Well, I finally gave in ... I couldn't take the pressure, so I joined the masses. But it's not what you think.

I didn't panic and sell all my stocks -- even when the market began to look like a runaway train headed south. Instead, I did something you might consider much more questionable, considering how many people are "tightening their belts."

I jumped on board the high-def bandwagon
And no sooner did I get in line to pay for my brand-new TV than my girlfriend scampered off to the mall, yelling four words I hate to hear: "I'll be right back."

Twenty minutes later, I was still standing in front of the store next to my giant cardboard box. A security guard ambled over and asked, "And how is it that you came to acquire such a great thing?"

"I've just been working hard, I guess."

He let out a deep laugh, put his hand on my shoulder, and told me something I won't soon forget. "Man, we all work hard. But to accumulate your monies to buy something great -- now, that is truly a blessing."

An unlikely investment lesson
His name was Sidney, and he was from Ghana -- where, for most of his life, he had worked from sunrise to sunset every day just so he could eat.

Now, I won't suggest that you start -- or continue -- investing in this dismal market just because some people don't have the option, but I will say that my conversation with Sidney reminded me why I started investing in the first place.

I also remembered this when John Montgomery, founder, CEO, and fund manager of Bridgeway Funds, came to Fool HQ to give us some insight into why -- not how -- he runs his funds.

Granted, I would've loved to learn more about how he invests -- even though his legendary Bridgeway Aggressive Investors 1 Fund (BRAGX) is down 61% this year.

You see, I'm much more interested in the fact that thanks to investing in great businesses through good markets and bad, Montgomery has been able to hand investors average gains of 16% per year since the fund's inception.

I'd also love the chance to ask him whether he is adding to, or selling, some of the fund's more volatile holdings, like CF Industries (NYSE:CF), Massey Energy (NYSE:MEE), and Altera Corp. (NASDAQ:ALTR).

Nonetheless, it was refreshing to see that, despite his success, Montgomery has never lost sight of why he's investing. See, Bridgeway donates a whopping 50% of its after-tax profits to charities -- most notably to foundations dedicated to stopping genocide in Africa.

I won't lie ...
My reasons for investing aren't nearly as noble as Montgomery's. Truth be told, I just want my money to work hard for me now so that I don't have to work so hard in the future. I imagine you can relate.

If we can manage to invest well -- not just over the next two years, but over the next two decades -- I think that's entirely achievable. It's also something I imagine Sidney would consider a blessing. That's why I wish I had taken more time to tell him about the power of investing -- and why right now is just as much of an opportunity as it is a crisis for long-term investors.

What I should have told him ...
Twenty-one years ago -- just after one of the most devastating market crashes in history -- if you had set aside 100 hours' worth of pay ($1,000 if you make $10/hour, $5,000 if you make $50/hour, etc.) and invested it in some well-run companies, by now you could have accumulated hundreds or even thousands of hours’ worth of pay -- without having to work a single extra minute.


$1,000 Invested 20 Years Ago Is Now Worth:

Number of 40-Hour Weeks It Would Take to Earn That Amount at $10/Hour:

PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP)



United Technologies (NYSE:UTX)



Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT)



Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)



Historical returns include dividend reinvestment.

And those numbers are after the recent sell-off that has cut the market nearly in half.

I know what you're going to say...
Yes, I cherry-picked these results to make a point. But let's be honest: It didn't take an investment genius to buy shares of these industry-dominating businesses 20 years ago -- although it might have taken some guts.

However, by doing so, you could have secured an amount of money that would have taken you nearly an entire year of 40-hour weeks to earn.

And if you want to add even more years to your life ...
Then you'll need to heed the advice of Motley Fool co-founder Tom Gardner and search for small, game-changing businesses that are about to revolutionize their industries.

I'm not going to lie -- it's going to take even more guts. But, you see, while the 20-year returns on the stocks listed above are impressive, they don't even begin to compare to the returns of the 10 best stocks of the past decade.

Had you invested 100 hours' worth of your salary into any one of these under-the-radar companies just 10 years ago, just a decade later you would have had at least an entire year's salary.

Let's face it
We all work hard to pay our mortgages, put our kids through college, keep charities afloat, you name it. And while investing allows us to accumulate wealth -- without putting in extra time at our day jobs -- uncovering life-changing investments is no easy task.

Of course, you don't have to go it alone. Our Motley Fool Hidden Gems service focuses on finding the next small-cap winners. The focus on well-run, underfollowed companies will give you the inside track on finding some little-known companies that could potentially add years to your life.

If you're interested, you can see every single Hidden Gems recommendation -- including the two top picks for new money now -- by taking a free 30-day trial of Hidden Gems. To get started, simply click here.

This article was originally published on June 12, 2008. It has been updated.

Austin Edwards does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Microsoft and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.