Two years ago I sold my first company, a venture in which I invested all my energy and time for more than a decade. The assets I already owned combined with the value of the transaction put me in the position to be evaluated at over 1 million dollars. In our current society, focused so much on numbers and quantitative approaches, this is a reasonably big milestone. Being a millionaire, who doesn’t want to be that?
I confess I surrendered to this reality for a good two weeks, which is more than 10 days in a row. Really. During those two weeks, I wasn’t Dragos Roua anymore, I was a millionaire. Although at that time I didn’t imagine I will ever think something like this, now I’m pretty sure those were two of the worst weeks of my life. Not only because I can hardly remember what I did during those two weeks, but because what I remember feels disconnected and strange. Partly because it wasn’t me who did it (I was somebody else, just like I told you) partly because I was in a very euphoric state, floating like a prima-donna on a cheap soap opera.
Borrowing a ready made identity, like “being a millionaire” is a very dangerous thing for your mental health. Borrowing any social mask to hide your real nature is a very dangerous thing too, but among all the social personas you can choose, being a millionaire is one of the most wanted and toxic ones. I know that first hand. Been there, done that.
After those two weeks something happened. I would like to say that it was a sudden enlightenment, an internal breakthrough which led me to an epiphany, but it wasn’t. In fact, it was a rather slow process, which culminated with the book 30 Sentences For A Millionaire Mindset. For me, writing that book was a therapeutic process. It was my way of healing the strange illness I got by this foreign image which I glued on me, at the cost of my own authentic being. After I finished the book, I realized that being a millionaire is just an external image, it has nothing to do with me. But being able to create abundance, well, yes, that was something that was very precious, and the book talked exactly about that.
At the same time, another thing started to slowly grow until it became a very clear and sharp question: what to do with all that money? Suddenly, it became useless. If all I was chasing was a mirage, what’s the use for all that money anymore? And with that I finally reach the topic of this article, so please excuse the long introduction. Today I’m going to talk about investing. Specifically, about investing in yourself.
How To Invest In Yourself – A Primer
To make a long story short, after I realized I still have work to do, namely to take care of that money, I decided to invest it all in myself. It wasn’t an easy decision as some of the money was already invested in real estate, but in the long run it proved to be a very good one. I still congratulate myself every once in a while when I’m thinking about that.
Investing in yourself is very different from investing in external assets. It doesn’t follow the same pattern and it surely doesn’t offer you the same compensation. Whenever people are investing money they expect in return money. Well, it’s completely different when you invest in yourself. You don’t get back money. Usually, you get back an improved version of yourself.
Stage One: Assessment
Of course, as in any investment, you start by assessing your potential asset, in this case, yourself. Again, it’s not an easy task. We’re the byproduct of our own ideas about ourselves, rather than the facts. We think we can provide value in a certain area, but that’s not always true. Most of the time, we’re carrying away just an incomplete picture of what we would like to be rather than what we really are.
Here’s a 3 steps structure I used to make my first initial assessment. One important thing to note is that this assessment is not geared towards identifying your “value”, but your weaknesses. It’s not “how much do I value now?”, but rather “where’s my opportunity spot?”. Because that’s the spot where you’re going to invest.
1. Facts Analysis
When you analyze facts, you leave away the internal “fog”. Maybe you think you’re a brilliant negotiator, but that may be just an inconsistent cloud in your ego. Once you put this so-called quality of yours to strain, it may vanish in a second.
Facts analysis involves another person. Ideally, it should be a person you trust. You can either start asking questions right away about the facts you’re interested in, either just observe the other person reactions to some of your actions.
For instance, my team mate in facts analysis was Diana. She was always close to me and by observing her reaction to some of my actions I realized that some areas I thought I was strong in were not so strong, after all. At some point, she told me that “I lost my mojo”. I knew for sure that I didn’t lost my mojo, but she was right, something was missing. And what I did lose was the image of a successful entrepreneur. She always knew me by this public interface of a successful online business man. Now that the image was gone, she didn’t know how access my real part, or even if there was a real part behind that image. And that was a very strong indicator of an area in which I had work to do.
2. Accept and Avoid Wishful Thinking
Precisely: accept that you can generate wishful thinking and avoid those situations. You can’t always escape from this trap: wishful thinking is from the same family with dreaming. And without dreaming you can’t really function in this world.
