Last week, I shared with you the lessons I learned the hard way over my 20+ year career. One of the things I mentioned is the importance of investing in yourself. It’s worth mentioning that this holds true whether you’ve just earned your degree, or whether you’re 5, 10, or 20 years into your career. I’d even argue that investing in yourself is critically important when you’re winding your career down and looking at retirement.

When I think of investing in myself, I think of three areas: my health, my family, and my career. Let’s look at these one at a time.

1.      Investing in your Health. It sounds obvious, yet this is one area where it’s too easy to take shortcuts. I have been a victim of being too busy to eat well / exercise / get a checkup / meditate. It’s so tempting to put off making our health a priority because unless something is obviously broken, we figure that it can wait. In my case, being on the run between meetings and family commitments, in addition to spending lots of time in airports, made it hard to focus on anything other than survival. Traveling made it necessary to grab a quick bite, customer dinners made it very tempting to eat dessert, and it was seemingly impossible to exercise or schedule doctor’s appointments. It took a few years before I figured out that I was mortgaging my future. I thought about the life I wanted to live as I got older, and I realized I had to invest in my physical and mental health today. This investment requires no money, but it does require time, which I – and many of you, I’m sure – don’t have a lot of. So, I changed my priorities in small ways, so as to ensure they’d have staying power. Example: when I was not traveling, I spent a few minutes in the evening preparing my lunches and healthy snacks for the office, rather than respond to emails. Sounds simplistic, and it was. Even as I write this it sounds almost silly. It made a difference, though, in the number of times I needed to visit the office coffee shop on an empty stomach. I started meditating, first once a week for 10 minutes, then whenever I felt like I needed a break. I started taking the stairs and a half days off twice a year to schedule my doctor’s and dentist’s appointments. These small changes paid dividends in how I felt overall, and how productive I was as a result. The point is, you can’t take care of your family or your career if you’re struggling physically or mentally, so invest here first.

2.      Investing in Family. In my last article, I talked about family being first, always. That was referring to the difficult periods that all families face. Let me clarify that by family, I am referring to those closest to you, whether that means your kids, your significant other, your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends…it’s all the people you love and who love you. The day-to-day dynamics in any family can get difficult at times, independently of the difficult periods I referred to in the first article. Investing in your family’s well-being, to me, means taking the time and making the effort to maintain harmony. Let’s face it, after a long day at work, dealing with the myriad of stressors in the office and on the commute, it’s tough to be at your best come 6 PM. Sadly, though, that’s when it’s most important. Your significant other and your kids have also had a long day, with many of their own stressors. Your elderly parents may have been looking forward to your call. Your sibling or your best friend may be going through a rough period. So, at 6PM, we need to give our families our 100% undivided attention, our compassion, and our ear. Almost everyone will nod in agreement on this point, but it is incredibly hard to do in light of the pace at which today’s workplace goes, and the sheer number of email/IM/phone/in-person interactions we are all subject to during the day. Investing the patience and time required to be emotionally available for our families on a day-to-day basis will pay dividends in terms of being connected and in harmony.

3.      Investing in Your Career. Many of us will spend over 40 years working.  At the rate things change today, it’s impossible to think that the job you’re doing now is the one you’ll be doing in five years. Even if it is, I would bet that the tools you use will be different. Keep current with changes in your workplace, in your industry, in your line of work. If you have the privilege of leading others, challenge yourself to do a better job every day. Identify one thing about your career you’d like to improve, and figure out how to get there. Read articles. Get a mentor or a coach. Get feedback from your peers. Do this independently of whether it is supported by your company. Your skills, your communication abilities, your industry knowledge, your technical know-how, your professional designation – these are investments you need to make in your own career. My husband, who is in his mid-40’s, decided a year ago he would pursue certification from the Project Management Institute. He bought the books, got the membership, took one class, studied every night for weeks, and passed the exam. This is not easy, but it’s necessary, in an age where fewer companies are investing time or money in their employees. His ability to speak the PM lingo, and his professional designation, got him a new job as a PM. One of the employees I was fortunate enough to work with a few years ago decided she wanted to improve her boardroom presence. She invested in a career coach, and within a few months had improved her outlook and her communication style, enough so she applied for and got a promotion. I remember that the fact that she took her career seriously enough to invest time and money in a coach, when our company had cut such investments, spoke volumes about her determination. Invest, invest, invest. Attend free webinars and seminars given by the Project Management Institute, the Canadian Management Institute, and countless others. Spend time with leaders you look up to. Take a course. Read a book. The time and money you’ll spend will have a return on investment which will outpace all but the luckiest of stock picks.

These are my thoughts on investing in yourself. What do you think? Share your thoughts…I think this could be an interesting conversation.

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