Why (and How) You Should Invest In Yourself, Not Just Your Employer

July 30, 2013 · 16 comments

If there’s one big mistake young people make in their careers, it’s this: they work so hard for their employer that they forget to invest in themselves.

Why is that a big mistake? Why does it matter more than ever before?

Because in our new digital world of work, all workers are dispensable. Yes, that means you. No matter how good you are at your job, no matter how great your skills or how big your network, your job is not secure.

Sure, it’s more secure if you become what Seth Godin calls a lynchpin, someone who holds organizations together and makes things happen. It’s more secure if your boss and colleagues like you. But no matter how awesome you are, if you’re depending on someone else to employ you, your paycheck is at stake.

And yet too many workers still make the mistake of working their butt off for their employer and not making time to invest in themselves. Working hard for your employer isn’t a mistake in itself; that’s smart for a lot of obvious reasons. But what’s NOT smart is spending so much time and effort growing your employer’s platform or community or sales that you don’t spend time on your own. The mistake is investing only in your employer’s future, rather than also investing in your own. (Click to tweet that idea.)

Image: Invest in yourself

So how do you invest in yourself? Here are a few of the best ways to do it even while rocking your employer’s world:

1. Grow a side gig

It’s not easy to launch a business or passion project when you’re working 40 — or let’s face it, more like 50 or 60 — hours a week. But making time to grow a blog community or take on a few consulting jobs or self-publish your first ebook or do whatever you’ve always wanted to do (and figure out a way to monetize it) is so important. It’s fun, too!

A side hustle is more than a road toward self-employment. It’s extra money in the bank, new connections and new skills. You might even choose a side gig that’s more in line with your true passions than your day job, and working on that passion project during your “off hours” will help you move your career in the right direction.

Case in point: my company began as a part-time social media business, one I grew on the side of my day job. I then turned that side hustle into my full-time job.

2. Make networking a priority

And not just networking that will help your employer get where they want to be; we’re talking about networking that will help you get where you want to be.

What’s the next step in your career? Where do you see yourself in the next five years? How can you meet specific people — editors, entrepreneurs, CEOs — who will help you reach those goals?

Grow your network while you’re still in a job, rather than waiting until your employer has decided you’re dispensable, so your connections are there when you need them — because you won’t be able to develop those relationships overnight.

In many cases, you’ll be able to use your full-time position to forge relationships that will help you down the road, regardless of whether you’re still with that company. Your employer will love you for these relationships, too, because your connections can help their bottom line.

3. Put some money in the bank

You need a safety net. Well, what’s more likely is you need to pay off your debt, and then create a safety net.

Financial flexibility is one of the best gifts you can give yourself, because it will allow you to pursue what you really want down the road. If your firm downsizes or your startup goes out of business, having a few months worth of living expenses squirreled away will let you be somewhat picky about what you do next, rather than taking the first job offer that comes along out of desperation. It also allows you to pursue entrepreneurship or create your own unique job if you really want to think outside the box.

But it’s easier said than done, right? Rather than trying to squeeze every cent out of your paycheck, look for ways to make more money. That might mean asking for a raise at your day job, or taking that side hustle we talked about up a notch. If you’re creative, you will find a way to earn some cash that not only aligns with your skills, but also sets you up for a future career.

4. Build an online platform

While this route isn’t for everyone, building a community around a blog or some other online channel is one of the best ways to ensure you’ll always be employed, whether by someone else’s company or your own. When you create a strong and unique personal brand, opportunities will come to you, so you’ll never have to hunt down that next paycheck. In fact, this is how my company lands most clients; we don’t find them, they find us.

It can be challenging to discover your own voice online when you spend so much of your time working for someone else; depending on your job, it might be difficult or impossible to have a public persona at all. If your employer is smart though, they’ll realize that when you have a strong personal brand, maybe even an online following, that works to their benefit. It often means visibility for them just like it does for you. If you can make that case, you might be able to convince your boss to approve an otherwise outlawed blog.

5. Learn new skills

It’s easier than ever before to teach yourself new skills. You’ll find tons of free resources online (blogs are just one example), and if you prefer a more structured environment, you can always enroll in a class. I love SKillshare because they focus on real-world skills that make you more marketable. It’s also fun to take courses or read ebooks by bloggers who have specialized knowledge to share; here’s a list of such resources for writers from The Write Life.

