Get Rich Slowly: Compound Interest and Skill Development

Albert Einstein is credited with saying:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.”

Warren Buffet took that quote to heart, and over sixty years has turned a small investment into billions.

But I want to suggest a different kind of compound interest that earns a different kind of wealth: I want you to think about the compound interest of skills and learning.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was in college, I took a job at a teen program for the Boys and Girls Club in inner city Knoxville, TN. Being a nerd, they eventually had me observing the computer lab there. One middle school aged girl came to the computer lab every day, she had the roughest background you can imagine (abusive parents, foster-system pinball, etc.) and the computer lab was her refuge. She would sit in there and type code into notepad and somehow turn that code into really cool looking websites.

I was blown away by this. Up until that point, I thought website making and coding was for super-geniuses. This girl was obviously not a super-genius, but she had figured out it. So I started trying to learn how to make websites.

I started buying books with titles like Build Your Own Website the Right Way Using HTML and CSS and Teach Yourself Javasctipt in 24 Hours It didn’t take. Everything I learned left me even more confused than I was.

But I kept on. After college I got a MacBook, and it came with an iPod nano. I was introduced to this early on to podcasts and the first podcast that really took my interest was called Boagworld, it was a podcast about web development.

I kept going, reading and listening. Spending a lot of time at Barnes and Noble reading coding books I couldn’t afford. Trying and failing to learn web development.

Eventually, I got pretty good at HTML and CSS, but actual programming baffled me. I kept trying to learn it. Kept buying books. Taking online courses. Every vacation I took for years included hours sitting in front of my laptop going through one online course or another.

After about ten years of this, I started to figure it out. I started making actual applications. I eventually started hiring people and that led to a whole new expensive journey. (In which I had to learn about hiring, billing, project management, etc.)

Fast forward to today and I have work I can do anywhere I want that pays extremely well. I co-own a business that could very likely be worth millions someday and (more importantly) puts bread on my table today (and six other people’s) today.

My point is this, I have valuable skills no one can take away from me. I didn’t go to college for this stuff. I didn’t go into a cave like Iron Man and come out with these skills. I learned them very slowly, 15 minute to 20 minutes a day, for fifteen years. I learned them while going to college for something totally different, while rocking my babies to sleep, while being a Christian school teacher, a camp director, a children’s pastor and a pastor. I learned them while learning other things.

15 minutes isn’t that much time. It’s half the time it takes to watch one sitcom. It’s 1/8 the time it takes to watch a football game. Anyone can find fifteen minutes. If you invest that fifteen minutes over a long period of time, it will bring compound interest.

This isn’t a post about programming. It’s a post about acquiring valuable skills. You could replace programming with woodworking or carpentry or small engine repair. You could replace programming with mastering an instrument (or several). You could replace it with writing.

If you are ten, by the time you are twenty-five you could be really good at something if you invest fifteen minutes a day. If you are twenty, by the time you are thirty-five you could be really good at something with fifteen minutes a day. It doesn’t stop there – I know people in their nineties still learning new skills.

You (yes you) can learn to play violin, build houses, draw really well or cook gourmet meals, it’s just going to take awhile.

Forget about the get rich quick schemes and focus on getting good slow. Give more than fifteen minutes if you can and and it will go a lot faster. Over time, it will compound into valuable skills.

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