When most people hear the word investment, they typically thinking of stock markets, venture capitalists, and startup financing. But there’s one investment that produces a much higher ROI than any of those, the investment you make in yourself. My friend Michael Ellsberg even refers to this as The Last Safe Investment.

I have an interest in looking at large scale systems that are no longer working. So that’s what I did with The Education of Millionaires and so, I was ready to write my next book and I was like, what’s another large-scale system that isn’t working for anyone? And pretty soon, after my inquiry, I came to our financial and savings and personal investment and retirement industry, which, again, is another system that’s not working for anybody; in this case, the people that it’s not working for are on the older end of the spectrum, not the younger end. And nobody is feeling safe or secure about their retirement, about their financial future, and the system just isn’t working. You know, the most basic statistic around that is that the S&P 500, if you invested $10,000 in the S&P 500 Index Fund, which is all the personal investment advisers recommend you do, it’s like this broad-based index funds, in the year 2000, right before the internet bubble, and you let that sit for 15 years, 15 or 16 years, right until now, it would be worth about 14 or $15,000 nominally. But if you factor in inflation, you’ve really only gained, maybe, a thousand dollars or less over 15 years.

– Michael Ellsberg

When you make the right investments in yourself, they can produce a 1000x ROI. You can produce that kind of return on investment for as little as $15.00. So let’s talk about how to do that.


The average book costs roughly 15 dollars. But the potential ROI on that is 10,000x.

A couple of years ago I read Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. Because of one idea in that book, I “hacked” the habit of writing 1000 words a day, and that habit eventually led to a two-book deal with my publisher. In addition my traditionally published book resulted in more than a dozen paid speaking engagements.

Ryan Holiday is an avid reader. He also documents every book he reads with the notecard system. On one of his notecards, he wrote down the idea for Obstacle is the Way. Four years after he wrote the idea down, he started working on the book, which eventually sold more than 200,000 copies, and has resulted in multiple follow up books.

If you make a habit of taking action on the ideas you read about, the ROI on your reading habit can increase exponentially.

Online Courses

Online courses are highly underrated for one reason. People don’t finish them. But when you do finish them, the gains in performance and results can be significant.

When I started my first blog in 2009, I enrolled in Yaro Starak’s course about how to build a blog. Because of that course, I met Josh Hanagarne who was the first person I ever interviewed. And that first interview planted the seeds for what would eventually become the Unmistakable Creative Podcast. The return on my $500 investment has easily been 100x over the last nine years.

Coaches, Mentors, and Workshops

I’ve written before about the lifelong ROI of coaches and mentors

  • Sometime last year my business partner Brian hired a sales coach at the hefty price tag of 10,000 dollars. He’s had more than a 25x return on that investment
  • I work with a writing coach on all of my books. My books are a thousand times better than they would be without her. In fact, I’d probably never write another book without her.
  • A couple of months ago, I met Pete Vargas at a conference. He runs a company called Advance Your Reach and runs a workshop in which he teaches speakers how to get booked more often for speaking engagements. It’s also not cheap. But when I spoke to each of his references, they both said that it paid for itself many times over. Shortly after, I signed up for the workshop.

When Selena Soo started her business, she was only making 4000 dollars a month. But she signed up for a 27,000 dollar a year mastermind, and this is what she said in a conversation on the Unmistakable Creative.

I would say that being in that environment really pushed me to the next level. I started to have 10k months, and 20k months. There was specific strategies, and ideas, and things that my coach helped me with. Even though it’s was so uncomfortable, I figured I just paid all this money so better do it.

Today her business generates a 7 figure annual revenue, and she runs a mastermind with a 5 figure price tag.

Hiring people

Hiring people is another way to invest in yourself.

After my last book launch, I realized that my team and I were not experts at marketing books. While the results weren’t terrible, they weren’t great either. That’s why I decided to invest in the team at Digital Natives. Given their expertise, it’s likely we’ll not only see many more book sales but an increase in the size of our audience and many other benefits. It’s an investment that will likely pay for itself.

It also makes sense to outsource anything that lies outside of your zone of genius. After almost seven years of editing the Unmistakable Creative Podcast myself, we hired an editor. By hiring him, we were able to increase our production capacity and air a best of episode every Friday. That Friday episode also opened up more advertising inventor, which lead to an increase in revenue.

Hiring the right people can be an investment that pays for itself many times over.

Physical and Mental Well Being

Given that your physical health impacts virtually every area of performance, it’s a no-brainer to invest in it.That might mean you join a gym or hire a trainer. If you’re at your best physically, you’re going to be at your best mentally.

Your mental well being as just as important. Your state of mind is your most priceless asset. Seeing a therapist shouldn’t be seen as something we do when we’re broken in some way, but rather as an investment in our well being.

While the ROI may not be measurable, it affects all the other investments you make in yourself.

Your Environment

Another investment that can pay for itself many times over is an environment. A couple of months ago I had this genius idea that I wanted a glass top desk. So I ordered a drafting table on Amazon. It was much lower to the ground than I wanted it to be. I had to get furniture raisers for it. And the glass got smudged constantly. Within a month I grew to hate the desk, and had a difficult time getting work done. Eventually I replaced with a much nicer standing desk and my productivity skyrocketed again. When make investments in yourself, don’t overlook the 9 environments that make up your life. And almost everything above is an investment in designing an environment that is conducive to the person you want to become.

Determining the Right Investments to Make in Yourself

So how exactly do you know what investments to make in yourself? Let’s look at it through the lens of Ray Dalio’s framework from principles.

  1. You have a goal
  2. You have an outcome
  3. You have a machine that makes it possible to get from the goal to the outcome
  4. Design and people make up the machine

As I mentioned above, we have a goal of growing our email list to 50,000 subscribers, but right now we’re shy of 30,000 subscribers (Outcome). So we have to examine the machine, the design, and the people.

The design of the growth machine consists of the following elements

  1. Content
  2. Analytics
  3. Conversion/Optimization
  4. Promotion and marketing

Ideally, we would have one person responsible for each one of those areas. I know for example that out of the four elements, the one that is in my zone of genius is content. That means ideally I make my investment in the other three functions.

Since we don’t have the immediate resources to hire for each of those functions, I found another way to invest in our growth efforts. A couple of weeks ago I started searching for courses on growth hacking and found a course on Udemy for $11.99. If I got one idea that led to even 100 new subscribers for our show, that investment would pay for itself. Additionally, I discovered Ladder.io, an agency that makes their entire growth hacking playbook available to anybody.

With each investment you make in yourself, you have more skin in the game. With an online course, you don’t have much skin in the game. Spending a couple of hundred dollars and getting nothing in return is not going make a significant dent. But when you invest a significant amount of money in yourself, your behaviour changes dramatically because you have more skin in the game.

When I look back at my life, the investments that have consistently yielded the highest ROI, personally, professionally and financially are the ones that I’ve made in myself.

Gain an Unfair Creative Advantage

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