Robert Pagliarini

How would you like to earn a 100,000 percent investment return without investing in the stock market? The greatest financial asset you have is not your house, your 401(k) or even your job. Your greatest financial asset is you -- the skills you have, the education you've received, the experience you've obtained, your network of contacts, and your individual way of looking at and interacting with the world. This "human capital" is much more important and valuable than your investment capital. The value of your human capital -- especially for people in their working years -- far exceeds any investment account balance.

Why is it so important? It follows the truth behind the saying, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you've fed him for a lifetime." Once you add a skill or learn something you did not know, you've increased your value.

Too many of us stop learning once we graduate from school. That's a huge mistake. If we are to succeed, we need to always be learning (and always be creating). We must focus on continuously increasing our skills and our experiences. People who don't change become dinosaurs. You've seen them, and you know what I'm talking about. Those people are about a decade behind. They seem so lost and out of touch. Everything around them has progressed, but they are still operating under an old framework.

Don't look so smug. It's easy to fall behind. It takes time and energy to stay current. Acquiring new skills can be difficult and can take you out of your comfort zone. It can be hard for someone who feels confident in one area to want to expose themselves to a situation where they don't have the answers.

As difficult and time intensive as this can be, it is an absolute must. When you invest in yourself, you are making a deposit that will pay you dividends for life. Take just one night class and you can easily earn a 100,000 percent return on the tuition. How is that possible? If you currently make $15 an hour as an administrative assistant, how much more would someone pay you per hour if you could also maintain the company's website and make minor changes to it when necessary? What if you learned how to use QuickBooks? What if you learned how to set up and run the company's blog? Would you be worth $16 an hour? Maybe $17 an hour? A $100 class at your local community college can earn you an additional $4,000 a year for the rest of your career.

You should always be focused on improving your skills, getting additional designations and becoming more valuable. Think of yourself as your own company -- Me, Inc. Successful companies are constantly improving, growing and investing in new products. What skills can you learn that will make you more valuable?

The first places to look are those areas that are dragging you down. They're there. Admit it. What's that one thing that you really need to get to the next level? Is it an MBA? Is it your insurance license? Is it a designation? Maybe it's not such a clear goal. Maybe you're a fantastic accountant but your social awkwardness is preventing you from networking and getting a promotion. Maybe you're afraid of public speaking but know that is what you need. Join your local Toastmasters. Regardless of what's holding you back, now is a great time to overcome it.

To add a little spice to your learning, mix things up a bit. If you are specialized in a narrow field and already know what you need to know, boost your human capital by learning a skill in a completely unrelated field. Cross training is good for your brain and can spark new ideas and ways of looking at things.

By investing in yourself, you can earn a return much greater than you ever could in the stock market.

Robert Pagliarini is a CBS MoneyWatch columnist and the author of "The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose" and the national best-seller "The Six-Day Financial Makeover: Transform Your Financial Life in Less Than a Week! ."

Available at

The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose

The Six-Day Financial Makeover: Transform Your Financial Life in Less Than a Week!

The Seven Deadly Sins of Investing: How to Conquer Your Worst Impulses and Save Your Financial Future