As a teen, I was on a one-way road to trouble. My survival was contingent on making it through one day at a time. I had to scratch and claw my way out of a bad family and sacrifice a high-school diploma along the way. Turned out independence freed me only from the prison of living by reaction, but gave me no rules for practice life on my own.
Investment = 0; Return = 0.
I decided to get my GED -- as it happened, bagging groceries didn't allow for much in the way of getting ahead. Neither did sharing an apartment with two other teens wearing pretty much the same shoes I was walking in. I got my diploma and took some college courses. I also learned how to type. I got my foot in the door at a law office as a secretary, part-time; still bagging groceries. The law office liked my work and recommended me to another law office. I decided three part-time jobs was a good thing: brought money in and kept me off the streets and out of bars.
One of the lawyers had an elderly client who was looking for someone to do housework and run errands (grocery shopping and the like) -- no pay but I could live (rent-free) in the guest cottage in exchange. Needless to say, I hopped on the chance to finally have my own place and took the job.
Investment = hard work; Return = true freedom.
Fast forward five years. Now I'm working, salaried, full-time for one law office. I'm still living in the guest cottage, but I'm building up a nest egg to put down on a house of my own. I took a bet with boss that I could pass the bar, if he'd double my salary. He gave me one year to study up. I passed. Now, I'll tell you, I was #214 out of the 258 who actually passed, but that is almost besides the point. I was beside myself with pride in my accomplishment. And suddenly much richer!
Investment = taking a shot/opportunity; Return = pride.
I bought that house. All by myself. People thought I was nuts: a woman buying herself a house -- all that work, trying to keep up with the mortgage payments and maintenance. Everybody told me to sell. I almost did. Instead, I took another leap into the unknown soon afterwards by making my first investment in the stock market. It doesn't matter what I bought. It was May of 1985. Hmmmm. I got really nervous in the summer of '87 -- the Dow looked like a roller-coaster (kinda like now). I got nervous enough to sell out my entire portfolio in August of 1987. I have to say, I patted myself on the head by the end of October that year. I also have to say that, in retrospect, I woulda been one heck of a lot richer today if I hadn't sold a thing.
Investment = giving in to fear of failure; Return: experience.
It is, of course, many years later now. My life and circumstances have changed dramatically. My house more than doubled in value when I finally sold it for a bigger place. My "new" portfolio is doing very well since 1994, thanks. But more importantly, my real investment these days is in my children; and the return is better than any money I ever made. In many ways, it's the hardest job I've ever had and there have been occasions (which recur with frightening frequency!) that I want to dump it all and run. But I did that once, in 1987, and the only thing I got out of it, in reality, was another opportunity to start at Ground Zero.
So what's the moral to this little tale? A simple lesson, hard-learned: Be proactive; take a shot; make it work. Do the research. Decide what you want and go for it. And once you do go for it, stick with it.
Investment: faith; Return: immeasurable.