Learn something new simply for enjoyment, or choose a skill that will help you become more qualified for your dream job. Do you dream of transitioning into a digital marketing position, but need more techie skills to qualify for the best jobs? Would learning one more programming language significantly increase your earning potential? Don’t wait for your employer to send you to a conference! Take it upon yourself to learn what you need to know.

What are your favorite ways to invest in yourself and your career?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca Fraser-Thill July 30, 2013 at 8:25 am

This is excellent, Alexis! I’d add as an addendum to #5 “Stay Up to Date with Changing Technologies.” It’s so easy when you’re in a job to get so engrossed in what you’re using everyday that you fail to see how everything is shifting around you. Then when it’s time to move on, you have a steep learning curve ahead of you – and might lose some interview points in the process. So even if your position doesn’t require you to know about the latest & greatest advancement, learn about it yourself.

I’ll be sharing this post far & wide – millennials especially need to hear this, for sure.
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Alexis Grant July 30, 2013 at 8:30 am

Such a good addition, Rebecca! Thanks for chiming in.
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Jen July 30, 2013 at 8:54 am

I’ve been working on all of these things for the past few years. Developing your own community is important. Once you have a slot to fit into, it’s so much easier to leverage those connections and parlay your experience into marketable work. I just used Skillshare for the first time recently and loved it.
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Alexis Grant July 30, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Which class did you take, Jen?
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Diane Pauley July 30, 2013 at 10:03 am

Thank you so much for posting this Alexis! It is absolutely crucial that we, young professionals, keep giving ourselves constant reality checks. It’s so true, nothing is set in stone, so the time to start investing is now. Just another way that I’ve been personally investing in myself has been by surrounding myself with like-minded people, whether they be entrepreneurs, artists or any creative/self-employed type. It’s so important to start building up this support network now for your own sanity. This is the other side to building an online platform (your audience) because you also need those people who have your back when no one understands why you may be trying to turn your side-hustle into a full-functioning online biz. So that’s the only addition on my part; create your own braintrust, mastermind, accountability group or creative peer network. You won’t regret it.
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Alexis Grant July 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Yes, yes! Surround yourself with go-getters!
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Icess July 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Alex! I am so glad you wrote this post!

I had been thinking about the same topic for awhile now and how it has just become apparent that we need to has some sort of side hustle.

You know what I’d REALLY like to see as a follow up post? Maybe something that can help us construct an action plan for our side hustle or gigs. Not so much big picture but daily. For me, it’s a matter of time. It’s not so much about time management I think (or maybe it is) but about being deliberate with my time. Between writing posts, my fiction, teaching, and trying to do more freelancing, I find myself overwhelmed. Sometimes too overwhelmed to do anything. Don’t know if you have any advice for this?
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Icess July 30, 2013 at 12:44 pm

And yes, I left off the -is in your name! I’m hanging my head in shame now.
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Alexis Grant July 30, 2013 at 5:21 pm

No worries — That’s a great idea for a post! I’ll put it on my list 🙂
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Alex Sheehan July 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm

These are awesome! A great thing about learning new skills is that sometimes your employer will assist you in doing so. They may foot the bill for a training course they’d like you to complete or send you to a conference, and that means new skills and new connections for you. I’ve also found training courses in the past that I presented to my employer and demonstrated how it would benefit me in my current role and the company’s overall objectives.
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Alexis Grant July 30, 2013 at 5:23 pm

So true! This is something we often don’t take advantage of when we have a job at a company… and then you miss that part when you leave!
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Ryan Bonaparte July 31, 2013 at 6:46 am

Great points, I think for a lot of people, the company always comes first and the employee second. This especially true for people who are looking work hard and be recognized. One thing I found helpful for myself was to try and work on projects that I felt would both benefit the company and expand my marketable skillset. That way we both get something out of it!

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Kathryn Goldman January 3, 2014 at 11:25 am

Alexis,

Great post. I’m glad you circulated it again today. I also like the idea of a follow-up post addressing strategy for developing a side gig. That strategy should include a review of the obligations to your current employer before you start your side gig. For instance, if you have a contract, re-read it to make sure there is nothing in there that prevents you from starting another business. Be sure not to use an employer’s proprietary information in your new gig and depending on your job, you may not take an opportunity for yourself that you should bring to your employers.

These are a few things that should be considered from a strategic standpoint.

Kathryn

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cyndy September 26, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Thank you so much ALEXIS for this because i am so ready to just walk off of my job! Now that i have read this, it’s time to make major changes in my life and put myself first! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!

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