The best investment money can buy

May 26, 2022

by Ravi Raman

“The best investment – by far – is anything that develops yourself.”

Warren Buffet at the 2022 Berkshire Meeting

Most years, I set aside a chunk of my income for contribution and growth. The contribution budget supports causes that are making a difference – both locally and globally. The growth budget is for self-development.

When I worked for an enormous corporation, my company provided training, but I found the most significant impact came from self-funded experiences. Often these ventures would be travel, coaching, yoga, or reflective experiences that supported learning about myself, my capacities, and what I wanted in my work and life.

Much of what I did was outside the boundary of what company learning and development teams would consider directly relevant for improving workforce effectiveness. 

20+ years ago, most leaders didn’t understand the value of meditation on work performance. Yoga was considered a great way to be calm but not directly helpful for better knowledge work. 

Coaching was not really a “thing.” 

Times have changed!

You mean…I have to PAY???

Back then, I had to tap into savings to get the growth I needed. 

The value was obvious, to the point where if a year went by and I wasn’t investing enough, I would scour the internet (or chat with friends) to find something to do! 

Friends and colleagues would look at me strangely, wondering why I would pay hard-earned money to improve myself. 

Shouldn’t my company cover it? 

Shouldn’t I just learn for free? Read a book or something…

My response was always the same…

It was my responsibility to develop myself, nobody else’s.

The best training didn’t seem to be on the radar of company learning and development staff. A few of the great programs were reserved for top execs, but I managed to sneak into them on a couple of occasions, despite being low on the career ladder! 🙂 

Also, learning for free was great, but good teachers seemed to be busy enough that you needed to pay for their time. I also preferred to pay for real value. 

If someone is excellent at what they do, why shouldn’t I compensate them for helping me be better?

That seems like a fair trade, a little money for some expertise!

What doesn’t occur to you can hurt…

Now, as a coach, I often encounter professionals who balk at spending their own money to invest in coaching, training, and any other form of self-development. For some, even though they know it would help their situation, if their company isn’t going to pay for it, it’s off-limits.

I recently spoke with a Product Manager, many years into his career, who wants to elevate his leadership and transition to a broader role at a top tech company. 

His biggest problem? He felt stuck and lacked confidence. He also didn’t have a coach or the proper training to support him. I asked why he didn’t have those things, and he said matter-of-factly, “my company doesn’t give it to me!”

Our conversation was the first time it occurred to him that he should be investing in career development on his own dime, regardless of company support. I’m not sure I convinced him (nor was I trying to!), but our conversation gave him something to think about seriously.

I think this is a real limiter to career growth 

Unfortunately, it’s also a great way to stay stuck.

Companies aren’t responsible for your well-being and personal development; they are responsible for ensuring that their staff do their jobs well. 

This means, as your needs and career goals change, perhaps pointing you to leave or otherwise dramatically rethink your job – it’s up to you to seek the support you need to navigate a career path that can be winding and counter-intuitive.

This responsibility falls to you, not your employer.

Practicing what I preach 

As an independent coach, I have no company to rely on for personal development. Each year I set a budget for this stuff, which is easy to do since I am the Chairman & CEO 🙂 

I invest in coaching and other educational opportunities to keep my skills sharp, business running smoothly (hopefully!), and ensure that I’m growing and adapting in a way that is right for me and in service of clients.

As you plan for your career growth, it’s fair game – and wise – to take advantage of any company-provided training (or reimbursement programs!) your organization may offer. 

However, it’s also true that you might need to open your wallet and pay for the growth you really need. If my experience is any indicator, it’s well worth it.

Overcoming sticker shock

If you can’t bear the shock of paying for your own career development, do what companies do and set a budget! 

Dedicate a specific amount of your income for this purpose, and spend it throughout the year.

Eventually, you will stop feeling like the money is being “lost” and realize it’s being put to its best possible use, YOU.

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