Investing in Yourself

Today, I signed myself up for 25K more dollars of debt. This year has brought on many changes, but accumulating bills longer than a CVS receipt is nothing new to me. The difference now is that despite the global pandemic that has trapped us inside, and the compounding debt I am now even further bound to — I somehow feel liberated.

This sense of freedom washed over me at around 2:30 pm, as I silently ate a 4-day old LeVain cookie and contemplated the decision I just made. I just enrolled in a fully immersive User Experience Design course at General Assembly, hence the loan. Initially, the taste of the cookie turned sour in my mouth as I felt the panic turn into condensation, and drip beads of sweat down my palms. I haven’t had much success in my career thus far, so how could I trust that things would work out for me now? I am a college dropout that has had to string together a series of dead-end jobs to survive; the residual effects of no longer being able to afford tuition still follow me. Two more cookies and a few deep breaths later, reason returned to me — like the tingling sensation of a limb that was asleep but you’ve wiggled awake. I realized that this moment, as terrifying as it may be, is the precipice of something great — and all I have to do is jump. More specifically, all I have to do is invest in myself, the same way that I invested $64 in a box of LeVain cookies just a few days ago. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? You’re goddamn right.

To give you a little bit of context about myself, I am someone who has worked incredibly hard in my career for probably the wrong people at the wrong places. I have spent so much time trying to prove my value to bad bosses, only to receive a meaningless and robotic “thanks” at the end of an email. I used to alternate between mentally flagellating myself (let’s be honest, I still do), and feeling resentful towards my employers for not noticing my value and how I was killing myself to please them. But here is where I see the error of my ways, which brings me to the next portion of my very first blog post (ever!). Here are some things I’ve recently learned, which I hope might help all the other worker bees out there in a similar situation:

Do not place the burden on others to see potential in you that you do not see in yourself.

I very much enjoy watching TV, and Mad Men is one of my favorite shows. I fancy myself a Peggy, though my comparison to her is obviously more aspirational at this point in my life. She starts out as Don’s secretary, but quickly distinguishes herself as a sharp and insightful wordsmith with the chops to become a copywriter, and eventually a copy chief. But let me ask: what would have happened if Don didn’t see the potential in Peggy? Would she have remained a secretary? Or would she have enrolled in school or found some other way to become a copywriter on her own?

Just some food for thought.

It is instilled in most of us early on that the best path to success is to work hard, but more importantly — to keep your head down. And with this mindset, we often become frustrated, sometimes even resentful, with our managers for being oblivious to our value. We feel that they aren’t utilizing our unique and individual skill sets enough for us to feel fulfilled and challenged in our daily responsibilities. I personally have felt stuck in this predicament since I initially joined the workforce. But I have come to the recent realization that I share more of the blame than I previously cared to admit. Why is it someone else’s responsibility to notice what I have to offer, if I’m not sure of that myself? I don’t feel confident in my abilities, so how can I expect someone else to?

I need to reiterate that the burden is on you to see your own potential. Figure out what you’re good at, or even what you’d like to become good at. Understanding and expanding your wheelhouse can only grow your worth and confidence. It’s about time that we see ourselves the way we want to be seen.

Still with me? Awesome. Now on to my next point:

Be careful what and who you allow to use up your mental energy. Hint: it shouldn’t be something your boss said to you 3 days ago.

I’m currently reading “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman, which I’m told is pretty much the bible for aspiring designers. It’s very interesting, and reading it makes me feel like the learned scholar my Korean parents always wanted me to be. In reality, it takes me about 4 hours to read 2 pages, and I haven’t taken this many notes since I studied for the SATs.

One interesting part I read is that our short-term memory capacity only stores about 5–7 pieces of information at a time. Don Norman further adds that from a practical standpoint, it’s best to think about it as holding only 3–5 items. Now this next part is my own extrapolation, but to draw a very loose conclusion: our minds are precious real estate. We need to be cognizant about what occupies that real estate.

The pressures of our 9 — 5s can be overwhelming. On a daily basis, we navigate through tight deadlines, limited resources, and the different personalities of our work environments. We invest so much time in our projects and tasks, that we naturally feel responsible for their outcome. When projects are completed and deliverables are handed off successfully, there is no greater feeling of accomplishment. When things go wrong however, we feel defeated and sometimes even devastated; we may even question our own abilities and competence.

Some of you may also struggle from beneath the suffocating grip of a bad manager. Their words of disapproval cut deep, and the subsequent feeling of self-doubt is unshakable. But I implore you to let it go. I can promise you that your bad manager never gave it a second thought. Find a way to process, throw a pity party if you need to, and move on. Your attention deserves to focus on better things. How can you grow from this experience? How are you going to get the hell out of this experience? The list goes on.

I myself had a very bad week of work, and here I am, writing a blog post about it.

Invest in yourself. After all, the house always wins.

Here is the final and most important lesson I’ve learned in this very stressful yet exciting career transition: there is no better investment you can make than in yourself. Learn new things, grow your skill set, and find the courage to make a change.

Whether you are fulfilled in your career or desperately unhappy, the sentiment still rings true. The lessons you learn and the wisdom you gain from these experiences will only further equip you for the journey that lies ahead.

And if you do, I’ll buy you a LeVain cookie.