May 27

Guest Post: Why and How to Invest in Yourself

This is a guest post from Jill Van Zelfden  – a friend of our practice and a passionate professional. Initially connected through twitter, our conversations have demonstrated her zeal for our field, as well as her insights. When I offered the Catalyst Career Compass – Jill jumped at the opportunity and captured this post as a result of her experience.

By Jill Van Zelfden

“Investing in Yourself”… I’m sure we’ve all heard this term at some point in our lives.  But what does it really mean and why should someone care?  And of all things: Why does my employer care?!

First, let’s start with a definition:

“Investing in Yourself” means that you are the driving force behind improving yourself in some aspect in your life in order to move ahead.

Examples:

  1. Taking a college course to improve your job skills.
  2. Reading a book to solve some problem at work or in life.
  3. Listening to an audio podcast via iTunes to improve some aspect of your life.
  4. Hiring a trainer to teach you something new.  (And no, although it could be a gym trainer to help get you into shape, I really mean hiring someone to teach you something new like Excel, or underwater basket weaving.)

Non-Examples:

  1. Company sponsored training.
  2. Company paid college course work.
  3. Parent paid college course work.

Note: While it’s always great for these to happen and these all lead to something invested in you, these are examples of someone else investing in you.

Ok, so now that we’re clear on the definition, why is this important, how do I invest in myself, and why the heck does my employer care?!

So, why is this important?  Isn’t it enough that I am a parent, work full-time, do house work, make repairs on my house, eat, and sleep?  In short, the answer is “No.”

As human beings, we all want to achieve the next big thing.  Keep in mind that the next big thing is different for everyone.  What may be my next big thing could very well be different than your next big thing.  But human nature dictates that everyone has a next big thing.  None of us want to remain the same day in and day out.  We all want something more.

What’s your next big thing?

A month long trip to the Bahamas?

A new house?

A job promotion?

So, how to you go from the here and now to your next big thing?  You need to invest in yourself!  Take the time to sit down and figure out what is keeping you from that next big thing.  If you’re unsure, talk to someone who’s there and ask them how they got there or what they would have done differently.  Then take the steps you’ve identified.

For instance, if you’re after a job promotion, figure out why you haven’t been promoted.  Is it because your technology skills aren’t quite up to snuff?  Then take a look into community colleges in your area and find a class that will teach you the needed skills.  Is it because you don’t have experience with a particular skill?  Volunteer with a non-profit group that needs someone with that skill.  Then brag on the great job you’re doing for the local non-profit to your boss!

If I’m investing in myself, how could that possibly affect my employer?

Why is my employer wanting me to invest in myself?

Why does this topic come up in my annual reviews?

All great questions.

Here’s the secret that very few managers want to admit:

An employee who has an idea for their next big thing is more than likely an employee who is motivated in improving something.  This means that they want something from life, are happier, and are less likely to be here for just the next paycheck.

And if an employee’s next big thing is improving their job, then that’s an added bonus for the company.  After all, the more advanced work they can give you, the less they have to spend on hiring, benefits, training, etc on a new employee.  So, in the end, it usually proves to be a cost benefit to promote you instead of hiring someone else.  And if you’re in the right company, that cost savings flows down to you, the employee, in some form or another.  It might be a promotion, it might be a raise, or it might be both!  How awesome is that?!

But the key here is to let your new skills show!

And sometimes, that means identifying a hole in the company, learning the skill needed to plug the hole, and then spending an extra hour or two off the clock proving to management that you can handle more responsibilities.

Investing a few hours in yourself is very evident to those around you.  Because what you’re concentrating on and doing off hours will come up in conversation.  Think about a parent you know and the last time you asked them how their child was.  What was their answer?  Was it a one or two word sentence?  Or was it a story about how great they were at their last play/recital/soccer game/etc?

The same thing happens when you invest in yourself.  Your world all of a sudden becomes bigger and more exciting.  You start trying to relate your current knowledge to your new knowledge.  You start to say things like “See that rainbow?  Isn’t it amazing how light refracts like that?” instead of “Oh isn’t that rainbow pretty.”  And statements that show off your knowledge like that, is hard for your employer to miss.

So, I challenge you to:

  1. Identify your next big thing.
  2. Invest in yourself.
  3. See how long before your family/friends/coworkers/boss notice or reward you in some way for working towards your next big thing.

About Jill Van Zelfden

After more than a decade in technology, Jill Van Zelfden found her passion for Information Security in 2008. Working to advance herself and the profession, she currently holds the Security+ and MCSE: Security certifications and is a member of ISSA.  She resides in the Dallas area and works for NetBoundary as a Security Operations Manager.  She’s available at twitter.com/JillVann.


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  1. Very nice write-up and contrary to the popular perspective of young professionals or the recently graduated. So much emphasis is placed on what to expect from employers with regards to continuing development and education however it is very important to show that you can accomplish some of these things on your own and external to the organization. It definitely sets you apart from the rest.

    Regards,

    Dave

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