The Best Investment You'll Ever Make: Highest Reward, Lowest Risk

Who has done this? You go to work, see the clock saying 9:00am (or whenever you start), dive into your routine, find a good moment to break your focus for the first time only to look at the clock. 9:15am. *Sigh*. Continue working. Look again. 9:16am.

We’ve all had jobs we went to for the paycheck. It’s often our first job. For me, that was my summer slinging pizzas at Little Caesar’s. At 16 years old, I counted the minutes until I could put down the pepperoni so I could go have summer fun with my friends, which is precious time with a Minnesota Winter right around the corner. Little did I know, I was creating a mental associate between work and the dismal drag of the day, sacrificially given in order to “get that bread.” Time for a paycheck: that’s the trade I identified as the basis of work, and ultimately, a career.

Before my career is over, I plan to significantly improve the fitness industry (more on this in another blog). My previous job as a grocery store District Manager would have gotten me the necessary capital to start that in roughly 20 years. During the last year of that job, I kept that goal and the time–for-paycheck-trade in mind (along with other forms of motivation mentioned in my last post, Motivation Vs a Motive). This left me counting the minutes within those 45-70 hours workweeks, and eventually, I couldn’t watch the clock anymore. I couldn’t spend 20 years thinking about surviving for 20 years. That’s a recipe for a joyless existence and trading time for a paycheck was serving me that everyday.

But what if that trade is just the bad deal I mistook for the only deal on the table, instilled in me from Little Caesar’s. If time is the capital I want to wisely invest, I need to know my options. The first option is to optimize the money for time deal, pursuing the most money for the least time. The second option is to optimize myself, pursuing the most substantial development of my skills.

Now, it’s fairly obvious that self-development is more fulfilling than money. Regardless, I’d like to ignore that in order to show that treating your career like a game where the objective is to optimize yourself actually earns more money than the direct pursuit of money. It’s a superior investment in large part because time spent working and money earned are not in a linear relationship.

The graph is actually shaped like a hockey stick, with the bottom of the stick shooting you into more money earned faster once you work more than the standard 40 hours. As educator, activist, and author Warren Farrell explains using US Census data, 13% more time in the workplace leads to 44% more earnings. Those extra hours, turning your standard 40-hour workweek into a 45.2-hour workweek, earns more than TRIPLE what the first 5.2 hours of your week earned.

Overtime cannot be the only cause of this. If overtime paid triple, and everybody knew about it, people would kill each other for it. In addition to the overtime pay, your work is becoming more thorough. Better work gets you noticed by your payroll/promotion-controlling management and if it doesn’t, it gives you leverage when negotiating your next salary. Thorough work and longer hours are relatively unachievable when you work for the paycheck. Take it from me, my 70 hours workweeks were beyond rough during my last year working with a time-for-paycheck-trade mentality. During my first year as a grocery store District Manager, those 70 hour weeks were achievable because I started with fewer management skills. I focused on developing those skills, not the paycheck, and there was no need to check the clock. I was engaged and ready to earn more than that extra 44%. Once I was sufficient at the job, that engagement faded and I transitioned into the time-for-money-trade mentality.

In that final year, I wasn’t learning the skills I needed to achieve my goals. If I want to improve the fitness industry (again, I could go on about what needs to improve all day), I need to master the skills to that game. Not only do we need to work for skills instead of money, we need the right skills. So, I quit to pursue the right skills, which is not only a higher yield investment, but lower risk.

Working to develop oneself is a lower risk investment for the simple reason that nobody can take your skills away. Tomorrow, you could be fired because your boss is having personal issues. Your workplace could go bankrupt and lay you off. Your job could become automated. At any moment, your paycheck could be taken away from you. And because we all have daily living expenses (bills, groceries, etc.), your saved money won’t last either. Overall, money can be taken away from you. But your skills cannot. Your self-value cannot.

If I told you right now you could invest in the IPO for a company, let’s call it “Your Skills Inc.” or “Self-Value LLC”, and you knew that company only had the potential to grow, you would buy as many shares of that company as humanly possible! There is no risk, only reward, and the same goes when you invest in yourself. You can lose your earnings, but you can’t lose your earning potential. Realize that your skills are why you go to work each day, and you’ll go with a fearless sense of self-value and purpose.

In terms of your day to day, what does making this investment look like? Start with saying yes to opportunities to be challenged. When your boss asks who wants to work on a project you don’t know exactly how to execute, volunteer for it. You will be forced become more adaptable, humble yourself to ask for support, and learn whatever is necessary. Even if you fail, you will still gain those skills. When a peer asks for help, help that person. You will practice your ability to listen, your communication, and all other teaching skills. Even if you can’t completely solve that peer’s problem, you will identify where you need to gain knowledge. Failure isn’t an end result, it is a chance to learn and thus, a leap forward in your self-growth. When adversity rears its head and you feel that fear of failure, that is your signal to invest your time. Go all in, because when the dust settles and you can look back at the result, you’ll see that the only possible result was success.


Farrell, Warren “Chapter 2” Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap- And What Women Can Do About It

Warren Farrell, New York City, American Management Association, 2005

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