9: You First

As much as it’s wise to save your money and build a diverse portfolio of investments, the first destination for your investments should be closer home: yourself. While it’s much harder to quantify the returns on investment when you invest in yourself, like it might be if you bought a three-year government bond, I believe investing money and time in yourself yields one of the highest rate of returns—both tangible and intangible, both financial and non-financial. There are seven billion different ways we can invest in ourselves—as many as there are people. But there are three major areas that I would recommend investing in yourself (and that I heavily invest in myself): your health, your education and your spirit.

Your health, both physical and mental, should come first. And preferably—sadly, this might not always be the case—preventative health. Particularly if you are young, invest in eating right, exercising regularly, getting periodic medical check-ups, building a supportive community that’s there for you when times are hard—and yes, resting and sleeping. Invest in sleeping, if anyone nags you about it tell them Muturi told you to. The one thing we folks in the third world are pretty lucky about is that healthy food is cheaper that fast food (but this is changing really fast, #WeNeedMoreFarmers #ShamelessPlug). Yet you’ll find rich kids outchea trying to fit in by dissing and ditching our healthy, traditional food for greasy, expensive and addictive fast food. While I get that lifestyle diseases like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes have multiple causes that often don’t have to do with the individual, there’s still so much we can do to keep them at bay. Most of these things are common sense: drink plenty of water, cut down sugar and oil intake, buy whole-grain foods, cut down on carbohydrates, eat more fruits and vegetables, take a balanced diet, moderate your alcohol intake, keep away from tobacco, etc. You have no idea how much you will save—both now (in the form of reduced expenses) and in the long-term (in terms of healthcare expenses and physical pain) if you simply eat right. And you don’t even have to buy the fruits and vegs from the fancy supermarkets for them to work—just get down to a farmers’ market or mama mboga where they’re even fresher!

Spending time and money on exercise is another powerful investment in yourself. Determine what works for you: running, gym-work, cycling, walking, swimming, hiking, sports. Personally, the bike and the gym do it. The other day I watched this video that cited a study that showed that older people who spend just 30 minutes exercising regularly saved $2500 in medical expenses for heart-related conditions alone. And exercise isn’t just for your physical health but also, just as importantly, your mental health. Going out for a long ride calms me down and shows me there’s a grand world out there to be explored. The evidence for this is not just anecdotal, numerous studies have been done showing how, when you exercise, your body releases feel-good endorphins and reduces stress hormones like cortisol. Quick note on investing in exercise: be sure to build your knowledge and seek advice as you do so for optimal benefits. Watch tutorials (mostly free online) and talk to people who’ve been doing what you’re doing for a while.

Investing in yourself also means investing in your own education. And by education I don’t mean the rather myopic idea of going to school for a degree to get a promotion at work, but rather the continuous process of seeking knowledge and understanding of yourself and the world. This might take multiple forms: taking online courses and watching tutorials on something you’re interested in, reading widely and reflecting on your learning, making small financial bets and learning from the experience, traveling and interacting with people who are different from you, practicing an artistic or professional skill and yes, going to school. The internet, distractive as it may be, has opened up access to knowledge more than any other modern technology. If you want to learn how to take great photos or make delicious (and healthy) meals, there are more free videos on that than you can watch in your lifetime.

Growing up, education was sold to us as the panacea to our socio-economic challenges. While I now know there is more that needs to be done to make our realities better, I, like Tata Mandela, still believe in education as the most powerful tool for transforming society. And so, even though —in fact, partly because — we have millions of unemployed graduates, I believe most of our answers lie in better education. And I do not mean education in the traditional sense of sitting in class and listening to lectures for more than a decade, but rather redefining learning as a critical element of everyday life in our schools, in our workplaces, in our public service, in our personal lives— everywhere, regardless of age, gender, career or social standing. Fine, I am digressing but this is so important for me. Point is, invest in your own learning (and do it for the right reasons and in the right way) and it’ll pay off.

Finally, invest in your spirit— whatever form that takes for you. By investing in your spirit, I mean create time to connect deeper with yourself and, if you believe, with any higher power or being you believe in. Like working for purpose, connecting with your spirit will give you more life. It will calm you down in the midst of internal and external storms, it will focus your eyes on the speck of light in the darkest pit, it will teach you to forgive after your worst heartbreaks, it will sooth the wrenching pains that drugs won’t reach, it will heal your wounds—past and present, it will root your feet as the world spins, it will give you meaning in life when all seems wrong.

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