When Times Are Hard - Invest In Yourself

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” – Erasmus

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills” – Jim Rohn

“If a man empties his purse into his head no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

Education is an investment in yourself.

One that can pay you more dividends than anything you will ever invest in.

Here’s why I think that’s the case.

I finished my formal education in the 1990s and by the time I was finished I was fed up with education.

I left engineering, started a career in recruitment and then opened my own business I was so tired of books and classes that I only wanted to put what I learned into practice.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t invest in my education for nearly 15 years.

Fast forward to the global recession of 2009 and I was sitting around in my office twiddling my thumbs with very little to do and it was only then that I realised that education, learning, knowledge is all perishable.

Not only do you lose it if you don’t use it but you also lose your knowledge if you don’t improve it.

You simply forget.

I went on a couple of courses and started getting interested in new concepts and I quickly realised that education is just exercise for the brain and in the same way that I need to keep moving and strengthening my body to combat ageing I need to keep learning, researching and stretching my brain to keep it in good shape.

You don’t exercise your body once a year so why would you only read one book or take one course a year?

It doesn’t make sense.

In these challenging times education is critical to your career.

With education you can –

1 Make better decisions.

As I type this we are on lockdown from the coronavirus we are living in an increasingly complicated world where there are massive consequences when things go wrong.

Just like in 2009 I have very little work to do but this time round I know that the hundreds of books that I have read over the past ten years and the changes that I have made in my life by implementing what I have learned has left me in a much better place with the ability to make the right decisions on the things that matter when we emerge.

The quality of your decisions will shape the outcome of your life and career, only by educating yourself will you be able to apply the critical thinking skills to forge the right path.

2 Upgrade your professional circle.

Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with as they determine what conversations dominate your attention.

I’m a reluctant but prolific networker and I’ve met some great people over the years some of whom have helped me move my professional life forward in ways that I could not have previously imagined.

When I’m networking I tend to gravitate towards those who like me seem to be on a continuous journey of self improvement, one of the questions I always ask when meeting somebody new is “what are you reading right now?”, if they say they do not have the time or would rather be watching the TV soaps then I doubt they will be adding that much to my life.

Pro tip – I always include one book a month from the NYT non fiction bestseller lists just to give me something to talk about as others are more likely to have at least heard of it rather than the usual books that I consume.

3. Learn more and earn more.

When candidates are being interviewed for a new role then one of the standard questions is “What do you know about our company”

There are typically two types of job applicants.

The first says “I have looked at your website and see that you make widgets for the widget market”.

The second says “I have researched and see you make widgets for the widget market but I also notice that in your most recent set of accounts that underlying profits are on a downward trend compared with the past three years / I see from LinkedIn that you have recently employed a number of new sales staff is this from expansion or replacement of leavers / what sets you out from you competitor X who has a larger share of the widget market?

Number 1 is just an addition to your staff.

Number 2 is someone you need.

Which one would you hire?

4. Understand that education is a life long investment.

In these difficult times you can lose everything you’ve gained in life.

Your money, job, clients, reputation, house, car, and even the people you love.

What you won’t lose is the skills you have learned as long as you are improving them.

If you acquire income generating skills, you will always be able to provide value to the marketplace and you will always get a job.

That’s why I buy all the books and courses that are relevant to me.

That’s why I also spend time every day learning new things, going to new places, and meeting interesting people.

Remember education is like a safety net (don’t get ‘education’ and ‘degrees’ mixed up. It’s education that matters; not degrees – I have an MBA but I’ve learned far more from self education at a much lower cost. Mark Twain was right when he said “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”)

And finally – here’s the catch:

I have found that just like taking regular exercise most people find learning, studying and mastering new skills to be one of the hardest things in life.

And that’s exactly why most people don’t do it.

The internet, Bezos and his bozos, public libraries all mean that you have all the opportunity in the world to learn more in a very cost effective way.

To me, it’s crazy if you’re not investing in your physical health and your education every single day.

My goal is to exercise my body and exercise my brain for just just 30 minutes a day.

Sometimes I manage a twofer and grind out a hard session on the rower whilst listening to an audiobook or even better I get three for the price of one by taking a couple of hours brisk walk outside in nature whilst listening and learning, I carry a small notebook and pencil and make notes on the go.

If you have read this far you must be ready for a challenge.

For the next month try 30 minutes on your education 5 days a week at average reading speed that will be 4 new books.

Implement what you have learned for a month and document how your life has improved.

Rinse and repeat.

A last quote on the importance of hard work –

“Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort. There’s no denying this attitude may get you some of the trappings of success, if you’re lucky, but it will not lead to a calloused mind or self-mastery. If you want to master the mind and remove your governor, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work. Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up.” – David Goggins