Originally appeared on Quora by Nicolas Cole.

Invest in yourself.

The other day, I was chatting with a friend of a friend, a senior in high school who was getting ready to go off to college.

“I want to start my life over,” he said. “I want to reinvent myself, and prove that you don’t have to follow the same path as everyone else.”

“You can do that,” I said. “But you have to be willing to do 1 thing that not very many teenagers and young adults are willing to do.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

You have to spend more time learning outside of class, than you do in class.

This goes for anyone in school, out of school, young, old, whatever. You’re either in class, or you’re at work.

During those hours, you can learn. You can grow. You can improve certain skills. You can even make money.

But anyone who truly makes something of themselves sees that time as their daily standard. But they do not see it as “the end.” They do not get out of class, or leave work and think, “Ah, time to sit back, relax, and just chill.”

No, they take that “free time” and they reinvest it in themselves.

They work on a side project.

They practice their craft.

They improve their skills, or study, or spend time learning from people far more knowledgable.

They don’t see it as “free time,” actually. They see it as the only time they have to do the things they really want to do in life — and they don’t take a minute for granted.

Young people, especially, and the ones who achieve some sort of success at an early age, treat their free time this way. And anyone older, anyone in a job they don’t enjoy and suddenly want to shift their life in a new direction, they begin treating their “free time” accordingly.

People who make moves, and who make a difference, invest in themselves.

So, how do you do this?

1. Know what you want to improve and let that be your “leading goal.”

I am a firm believer that in order to achieve anything in life, or really do something worthwhile, you have to have it be your Leading Goal. That is, you have to prioritize that 1 thing over everything else, to the point where you are able to practice it every single day.

How you measure “success” then is pretty simple: you either practiced for the day or you didn’t.

If your Leading Goal is to get fit, you either went to the gym or you didn’t.

If your Leading Goal is to write a book, you either wrote today or you didn’t.

If your Leading Goal is to launch a startup, you either worked on that startup today or you didn’t.

Investing in yourself, and really building yourself (or a project) begins with the daily habit of actually doing it.

2. Be aware of who you spend time with, and whether they contribute to that Leading Goal or not.

We are all a reflection of who we spend time with.

Spend time with negative people, and you’ll turn negative.

Spend time with positive people, and you’ll turn positive.

It’s just how the Law of Attraction works.

Similarly, if you spend time around people who share the same Leading Goal as you, or have a Leading Goal that inspires you to work harder toward your own Leading Goal, you will move and grow 10x faster.

This is why things like clubs, teams, and even accelerators and incubators are such a huge part of society. We know the value of community, and we try to create communities that help each of us improve at a faster rate.

3. Be deliberate with the way you invest your time.

When I was younger, I studied classical piano. It was a requirement in our family for each child to play a musical instrument, and my mother did a marvelous job at ensuring that we practiced each and every day.

On the days I really didn’t want to practice, and would frantically play through songs I already knew how to play well, my mother would walk into the music room and take a seat in the nearby chair.

“Cole,” she would say, in a stern voice.

“What.”

“You’re not practicing.”

“Yes I am. Can’t you hear me,” I’d say, banging on the keys some more.

“No, you’re playing. And that’s fine. But it doesn’t count toward your hour of practice. You need to practice something new,” she would say.

I didn’t want to. Practicing new things was hard. It meant fumbling through notes for hours and hours until finally they would stick to my fingers.

But, she was right. Just sitting there for an hour didn’t mean I had practiced much of anything.

Part of investing in yourself is about being your own hardest critic, and pushing yourself to get deep into the work. Just allocating the time to practice is only part of the battle. The other half comes down to what you do with that time, and how much you make it work for you.


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