I’ll give you the answer upfront: Yourself.
I came to that conclusion one day after a chat with a bunch of financial advisors! Believe or not. Think about it. Companies spend time every year listening to their customers’ needs and then they work on upgrading and improving their products. Why? So they can sell more of their products and services in the marketplace. Make use this business process of continual product improvement to make yourself more valuable as an employee as you progress through your career.
Determine how you can ‘upgrade’ yourself. Improvement doesn’t have to be expensive. It could be traditional or interest based skills. For example, what would happen if you picked one topic each year? Let’s say you have a new job and you want to be able to take on new and challenging projects, so you choose the topic of project management. Then, let’s say you went to the library and each month or so you checked out (or downloaded) and read a different book about project management. How much of an expert on the topic of project management could you become after one year and reading six or more books?
If you started this practice now, of picking one subject per year and reading books on that topic, just think about how many subjects you could learn about and become an expert in over the next 10 – 20 years. It’s truly amazing when you think about how such a small change like this could have such a huge impact on your career and your life.
Never stop learning or growing. Learning shouldn’t stop after graduating from an educational institution. Continuously seeking knowledge should be a lifelong pursuit. Consider all the inspiring stories about women who go back to college later in life and pursue a completely new career path after having raised their children. Or, the real life stories of men and women who were laid off due to company downsizing, obtained additional training or certifications and successfully changed careers. Wonderful stories can be found all around the world and the foundation for the person’s accomplishment is almost always their willingness and openness to learn new things.
What I’ve found throughout my life is that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. The best way I know to improve myself and increase my value as an employee is to always keep learning and growing. I treat my career as a business and treat myself as a competitive product to be continuously improved, year after year. Even Warren Buffet thinks so.
So if you had a dollar or some time on hand, think about how you would invest it in your self to make yourself a better person/product. I did it. Plonked down money for an MBA course. Monetary benefits aside, it allowed me to expand my network and make another set of lifelong friends who serve as a wonderful source of support. Something that I never expected. Learning to program is next…keep you updated.