Invest in Yourself

July 17, 2020

Things I wish I knew when I was younger….

The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.

Robert Greene (American author known for his books on strategy, power, and seduction)

Let’s talk about building a strategy for you to earn more money, discover new career opportunities and position yourself to take advantage of the upcoming changes in the economy.

No matter if the economy is strong or weak, having specialized, tangible skills like accounting, IT/coding, sales, and nursing will make you more attractive for higher paying jobs, clients, and gigs.  These types of hard skills are almost always in-demand.

If you have an eye for the latest trends, then consider Wayne Gretzky’s advice and “skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  Skills in blockchain, cloud computing, AI and video production are in demand now and even more so in the future.

Skill development was not something I consciously thought about as a teenager, but I wish I did. 

I didn’t know it, but I was already developing skills at an early age.  I had a paper route starting at age 12.  I built skills to reliably deliver a product everyday on schedule.  I learned how to collect payment monthly from subscribers (amazing a 12-year old kid was going door-to-door at night collecting back in the day).  I learned how to do basic accounting tasks of adding up my revenue collected, computing money owed to the newspaper publisher and filling out the necessary paperwork for a banking deposit.  As a high school student, I worked in a bicycle shop gaining experience in both sales and service.

But these were all skills I learned in order to do the job so I could earn money, or in the case of bicycle repair it was something I enjoyed.  I never really thought strategically about skills as a teenager.  I never had that guidance.

You already have a long list of skills, many of which you probably take for granted.  Don’t sell yourself short.  You are better than you think you are.  But if you want to make the leap to the next great opportunity, you have to keep learning.

The key is to develop a set of skills that will always make you employable while at the same time having a passion to learn new skills along the way.

Advice I Would Offer to a Mature Teenager or Young Adult:

  • Find a Mentor.  It may be a parent, another elderly family member or a neighbor.  You will need someone to guide you, suggest skills to develop and help you understand what you want to focus upon.  Your mentor can help you develop a skill development and higher education strategy to position you for high paying opportunities.
  • Monetize your Hobbies.  Some teenagers have been able to transform their skills built in their hobby into actual marketable skills in business, such as photography, web design, graphic design, or bicycle repair.  A few years ago, one of our local high school students offered photography and videography services to businesses.  He recently graduated from a prestigious college with a degree in Film and Media Arts and is now working in the film industry doing what he loves with the skills he has developed.  What do you love doing that others could pay you for?  What could you learn to do now and monetize in the near future?
  • Get a College Degree.  Still important in today’s market, but less so than 30+ years ago because of the ubiquity of college degrees.  Choose a major that teaches you in-demand skills: accounting, coding, or nursing are good examples.  If your passion is a Liberal Arts degree, then double major with something more tangible.  Imagine combining a History degree with an Accounting degree to position yourself to start a history tourism business.
  • Take Advantage of Online Classes.  There is an unlimited supply of online classes and free training videos where you can learn new skills.  Learn about podcasting, web development, or mobile app development.  If you insist on pursuing that History degree at your university, consider taking online classes in video production so you can create historical documentaries for your employer or for your own business.
  • Start Your Own Business.  If you have the initiative, start your own online business, service business or freelance/consultancy.  Doing so will help you ramp up on a wide range of skills in a short amount of time: business management, financial management, product/service management, marketing, sales, customer service, and the development of that particular skill set that you want to offer to your client.  Plus, this shows very well on a resume when searching out jobs in your future.

Advice I Would Offer to a Corporate Employee:

  • Don’t Drift.  You may be comfortable in your corporate job and then begin raising a family.  Suddenly you will discover you have little time or energy to continue building new skills.  Be sure you have a strategy to develop new skills on the job or carve out some space in your off hours to continue learning.  Make it a priority.
  • Be Aware of Your Employer’s Motivations.  If you are an exceptionally good employee, sometimes the company will not want to teach you new skills outside your core job responsibilities because they want to keep you doing what you are doing so well.  They may realize your newly acquired skills could lead to you leaving the company.  Be aware.
  • Become Irreplaceable.  Learn as much as possible about your job and additional skills so that you are the last person to be let go in a time of a downsizing.  In this case, it’s as much about developing the skills to be productive, but having the right attitude and initiative so proactively solve problems and advance the interests of the company.
  • So Many Resources at Your Fingertips.  There are countless opportunities to learn online.  Many digital businesses offer specialized skills training, companies like Skillshare offer a long list of classes in various specialized categories at very reasonable prices.  Many books, podcasts and YouTube videos offer great learning opportunities.  Keep learning at home away from the job.
  • Consider your Career Path.  Seek out areas of interest where you want to grow that intersect with skills in demand.  This may help you move up the corporate ladder or make a lateral move into a new career in a different part of the organization.
  • Build Relationships.  Remember the old adage: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  Well, both are important, but relationship building is a valuable soft skill that can connect you with greater opportunities.  Don’t burn those bridges in the corporate world.
  • You Will Need to Hopscotch.  Your new skills may not lead to new opportunities with your current employer.  Often you will need to go outside to find the best opportunities because your company may have you pigeon-holed in your current role.  It is not uncommon to see job hoppers build skills and then seek a newer, higher paying job a few years later.  This was frowned upon back in the day, but in today’s dynamic workplace it is quite common.

Advice I Would Offer an Entrepreneur:

  • Keep Evolving.  It is difficult enough to get a business started, products launched, and revenue flowing.  Running a business can consume you.  But your business cannot remain stuck doing what you did when you started it, otherwise the times will pass you by.  What is the next new frontier?  What new products and services do you plan to offer?  What skills are necessary in order to make that happen?
  • Recruit Skills.  In some cases, it is about seeking tangible skill development for yourself.  In other cases, it is about researching the next job opportunity and recruiting employees with those necessary skills that can move your company to the next level.  Howard Schultz, former Chairman and CEO of Starbucks said it best: “You can’t build any kind of organization if you’re not going to surround yourself with people who have experience and skill base beyond your own.”
  • Prioritize Employee Training.  Ideally you hire employees that have the skills necessary to do the job immediately.  Other times, you have to “get the right people on the bus” (to borrow a phrase from James Collins’ the book Good to Great), but then need to train them to do their job effectively.  Just as your company has to evolve, so do your employees.  Help them build skills to make them more valuable for your business.  Then do your best to keep them as a key part of your organization so that investment in skills training doesn’t walk out the door with them.
  • Work On the Business, not Just In the Business.  This took me a while to really understand and implement.  When working in the business, you are 100% focused on client projects, getting new customers, managing vendor relationships, recruiting good employees, and managing your finances.  But it is just as important to step away from the day-to-day tasks and start working on your business.  Wear the hat of a consultant and advise yourself on strategic changes to make in your business.  Schedule off-site meetings with key employees to discuss company growth plans.  Take personal time off to read, think and reflect.  To be effective at working on your business, you need an entirely different set of skills in order to be an effective leader and visionary.

The world keeps moving and you have to move with it.  Skill development is not just something that happens in school.  It must be a lifelong quest as you work to get better and more effective at managing your personal and business life.

Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.