Why being 'selfish' is the most selfless investment…

Cassandra Kenworthy Cassandra Kenworthy
Senior Transport Engineer
13 March 2018
5 min read

When the world’s richest man sidles up to divulge a little secret of the trade, best you lean in and listen hard. Warren Buffett reckons it’s the king investment, impervious to the rising tides of taxation and inflation; the one "you can't beat” that will offer an evergreen return on your investment. In short, that investment is you.

"Nobody can take away what you've got in yourself, and everybody has potential they haven't used yet,” said Buffett in a recent interview with Forbes.

It goes against the pre-millennial grain – the idea of prioritising you, sometimes at the expense of that next email or Saturday morning work call. Somehow the image of the burnt-out workaholic, buoyed up by martyrdom, and endless cups of coffee, is a noble and better one.

We believe our time, money and resources should be spent on someone else. (And almost always, that ‘someone else’ is not our families.) Technically, we know it’s neither sustainable nor satisfying to live like this. But, in actuality, we’re too busy being faithful to the inbox, or the clock, or the boss, to live any other way.

So, what if all this time we spend outsourcing our abilities is not only hindering personal growth but hamstringing corporate momentum? What if the best thing we could actually do for others is to become more selfish? Buffett and a whole lot of others would say so. Investing in yourself is probably the hardest but the most selfless thing you could do in the long run.

It’s all about the grit

Don’t get us wrong – there’s a difference between self-investment and self-absorption.

The latter, argues Simon Sinek in his recent interview with Inside Quest, has plagued the millennial workforce who, through no fault of their own, were made to believe they can have what they want, when they want it. With shelves overflowing with participation medals and report cards peppered with undeserved A’s, today’s young workforce was relentlessly defended and affirmed, irrespective of attitude or performance quality.

Ironically, in spite of all those years of parental ego stroking, anxiety and depression rates currently rage at unprecedented heights among this generation. Because, as academic and author Angela Duckworth has found, you need something more than self-motivating mantras and untested confidence to succeed in the long run.

Studies prove that what you need, above all, is grit. Says Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with it, day in and day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years – and working really hard to make that future a reality.”

Self-investment requires the same kind of gutsy long-term view, where your growth and development is seen as a lifelong marathon and not a sprint; where you’re willing to put your personality on the block if it’s for the sake of self-improvement. It’s a far cry from narcissism, when your weaknesses as much as your strengths are showcased, gutted and refined for the sake of a better you.

No social media platform or helicopter parent can simply give it to you; the sweat equity is in your name alone.

Self is not all about you

Committing to your individual development is usually seen as something… individual; a highly personal journey, with self as both the critic and the canvas on display. But Stanford research suggests nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite our notions of ‘self’ improvement, the most successful efforts to self-improve have other people at their core. That’s because our self-protective egos cloud our judgment and disable our ability to calibrate which talents merit our investment. We actually need the eyes and ears of others to see what we can’t see.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recommends that self-improvement stays highly collaborative, with articulated goals and accountability measures in place. “Self-improvement teams”, built on honest feedback and invested relationships, will heighten the chances of true transformation.

“Including others who have a vested interest in your personal change means you increase the odds of your success and, in turn, help them increase the odds of theirs,” says HBR. If done well, personal growth is never just personal. It stands to see others grow with you.

It’s part of the job!

Taking the time to learn, grow and explore the limits of your professional capacities these days is no longer indulgent; it’s a matter of professional life or death.

Says Editor of HRM magazine (Australia), Amanda Woodward: “It will be important to have a portfolio of skills, and investing in ourselves and our development will be crucial to being employed, and living the lives we want. Keeping pace with changing technology will be crucial to this, but so will the soft skills that robots can't do: these will be increasingly sought after.”

Diversifying your portfolio will be essential. And, with automation overhauling business as usual, your own personhood will be as vital, if not more important, than the skills you have to offer. Passion will no longer be a luxury, but a pivotal commodity. To differentiate your good idea from the other million queuing at the gate. In fact, Gallup Research has found factors like ‘purpose’ and ‘well-being’ to act as critical drivers to corporate success, with employee engagement rising from 7 per cent to 55 per cent and creativity and innovation rising from 20 per cent to 72 per cent.

By taking the time to examine and nurture your passions and dormant contemplation, we all stand to benefit. And it could just be the unexpected lifeline to your career that you someday never thought you would need.

But, work aside, the satisfaction you stand to gain from ‘wasting time’ on your self may prove the finest investment yet. As philosopher Wayne Walter Dyer reminded us, "You don't need to be better than anyone else; you just need to be better than you used to be.”

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Cassandra Kenworthy
Written by
Cassandra Kenworthy

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