes you feel.
While meditation, walking with someone you care about, traveling, and exercise likely cannot be attributed to some sort of monetary return, they are an investment in yourself. They are an investment in a better you and better relationships.
While the intangible investments seem less important, I find when I skip these, the other investments I make in myself are less successful.
Summary – Final Thoughts
When you think of investing in yourself, think more broadly. An investment does not have to mean paying money for something.
While traditional investments in yourself, such as a 401(k), education, or professional class can help on the money side of the equation and are important for a healthy life, focusing solely on those can make the glass feel half, or more than half, empty.
Invest in yourself by investing in relationships. Spend time with people. Go on adventures. Take a moment to breathe. Take a moment to have a dance party. Experience something new. Invest in your education. Take a workshop. Get outside.
Whatever you do, invest in yourself.