“Ultimately, there’s one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself. Nobody can take away what you’ve got in yourself, and everybody has potential they haven’t used yet.” — Warren Buffett
Last year, I interviewed 52 remarkable people for my research paper “Smart Women and Men: How They Invest in Themselves,” which was released on 8 March 2023. Below are 10 stories told by people from various locations and cultures in response to the question: How do you invest in yourself? I’ve found that regarding the know your client (KYC) concept, few queries are more revealing.
Donovan Bailey, CEO, Bailey Inc., Five-Time Olympic and World Champion Sprinter, Toronto
“How do I invest in myself? Well, for context, my athletic career . . . is well documented. I am the first man in history to simultaneously be the world champion, Olympic champion, and world record holder for the 100 meters. I am a two-time Olympic gold champion, three-time world champion, and two-time world record holder. I am also the only person to be twice inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. How did I accomplish all of that? My No. 1 priority is to invest in my body.
“When I started out as a professional athlete, I spent over 60% of my earnings investing in my body: I had to buy the best food (I had to eat six meals a day!), the best physio, whatever it took to achieve my goal of becoming the greatest athlete on the planet. At age 54, I’m no longer competing, but I make sure to get regular exercise, eat high quality food, and sleep well. As you get older, it is important to find a structure that works for you.”
Anna Jonsson, Head of Institutional Clients and Distribution, Storebrand, Stockholm
“There are so many ways that you can invest in yourself — the key is that you need to find the time to pursue whatever that looks like for you. Make sure it happens. I don’t feel bad about finding the right balance for me. I choose to spend less time hanging out with friends because I have lots of socializing via my work events, and I make daily exercise my priority. I tell my five-year-old daughter that I’m a better mom when I run. You can’t have everything, but you can have a lot.”
Christophe Bristiel, Sales Director, Château La Nerthe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France
“After graduate school in business, I worked for many years, mostly for Citibank in New York, Frankfurt, and London. Although this was an exciting career, I believe the single most important ‘investment’ I have [made] was to leave the banking/trading world in late 2004 and get my Certified Sommelier degree at the Université du Vin in Suze-la-Rousse, which is only about 30 kilometers north of Châteauneuf du Pape. Châteauneuf du Pape is the oldest appellation in France, as it was established as a separate AOC [appellation d’origine contrôlée] in 1936, and I am proud to say that Château La Nerthe has been certified in organic farming since 1998, and I am happy to follow in my father’s footsteps as sales director.”
Anita Kunz, Artist and Illustrator, Toronto
“My career has been my most important investment in myself. I live in Canada now, but for over 20 years I lived in London and New York, contributing to magazines and working for design firms, book publishers, and advertising agencies all around the world. I’ve produced cover art for many magazines including Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times Magazine. I have also illustrated more than 50 book jacket covers.
“I like to invest in others: I want to give back. Ontario College of Art was remiss in telling students it is one thing to be an artist, but it is quite a different thing to be running a small business. Once a month, I teach in various cities around the world: I have a lot of useful information, and I don’t want the students to make the same mistakes that I did. It took me years to learn how to say no and how to ask for more money.”
Harjot Singh, Global Chief Strategy Officer, McCann, London
“How do I invest in myself? In three broad categories. First, I like and honor my physical comforts: a home that is soothing, sensorially comforting, and visually pleasing. I wait patiently till I can invest in what I know and believe is the most comfortable and beautiful, such as my handcrafted Hästens bed with horsehair. I waited several years till I could buy it. Second, I respect what fuels my body — both in the physical form in terms of what goes in my body but also what is the best emotional diet that I can consume. I seek out enrichment via art, music, spiritual learning, literature, and theater. Third, I am very selective about the people around me, and I invest in my relationships. I enjoy giving and sharing — to witness and enable good things [for] good people.”
Laura Maia de Castro, Journalist, São Paulo
“The number one way that I invest in myself is through meeting people and making connections. As a journalist, I spend a lot of time listening to stories and hearing different perspectives: It’s a great way to open my mind. I always have to pitch story ideas, so whether I am waiting on the street for an Uber or sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, I listen to people, and this adds another layer to my existence. I have a lot of stories saved in my repertoire. I am a compulsive interviewer, and just the other day, I asked my statistician colleague at the bank to try to explain to me exactly what she does. I also asked the interns, ‘Why is there such hype around a certain meme?’ I am curious about everyone’s jobs and stories, and this is good for me both professionally and personally. Being curious doesn’t cost money other than the fact that time is money. I could be working on emails when I’m sitting in the doctor’s office, but I choose to talk to people instead. It requires a lot of presence to be where you are and to actually connect with people.”
