Investors and entrepreneurs talk about and monitor ROI, the return on investment. They often use formulas to determine whether their money was well spent, if the profit met their expectations. If the ROI is disappointing, they take their money elsewhere.
While it's relatively easy to measure ROI with investments of money, we need to become a lot more conscious of the ROI when spending our time. As the droll Quentin Crisp once pointed out, "It's no good running a pig farm badly for 30 years while saying, 'Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer.' By then, pigs will be your style."
What we become is a mirror of our investment of time.
Several months ago, I received an e-mail from a man that I named his Why I Can't Manifesto. As I read it, I thought of Richard Bach's warning, "Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they're yours."
A very successful and creative entrepreneur named Bob once wrote about an exercise he and his wife conducted. They added up all of their investments, including stocks, bonds, real estate and learning. What they discovered was surprising, even to them. "Far and away the biggest return on our investment came from the time and money spent on learning. Seminars paid back a bigger return than any other item in our portfolio."
While many people keep close track of the return on their financial investments, they're not nearly so diligent about their time. In Jean-Louis Servan-Schrieber's The Art of Time, he makes this observation: "We think much more about the use of money, which is renewable, than we do about the use of time which is irreplaceable."
Lack of money is often seen as the villain, but that is seldom the case. The simple truth is that our dreams are far more dependent on the investment of time we're willing to make.
Nowhere is this more poetically illustrated than in Paulo Coelho's little gem, The Alchemist. The hero of this tale is a young Spanish shepherd named Santiago who has already traded his parents' dream of his becoming a priest for his own dream of traveling.
On his travels, he encounters a wise man who prods him to achieve his personal destiny. To add motivation, the wise man points out a number of people who traded in their dreams for a seemingly secure life. One of those is a shopkeeper who hires Santiago to work for him.
Suddenly, his lackluster business booms as the shepherd-turned-clerk begins to attract new business. Nevertheless, the shopkeeper resists fulfilling his lifelong dream of a trip to Mecca. At one point he says to Santiago, "Today, I understand something I didn't see before: every blessing ignored becomes a curse."
What the shopkeeper demonstrates so poignantly is a universal truth: when we trade our dreams for a lesser life, we are doomed to unhappiness. If we trade our fears and doubts for our own Dream Quest, satisfaction and joy that we have never known are inevitable.
So what would you have to invest in order to be fully living your dream? You're already spending your time and energy doing something. Why not make it an investment that includes joy, satisfaction, and abundance with the biggest possible return? Argue for your dreams and, sure enough, they're yours.