The danger appears when you take wishful thinking for granted. That will make your assessment very difficult. One of the most common wishful thinking patterns I had was “I will move to New Zealand”. Of course I will, but before that I have to take care about a lot of stuff. It won’t happen by itself, that’s for sure.
If you plan to seriously invest in yourself you gotta accept the fact that you’re going to have unrealistic thoughts and expectations and take them away from your conclusions. Just accept the fact that sometimes you’re just fantasizing about the world you’re living in, rather than actually living in.
3. Interview With Yourself
But the most useful tools of all in the stage of assessment is the interview with yourself. I already wrote a (rather popular, as it seems) interview with yourself which you can use as a starting point for your own.
The conclusions you’ll draw from this interview won’t be appealing, that I can tell you. But they’ll be true, and having a real image of your asset in which you’re going to invest is fundamental.
Stage Two: Growing Skills and Sensors
After the assessment, you start to actually invest. You’re going to do this in two ways: you’re either growing and enhancing skills, either build new “reality sensors”. Let’s talk a little about those “reality sensors” (will get back to skills a little later).
You can perceive reality in many ways. You have pre-conceived opinions about it, you have your own experiences and memories. But some parts of reality are hidden because you’re not having the right tools to perceive them. You simply don’t know how to “look” at them. It’s like trying to see the infra-red light, which cannot be seen without the appropriate sensor.
Well, those new reality sensors are fundamental. Because they will help you measure the success of your investment. Without them you can’t evaluate your investment.
Let’s say you want to travel the world and you’re saving money for that. In the process, you’ll be so focused on saving money that your real objective will start to shrink more and more, until it will disappear. You may get the money and start traveling the world, but you’ll travel with this unspeakable feeling of “something is missing”. Well, you don’t have the sensor for it anymore. You became so immersed in your activity that you forgot the goal. You actually can’t feel the activity, because you don’t have the corresponding sensor.
One of the sensors I had to carefully grow was “enjoy reality”. I wasn’t a really big enjoyer while I was an entrepreneur. Partly because I didn’t have the time for it, partly because it seemed like a perpetual postponed activity: “I will feel good when I’ll grow my company revenue three times”. Or some other bullshit like this. When I decided I will invest in myself, I started to look around and see what are the things which are bringing me joy. And, little by little, I started to expose myself to them, practicing my “enjoying” sensors every day.
Protecting and Enhancing Your Skills
Now, let’s get back a little to the skills. If you’re going to really invest in yourself, your skills are not to be traded, but protected. Fundamental difference. You’re not going to acquire some new skill requested by your job, but you’re going to enhance and polish what you already have, to make it more in sync with your real self. It’s the inverse process: instead of going out buying a new skill (by giving your focus and time in exchange), you’re looking at what you already have and see how it fits in your general structure. Do you still need it? If yes, then make it even better. If not, then leave it away, move your focus from it.
As an entrepreneur I had to grow a lot of skills required by my “job”. I learned tons of stuff about project management, programming, getting things done, negotiation, financial planning and a lot more. When I decided to invest in myself I took each and every one of those skills and polished it. Tried to find every facet of it and look how it fits into my real personality. Do I really like programming? Of course I do. So why ditching it just because “I’m a millionaire”. Re-focus, shift to another direction and start programming again, if I really want to. For instance I just finished my first iPhone app (with iPad and Android versions following pretty soon). Nothing fancy, and I’m sure I won’t bring down the AppStore with it, but a very important milestone for me.
Your Highest Asset: Health
This is by far the easiest way to understand this whole “invest in yourself” approach. I’m sure everybody knows that you can’t properly function if you’re neglecting your health. But not everybody do something about it. Well, I made this one of my top priorities and it paid back tremendously. I started to exercise regularly (which was something completely unthinkable back when I was running my company) and I even embarked on a 9 and a half months raw food diet.
I won’t tell you again about the benefits of eating raw, you can do a search on my blog and read the related articles. But I will tell you that something changed for the good in my metabolism after those 9 months. I’m a regular vegetarian now but I can function way better that I was before. If you’re going to try this “invest in yourself” approach, I recommend to start with an investment in your health: improve your diet and start exercising. You’re going to see the results faster than in any other area and that will keep you pumped and motivated.