Li Ping Chu, Cofounder, Apex Language Consulting and Training, Taipei, Taiwan
“I really think it is important to invest in a wide variety of experiences: go to Osaka and eat a five-course meal consisting of nothing but the world’s freshest, finest Wagyu, but also eat a tea leaf salad bought from a street vendor in Myanmar. Then take a moment to reflect and realize both meals were equally delicious and meaningful, both meals were one of the quintessential experiences of that culture, yet economic and socio-political conditions allowed for one dish to be considered ‘haute cuisine’ and the other ‘street food.’ If you want to become a global citizen, you owe it to yourself to invest in yourself and understand what it means to be human on earth from as many perspectives as possible.”
Laurel Teo, CFA, Behavioral Scientist, Singapore
“I invest in myself in three different ways. 1. Education and Knowledge: If I coast for too long in a job, I get bored. I need fresh content for my brain. I’m always trying to improve myself. As I look back, I realize that I’ve basically started a new career every decade or so. In my 20s, it was journalism, then consulting and finance in my 30s, followed by academia and behavioral research in my 40s.
“2. Relationships: Research shows that women tend to live a lot longer than men, so there is a high probability that I will outlive my husband. I feel it is so important to have friends, and most women I know derive a lot more comfort from social relationships than men do.
“3. Physical and Mental Health: This involves a combination of exercise and stress management. I started practicing ashtanga yoga after I earned my CFA designation: I love this because for those one to two hours, it is just about me and my yoga mat. Whenever I feel so stressed and think there is no time to exercise, this is precisely the best time to do yoga, when I know I need it the most.”
Minter Dial, Professional Speaker, Author, Filmmaker, and Elevator, London
“When we talk about investing in yourself, I think it pays to be organized. I have an intricate color-coded spreadsheet that keeps track of precisely what I am spending my time on, and I have three priorities.
“Priority 1: I must meet one new person every single day. I color that appointment green. Priority 2: I either listen to or play music for at least half an hour a day. I’ve been singing and playing guitar for over 40 years, and I’ve seen the Grateful Dead over 200 times. Yes I’m a Deadhead, and the last time I made a special trip to see them was on 31 October 2021 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Yes, I saw the Dead on Halloween. Priority 3: I meditate and stretch every morning.
“I can’t emphasize enough how maniacal I am about investing in myself via managing my time. In fact, I like to be the best steward of everybody’s time: I think being punctual is an important value — respect yourself and other people. I have an elevator philosophy rather than an elevator pitch: If you are ever stuck in an elevator or the equivalent, always bring something to do. This especially goes for when someone you’re meeting runs late. For this reason, I usually carry a book with me, just in case. You never know when your battery will run out. Don’t be a victim to other people’s ways of managing time.”
Laurence (Cante) Kerjean, Product Officer, Lily Facilite la Vie, Marseille, France
“The biggest way in which I invest in myself these days is by taking time for me, away from my husband and my three kids. I wake up two hours before everyone else. I read at least one personal development page of a book first thing every morning for 20 minutes, then I do my ‘Beachbody on Demand’ workout.
“Traditionally, people hire babysitters when they ‘go out’ at night, but I always felt like I wanted the sitter to be there the next morning so I could have some time for myself. One of my best ideas for self-care has been to book a nanny to look after my kids while I read. I think this is probably a great idea for a small business — I should put together a list of nannies you can call on the spur of the moment and ask, ‘I’m having coffee and want to be on my own and the kids won’t let me. Can you come around?’”
How do your clients invest in themselves? It’s important to take the KYC concept to the next level and learn your clients’ “why.” Listen closely to their background stories about their passions and why they invest in themselves in particular ways. Not only will they feel more valued, but you will also get to know them better and gain a deeper understanding of their investor personalities and how they hope to leverage the potential they haven’t used yet.
For more on this topic, read the full report, “Smart Women and Men: How They Invest in Themselves,” by Barbara Stewart, CFA.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
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