Investing in Your Core

Which investments in your education, skills, work, and lifestyle will be most valuable to you in the long run?

A lot is going to change in the next 10 years for you, both personally and professionally. The problem is that you can’t accurately predict what will change and how it will change. This makes it difficult to know where to invest your time, energy, and money today. It’s hard to be sure what will pay off in the long run.

But now consider what isn’t likely to change. What can you say about yourself, the world, and other people that will likely remain essentially the same 10 years from now? What will be predictably stable?

Some years ago Amazon’s team pondered what wasn’t likely to change about their business over the next 10 years. They realized that customers are always going to want speedier delivery, so they opted to make a huge, multi-year investment in building the capabilities to deliver items faster. Other investments were more speculative or risky, but it was a safe bet that customers were going to value faster delivery for many years to come. Amazon’s team recognized that people are always going to want their items faster, which made it easier for Amazon to place really big bets on speedier delivery.

Future Proofing Your Career

What if you thought about your current work and lifestyle the way Amazon approaches its business?

Let’s start with your work and work-related skills. What about your work, your field, or the demand for certain skills will remain unchanged in the next 10 years? How could you invest more in the unchangeable aspects?

I can predict with high certainty is that many people will still be interested in personal growth in 10 years. I can predict that people will still have personal problems to solve. I can predict that people’s lives will become more complicated than they are today. I can predict that people will have even more distractions to deal with. I can predict that many people will want more clarity and certainty about their paths in life. I can predict that many people will feel disconnected and will want more love and connection in their lives.

Even if AI steps in to do more in this area, I can also predict that many people will still like working with other humans to improve their lives. I can predict that many people will value caring, compassion, and honesty.

I think you get the idea. Over the long run, there’s a lot about this field of work that’s stable and predictable, mainly because human beings have certain qualities that are remarkably stable.

One way I apply this realization is that as I develop new courses, I think about what will still matter to people in 10 or 20 years. I’m not developing a course on email efficiency since I don’t know if that will still be relevant enough in a decade or two. I prefer to develop courses where it’s a pretty sure bet that the topics will still be relevant decades from now. This affects the topics I choose as well as the individual lessons I record. When I design a lesson, I think about whether it will seem dated in 20 years. Sometimes I even think about whether it will be relevant in 100 years, 500 years, or 1000 years. To reflect upon this, I consider which books from 1000+ years ago that I found worth reading, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey. This helps me zero in on timeless qualities like courage and honor. And so my work is rich in such topics. I think that timeless topics help us go to connect more deeply than topics with shorter lifespans.

I even consider whether each course may be helpful to an AI that consumes the content. I think about whether the lessons are AI-relevant, not just human-centric. For instance, an AI has a relationship with its reality just as a human does, so it may find value in the Submersion course, which is about upgrading your relationship with reality. How can I develop a course today and expect it to be just as meaningful, relevant, and worthwhile for people in 20 years? I have to focus on those core aspects of people’s lives that are unlikely to change.

I encourage you to think a decade or two ahead as well, especially when it comes to skill-building. It takes years to build really strong skills. It would be a shame if your investment only has a short lifespan, and then you have to start over. It’s so nice to continue leveraging skills that took 10+ years to build, knowing that they aren’t going out of style anytime soon.

To figure out which skills to invest in, you can guess or try to predict how the future will be different, but it’s actually easier to predict how it won’t be different.

Predicting What You’ll Love

What will you still love, enjoy, and appreciate in 10 years?

Your answers to this question signal another good way to decide how to invest your time and energy in the years ahead.

Your tastes and preferences will change over time, but some interests will remain stable for decades. What are those stable parts of your character?

I can predict that I’ll still be into personal growth in 10 years. I’ll still like connecting with other growth-oriented people. I’ll still be vegan. I’ll still like writing and speaking. I’ll still like to exercise. I’ll still like to travel. I’ll still like doing growth challenges to stretch myself. I’ll still love hugs and cuddles. These are all long-term commitments that aren’t likely to change in the next decade. I may change how I express them, but the core patterns behind them will likely remain very stable.

Other aspects of my life could change though. Will I still be living in Las Vegas 10 years from now? That’s possible since I’ve lived here for 16 years, but I could see myself moving during that time, maybe to another country. Will I still be blogging in 10 years? That’s possible too, but I could shift to other modes of expression. Something new could arise that I like even better.

