The Value of Learning

Almost everyone thinks about getting paid more, but few people think about the one habit that would make them more valuable: continual learning.

On the human level, of course, you are valuable no matter what you know. But stop for a moment to think of yourself as a business might: as a human resource. In this way, you are more like a product someone buys to solve a problem. Learning a new skill is like upgrading. It’s moving from the simplest Swiss Army knife, which people will pay about $15 for, to the deluxe version with twice as many tools, which people are willing to pay much more to get. Why? Because it can solve more problems, and hence is more valuable.

“That’s the key to all good things, becoming more valuable,” said millionaire and speaker Jim Rohn, “Here’s the secret: Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”

Educating yourself is the best way to differentiate yourself from the workforce and make more money. More than a quarter of Americans report not reading a book in the last year. Four hundred years after Sir Francis Bacon said, “knowledge itself is power,” we’re still looking for power without the knowledge.

This kind of power has never been so easy to acquire. Whereas in the past you could have only gotten knowledge by traveling to an expert or a library, now, all the world’s knowledge is in your pocket.

If you start a learning habit of just 15 minutes a day, you can continually learn more about how to break bad habits that hold you back, acquire expert information that will set you apart in your industry, and gain proficiency in tactics that will help you manage your money, such as budgeting, negotiation, and investing. On a schedule of 15 minutes every week day, you’ll get over 60 more hours of training a year than people who don’t take this initiative. Think of where you want to be in 10 years, and how more than 600 hours of education could help you get there.

When learning on your own, you’re driven by the passion you have for mastery in what you love, not by the assignments your teacher gives you. To stay motivated, try to tie your learning to a specific goal you have in mind. If you want a promotion, you can study management skills. If you want to buy a house, you could learn about saving and real estate investment. If you keep getting in trouble for being late, you could get tips straight from an expert in time management.

Learning doesn’t have to cost anything. Libraries loan not just physical books these days, but also ebooks and audiobooks through the app OverDrive. You don’t even have to get in the car. Hundreds of free lessons are also available on YouTube and other free online courses.

Even paid options cost a small fraction of what you’d pay in tuition to a university. The web site, which was acquired by LinkedIn, offers classes on everything from getting your email under control to becoming an Excel whiz. They even include learning paths for career goals, such as becoming a small business owner, photojournalist, or programmer.

As Sir Walter Scott said, “All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.” A few people who took a strong interest in their self-education include entrepreneur Steve Jobs, physicist Albert Einstein, and fashion designer Coco Chanel, and they each made a pretty big impact in their careers.

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