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.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?