collage of money, charts, student working and graduating

Your Best Asset

I’m older than most of who read this financial tip and, as I’ve aged, I’ve often been asked about where is the best place to invest?  What is the best investment?

When I was young, nobody seemed to care what I thought about investments. Like most young people, I didn’t have money to invest.  The money I did have I tried to stretch as far as I could because there was not much discretion in my budget, after I paid for food, rent, utilities, and other “must-do” purchases.  Yes, while I was in school, things like cable television began to be marketed but it was much too costly.  The good news is that I could freely dial up through a 300-baud modem and connect to the university computer – if I had a computer.  Yet, the web had not been born and email was a new toy only occasionally enjoyed by a few computer geeks and academics.  Still, as the old Bob Dylan song reminds us, “The Times They Were a Changin’ ”.  They still are.

During these years, I was finishing my doctorate and I admit to taking out a student loan.  Why?  I had a year without university funding and I correctly thought that if I purchased a first generation personal computer it might speed my time toward graduation.  With a computer at home, I could stay up as late as I wanted and work on my dissertation, program in Basic, type my manuscript in Waterloo Script, and complete my data analyses from my tiny, cold upstate New York apartment.  (If you are old enough to know the meaning of Baud or to have used Waterloo Script, you are, like me, one of Methuselah’s siblings.)  Yes, it paid off. I finished my degree and I started work at the University of Missouri within the year.  Yet, I digress…

The best investment you can make is in the only asset over which you have control.  This asset is unique.  No one else has it.  As you invest more in this asset, you never really know how that capital will mix with your past investments and create something entirely unique and highly marketable.  New capital is not simply added to existing capital, it is exponentially multiplied.  The asset is you.  The best investments you can make are investments in yourself.

If you can accept this, what are my tips to you?

First, keep making investments in yourself.  Additional education, coupled with regular doses of exercise, work together to keep your greatest asset prepared for your future.

Second, do something to get a return on your investments.  If you don’t have a job and you want a job, go find a job.  If you are a student, a good time to do this is during your holiday break.  Do this even if the job is for next summer.  Who would you want to hire, the person who is looking in December for a job in June or the person that shows up discouraged in July, since they have waited past the last minute? If you don’t know what job you want, get some help.  What are your goals? What are your talents? What are your passions in life? What excites you?  Make a list and think of jobs that combine these positive strengths.  Read a book like What Color Is Your Parachute.  Put the suggestions into practice.

Third, along with your inventory of yourself, write a resume targeted to the job you want. Have others read your resume.  Make changes.  Have others read it again.  Make more changes. If you need help writing a professional resume, get some help.  It will be time and money well spent.  If your resume does not reflect the skills you need to achieve your goals, work on your skills and experiences….even if you have to pay for them or not be paid to receive them.   Make yourself the person you want to see in the mirror.

The younger you are, one of the best suggestions I have is to call people who are successful in the line of work you want to enter and ask them if you can interview them about their work.  You may be surprised that many professionals welcome the opportunity to help young people and most successful people like to talk about themselves!  When you go to the interview, dress for the job you want, make sure you have your resume, and be prepared for the interview.  (For a list of suggested questions, please see the attachment to this email.)  It often happens that the interview of them turns into an interview of you.  If the interview doesn’t turn toward you, do not despair.  Just go to the next interview, the next interview, and the next interview, until you find your mentor.  Yes, it is ok for you to ask them what you could do to make yourself more attractive as an employee.  You will be surprised at how “more mature” people want to help young people WHO WANT TO BE HELPED!  (Have you ever thrown a life preserver to someone who wasn’t asking for help?  Me neither.)

Finally, and as I finished typing the preceding paragraph on December 9th, a student knocked on my door.  He handed me his semester paper.  It was due on November 17th.  Yesterday, another student handed in an earlier assignment.  It was due on September 8th!  Of course, this reminds us that the market looks for signals of the quality of the human capital we have built. No one is guaranteed passage on the road to financial success.  The ditches of that road are filled with those that have tried and failed.  Others have taken different roads to various destinations and everyone is free to change the road they are on.  Whatever road you choose, however, travel it well.  And, along the way, take time to enjoy the passage of time.

Happy Holidays.