Investing in Your Core

When you understand the stable parts of your character, you can invest in them more deeply. You can make much bigger bets on those areas of your life that you know you’re still going to enjoy and appreciate many years ahead.

Now if you combine the stable parts of your character and lifestyle with the stable parts of your work and skills, that’s where you can make your biggest bets of all.

For me a pattern in both areas is personal growth. It’s part of my business and my personal life, and I can predict that these patterns will remain stable for at least another 10 or 20 years. So that’s where I can justify betting bigger – a lot bigger.

One way you can gauge your investments is to note where you’re spending your money. What we’re really looking for is your investment of energy, and money is a decent yet imperfect way to assess where energy is flowing. This is especially true when you spend enough money that it feels a bit edgy or scary to you, just like a stock or real estate investor who’s making a big bet on a company or property. If your investments don’t stir up some emotion, you’re probably investing too little, playing it safe, and staying too far inside your comfort zone. That edgy feeling is a sign that you care about what you’re doing. It wakes you up, keeps you stimulated, and ensures that you’ll do whatever it takes to help your investment succeed.

For the upcoming year, I’ve enrolled in a yearlong coaching program and renewed a couple of other memberships to private groups. I’m pre-committed to spending about $14,500 on personal growth expenses (not counting related travel), and the year hasn’t started yet. I’ll undoubtedly spend more as the year progresses. This feels good to me. It’s enough to feel moderately edgy and stimulated but not so much that it would make me feel paranoid. I know I’m making intelligent bets on stable, long-term areas of value. It’s essentially the same logic that convinced Amazon to pour billions into speedier delivery.

But if I were to take that same amount and invest it on tech for my business, such as buying a new Mac Pro, I wouldn’t feel good about it. It seems like a waste that’s unlikely to pay off as well. I love good tech, but spending thousands more for slightly better tools that I can fully leverage doesn’t sit well with me. My investment in tech hardware will only depreciate. I only have so much time to recoup my investment as my hardware’s market value goes to zero.

Investments in personal growth are very different because those investments don’t depreciate. In fact, they tend to appreciate. Due to the long-term stability of personal growth, I can recoup huge gains over time. What I spend for 2020 is likely to still be paying dividends 5 years, 10 years, 20 years out, and beyond. The payoff is just so wonderful.

So for this reason, each year I like to spend way more on personal growth than I do on tech, even in years when I upgrade every device I own to the newest, fully decked out version.

I was in Toastmasters for 6 years (2004 to 2010). I think it was $60 every 6 months to be a member, so $120 per year, so that’s $720 in total dues. Add in the cost of transportation to and from the meetings, buying extra clothes for doing more speeches, occasional conference fees and travel (like for the Toastmasters International Conference, which I attended twice, and some district level conferences), and miscellaneous related expenses, and it probably adds up to less than $5K total. Toastmasters was hugely helpful in enabling me to reach my goal of doing a 3-day workshop on the Las Vegas Strip. That first event made more than $50K in profit. And that’s also where my wife Rachelle and I first met. The ripples from that event are still paying dividends today, and we’ve done 15 other 3-day workshops since then as well. My 2020 plans include doing a new event in Vegas in the Fall as well.

So the ongoing ripples from my Toastmasters investment are still paying dividends year after year. It’s like receiving lifetime royalties for a book written many years ago. Being able to get on a stage, speak confidently, and have fun with it has greatly enhanced my lifestyle as well. Next month I’ll be emceeing the first day of a leadership conference at a hotel next to the Panama Canal. I don’t normally play the emcee role, but thanks to my prior Toastmasters experience, I know how to do it and make it fun.

Toastmasters is inexpensive, but it still takes a lot of time and energy to go to meetings; create, practice, and deliver speeches; and engage with the group. So initially it may seem like a big deal. But consider that you have your whole life to recoup that investment. I so wish I’d gotten into Toastmasters while in my 20s instead of my 30s.

Are you spending more on the unchangeable parts of your life (like personal growth or communication skills) than you do on the changeable parts (like tech)? If not, consider flipping that pattern around, and watch the long-term ROI from your investments soar.