Building A Web Of Relationships
Surprisingly enough, investing in yourself involves creating better relationships. You’re not alone. You cannot function alone. You’re living in a sea of interactions, in an ocean of stimuli. Each of these stimuli will trigger a certain response in you. Although we’re not always admitting it, our behavior is hugely shaped by our environment, by the people we’re surrounding ourselves with.
Hence, it goes without any doubt that if you want to improve your overall activity, you should change the stimuli you’re exposed to. In other words, you should change your relationships. That’s also a very cheap and affordable investment and it also pays back really quick.
Initially, I wanted to name a few of my online friends here, but I won’t. They’re way too many and I wouldn’t have enough space even if you could read this blog until tomorrow morning. It’s a fantastic feeling to have so many supportive and empathic relationships, especially since they’re not baked up with a physical presence.
But it wasn’t only about my online friends. Although I’ve brutally cut out many of my old professional relationships, I moved fast and started to create new ones. And it worked. The moment I ignored the potential business benefit I was seeing in each person, everything changed. They were not potential clients, they were nice people to have around.
Why Investing In Yourself?
We talked so far about “how to invest in yourself” but we didn’t talk about the “why?”. So, here we go: why investing in yourself?
Because, in the end, you’re the only one controlling your reality. The more you invest in yourself, the more independence and power you gain. And the more independent you are, the faster you’ll be able to cope with any change in your reality.
In fact, we’re not doing much outside of trying to cope with changes in our life, if you think for a while. Our entire life is just a continuous race against change. All we’re doing is to adapt to it: day becomes night, night becomes day, we get to work, we get home. We’re floating from one environment to the the next one.
Sometimes, those changes in the environment are pretty hard. Those are what we call “the bad times”, or crisis. But almost always, after one of these crisis, when we look back at the situation, we think “well, it wasn’t THAT bad, all I had to do was to adapt and adjust”.
More often than not, changes are challenging our “weak links”, or areas in which we’re not performing well. A financial crisis may have something to do with our impulse spending. A relationship crisis may have something to do with our self-respect or obsessive control. For instance, my “millionaire crisis” was about my need for validation and approval. Thinking that being a “millionaire” will make me more “fit” or “appropriate” .The weak link was of course my authenticity, which was heavily under pressure.
Each and every area challenged by a crisis is in fact a weak link which needs hardening. And this hardening process becomes much easier and almost enjoyable, if you have more resources for it. And that’s the real reason why investing in yourself always pays back.
If you have more power and flexibility, a crisis will never feel like a crisis, but like an opportunity.
“Ok, I’m facing a crisis now: here is this big change in my life. I will just dive in and see where I’ll end up. I know I can get through it. Let’s do it.” 🙂
Putting The Pieces Together
Now, let’s talk a little bit about some real life examples. Following my introduction, you remember that part of my money was invested in real estate, just before I decided to redirect it into my own personal development. My real estate investment is now evaluated 75% less than it was 2 years ago. I’m sure you know the phenomenon. In my initial plan, 2 years was supposed to be the exit period for that investment. What exit? At 75% less? You kidding me, right?
And yet, I don’t face the associated stress with such a powerful slump. And you know why? Because I didn’t give away control. By investing in my self I created a lot of other alternative paths. I still manage to adjust and adapt to this change by providing value through other channels.
- I run a rather popular blog which manages to bring in a steady (and growing) revenue month by month
- I started a series of workshops about online business
- I started a series of workshops about blogging
- I launched a new branch of building iPhone apps in my New Zealand company
None of the above would have been possible if I wouldn’t take the time to carefully invest in my self. I couldn’t sustain a blog without a lot of discipline and implication, I couldn’t start a series of workshops if I wouldn’t have something to share in them and I couldn’t start building iPhone apps if I wouldn’t harden my programming skills.
Right now I’m doing absolutely ok and I’m also feeling fantastic in the process. You know, there’s this huge difference between watching a (dying) real estate market, waiting desperately for a buyer and, all in all, giving away control to outside circumstances, and this feeling of being in sync, of flowing an enjoying the benefits of a well thought investment: myself.
After going through this accelerated investment process, after having my new, hardened version, put under extreme pressure, I know I can handle any other challenge. To be honest, I was inclined to write something like: “Whatever it comes, I don’t care, I am ready for it.”
But somehow, by using my “enjoy life more” sensor, I will rephrase it like this: “Whatever it comes, I really look forward to it. And I’ll enjoy every second of it.”