Growing up in Vietnam, I’m sure many of us have heard the same old story from our elders: “Study hard, get a good degree, make lots of money, and avoid manual labor.” As a young, naive kid, I immediately dismissed this way of thinking. But now, as I look back, I can see some truth to it.
Our parents and grandparents lived through the war, so they knew all too well the hardships and poverty that came with it. Studying hard was seen as a way to escape that, and build a better future for themselves and their families. But here’s the thing, it was never about just getting a degree and making money. It was about investing in themselves, in their human capital.
The problem with this way of thinking is that it often limits us, it makes us believe that education is only about getting a degree and making money, instead of improving our skills and finding our passions. And I think that’s a shame because we all have unique talents and passions that should be nurtured and pursued.
So, what I’m trying to say is, we shouldn’t let societal norms dictate our choices and paths in life. We should be the architects of our own futures, and that starts with investing in ourselves. And when I say “investing in ourselves,” I mean investing in our human capital.
Human capital is a combination of our age, experience, and skills, and it’s what brings value to the company and society. And here’s the good news, it’s never too late to start investing in our human capital. In this day and age, there are endless opportunities to learn and grow, and the options are endless. From online courses to workshops to pursuing our passions and hobbies, the possibilities are endless.
So, to sum it up, it’s important for us to ask ourselves, “What motivates us?” Is it external pressure, or is it coming from within? If it’s coming from within, then it’s time to start investing in ourselves and our human capital, because that’s the key to unlocking our full potential and creating the future we want.
Invest in upgrading your skill
Growing our human capital, or investing in ourselves, is a crucial part of building a better future. We all have a unique combination of age, experience, and skills that bring value to companies and society. But how do we go about improving our human capital?
Many folks believe that getting a degree is the finish line for an education. But, let’s be real, that was only the case in a world with limited learning resources. Nowadays, we’re practically drowning in opportunities for growth and development. But with so many options, it can be hard to know where to focus our energy.
I firmly believe that knowledge is power, but we must be mindful of how we approach our learning journey. Do we want to explore a variety of subjects and expand horizontally, or dive deeper into one particular area and grow vertically? Both approaches have their merits, but it’s up to each of us to decide what works best for our personal and professional goals.
So, don’t let time slip away without making conscious investments in yourself. Keep learning, keep growing, and never stop building your human capital.
Take my personal experience for instance. As a consultant in strategy, I’ve seen the limitations in Vietnam when it comes to utilizing data analysis tools and methods. That’s why I made the decision to invest in myself and further my knowledge in Data Science and Business Analytics. I wanted to add more value to my work and make a bigger impact for my clients.
For me, the motivation to invest in myself primarily comes from self-motivation, the desire to become better, more proficient every month, every year, and to answer my own questions to a certain extent, rather than relying on others. I like to joke with my friends that I study to be more competitive, but that only accounts for a small portion of my motivation. I’m not someone who goes from one month to the next being satisfied with just one version of myself, without anything new or changing.
So, you can do a brainstorming session with yourself and see, in the field you want to follow, what else you can learn to support the knowledge you already have. Is it learning new knowledge or learning how to use a tool that brings more value to you and the employer, and increases efficiency and productivity? There is always something, trust me.
Advancing your English or learning a new language
Sometimes I feel very “lucky” because my English level is good enough and opens up many doors…I say lucky for fun, but behind this luck is a lot of self-motivation.
For the Gen Z generation, this may sound funny, but if I look back at the old days when all the learning tools were limited…
It’s truly unfortunate for that.
When we have the ability to use English fluently, including listening, reading, speaking, and writing, not only do we open up many job opportunities, it also helps us communicate better with people from other countries, learn different and wider ways of thinking through another language, and access a vast knowledge base from books and online courses from the outside world.
If our English is not good enough, if you want to read a book, you have to wait for a translation, or there might not even be a translation available.
But when your English is good enough for self-reading, your ability to self-learn will increase multiple times as you will no longer be limited to Vietnamese language resources and can freely explore millions of books in your favorite fields. There is a big difference between books written by foreign experts and those written by Vietnamese, including translated books.
English is a bridge to connect the Vietnamese village to the world. You don’t have to wait for someone to guide you across the bridge (a translator or anyone) to approach world knowledge.
Learning English, or Korean, French, Chinese, etc. is also learning about a new culture..
I understand that you may not have enough time, but I suggest you focus on improving your English skills. At least aim to reach the level of the countries you admire. When I see people abroad speaking English fluently, I feel ashamed that my own people don’t value education and investment in learning, and their English is still so poor. Although I do acknowledge that the current generation of young people has better English than before, I still think that the majority of Vietnamese people still have low proficiency in English and have not fully utilized their potential.
Invest in Experience and Live your Life fully
Young people have an advantage, which is their enthusiasm and self-confidence, even if they fall, they can stand up again. However, young people lack experience and insight, and determination. The education and traditional culture of Vietnam, as I observe, focus on “security” and follow the paths that those before have carved. How many are encouraged by their parents to experience, to have a gap year, or to learn about themselves through experience.
We learn a part of it, knowledge will stay in our heads, but it’s the practice and experience that will make the knowledge and skills deep in our hearts and become a part of us.
Invest in building your support system and relationship
When Vietnamese people talk about “relationships,” you may immediately think of “investing in relationships for long-term benefits.” I guess that’s a common and not entirely wrong thought, but it’s quite cynical.
When I talk about investing in relationships, I mean building a supportive network to help us grow and go further. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone with a high position who will one day help you get into a certain company, investing in relationships means realizing that we can’t live alone and we can learn a lot from our colleagues, siblings, and friends. I truly believe that everyone has something valuable and experiences for us to learn from. Whether it’s skills or experiences, or a different perspective. Sometimes it’s an opportunity we never expected. However, we should only invest in relationships with the purpose of “not seeking benefits,” if you start thinking about what the relationship can do for you (career, money) then you will gradually lose all relationships.
It’s simple because as human beings, we all have the ability to recognize who is genuine and who is exploiting. Few people are willing to give away their time and assets to those who only want to benefit themselves. Let’s start a relationship based on mutual trust, and maintain it because we love or admire them. When you are loved and have strong network , there will come a day when you realize the value of your support system in an unexpected way.”
When I was young, I thought that finishing college was the end goal. But then I pursued a Master’s degree and then a CFA. I continued to learn new skills such as photography, graphic design, website design, and even language skills. But now I realize that learning is a lifelong journey, and it never stops with a diploma.
I hope you too can find joy in the experiences and knowledge that come from continuous learning and self-investment. One day, you’ll look back and be grateful for not short-changing yourself. We are the most important investment in our lives, not stocks or real estate.
I wish you confidence and happiness as you embark on this journey of self-discovery and growth.
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