Amping Up Your Core Investments

It’s easy to flow time, energy, and money into investments that don’t pay off. This is especially true when you chase after the latest technique- or method-based programs, the ones that promise you fast and easy results. I think of these as “game the system” programs, like ones that will teach you how to make money selling stuff on Amazon or how to rank higher on Google. It’s nice while it lasts, but will it endure for decades? How many times have you strayed away from your core to fall for such traps? I was guilty of that a lot in my 20s… till I finally found my footing and grew a bit wiser.

To make really good investments in yourself, your knowledge, your skills, and your lifestyle, seek to identify and understand the unchangeable core within you. What about you seems stable and isn’t likely to change much in the next 10 years? These are terrific areas for making big, bold bets on yourself.

By contrast, what’s really just a whim that you aren’t likely to care about in 10 years? Steer clear of plunking money down on those areas.

I challenge you to keep stretching your comfort zone when it comes to investing in your core. For many years I would spend less than $1K per year on personal growth, and it felt nice and cozy. I’d buy all the books I wanted and some audio programs too. Now and then I might attend a local workshop. I advanced little by little.

Then at some point I progressed to spending about $1-5K per year on personal growth: more books, more audio programs, nice seminars, club memberships, courses, conferences, and a little coaching here and there. That was still pretty cozy but stretched me more.

These days I like to spend somewhere in the $15-40K range per year on personal growth: lots of books and audiobooks, workshops, conferences, seminars, memberships, and coaching. This still feels cozy, but it also feels more powerful. Mostly I’d describe it as fun and stimulating. It feels more social and connected too since I now work on personal growth with other people every day, including as part of running Conscious Growth Club.

This also makes me wonder what it would be like to eventually spend $100K+ per year on personal growth and to have that feel normal. Right now I’m still getting so much value from the 5-figure level that I’d like to stay here a bit longer and keep soaking up the fun and stimulation that it provides. It’s not just the money to consider but also the time investment. Shoving more money into the pot isn’t the point. The money is just an indicator of energy flow, but it’s really the energy that matters. You can flow a lot of energy into an investment without spending much money, like I did with Toastmasters, but sometimes it’s also good to get plenty of money flowing towards your core. If you aren’t willing to spend your money on what truly matters to you, that’s a sign that you’re probably holding back due to fear, self-doubt, or some other internal misalignment. Be willing to bet bigger on yourself.

Don’t be so worried about making a mistake now and then. It happens. Even a fairly weak course or program might yield one good idea, and if it’s a fairly timeless idea, you still have decades to recoup the investment. Sometimes the best I can do is look back on a foolish investment and laugh at it, but somehow even the foolish ones really aren’t that regrettable in the long run.

Since I’ve been investing in personal growth for decades now, I notice that I am indeed still gaining from investments I made years ago, even from the smallest expenses like books and movies. A book I read 20 years ago may provide an insight that I share on a coaching call today. I often leverage the knowledge gained from personal growth investments I made during the 1990s in my work today. And I expect that today’s investments will still be paying dividends many years from now.

Enter the Dragon

On our quarterly planning review call in Conscious Growth Club yesterday, I anchored the call with a Bruce Lee quote about a finger pointing to the Moon. When I first watched Enter the Dragon as a teenager, I couldn’t have predicted that it would be useful professionally decades later. It’s a fun movie and will likely seem pretty dated today, but it does contain some nice personal growth lessons.

Here’s a 2-minute Bruce Lee clip that I think you’ll like, which contains the quote I referenced on yesterday’s call. It’s a fun clip to watch and may add some extra sparkle to your day.

Enter the Dragon premiered in 1973, one month after Bruce Lee’s death at age 32. Rachelle and I once visited his grave in Seattle. Does Bruce Lee’s work still inspire people 46 years later? You bet!

Bruce Lee is a great example of someone who invested in his core. He trained hard, and then he turned that investment towards creating ripples for others – inspiring millions with his work ethic, skills, philosophy, and movies.

Investing in your core pays off so ridiculously well over time because you have a long timespan to make gains from your investment, Bruce Lee’s early departure notwithstanding.

Are you investing enough in your core? Are you expressing your core outwardly into the world? Have you been feeding your inner dragon and encouraging it to soar?

What would Bruce Lee think of your level of investment? Well, first he’d smack you for using the word think. Then he’d ask: How do you feel?

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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