What’s the best investment you’ve ever made? Gold? Silver? Real estate? Penny stock? Well, if you’re thinking clearly, the best investment you could ever make would be in yourself. Because the stock market will rise and fall with the whims of the overlords, a house can get swept away by fire or flood, precious metals can be stolen, and the bank can go belly-up. But you—you’re strong, and you know your capabilities and asprirations. Investing in yourself is the safest bet you can make because you are your most valued asset, and you’re worth every penny. Besides, who knows you better than you?

Back in the eighties, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the hottest action star on the planet. His characters beat up bad guys, smoked terrorists, fought for what was right, and had a good time doing it. But Arnold was convinced he could be a great comedic actor. Unfortunately, the studios didn’t see it that way; they pictured him with a gun in his hand and a smirk on his lips. So being the empowered, visionary dude he is, Ah-nald invested in himself. He linked up with Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman on a project called The Experiment, which later became Twins. To get a green light from the studios, Arnie took the unprecedented step of declining a salary. Reitman and fellow star Danny DeVito followed suit and elected to work for free as well—and the rest is history. Now, all three players got big back-end points, so everything worked out swimmingly, but nevertheless, The Governator invested in his own talent, and indeed in his very being, and he went on to become a huge comedy star.

Jonah Hill invested in himself big time. He’d cut his teeth and done very well in the arena of screwball comedy and unhinged farce. But the Superbad actor wanted a well-rounded career and a shot at meatier, dramatic, even soulful roles. So after dipping his toes in dramatic waters with the 2011 film Moneyball, Hill signed on to Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street for an estimated $60,000. Needless to say, that number was a far cry from his normal 1 to 2 million dollar salary at the time. For his efforts and sacrifices, Jonah received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and he went on to star in a number of dramatic and captivating projects including the Netflix series Maniac, the feature film War Dogs, and the true-crime drama True Story. And it should be noted The Wolf of Wall Street had a budget of over $100 million dollars.

The seminal low-budget, DIY horror film The Blair Witch Project cost $60,000 to make, and it grossed $250 million at the box office. The three stars, Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard (who also did double duty as cinematographers and camera operators) made $500 apiece for the shoot! Talk about investing in yourself! And though none of the actors have gone on to fame and fortune, they have all continued to act, produce, and participate in the entertainment industry. Not to mention, they all have the distinction of starring in one of the most innovative and influential films of all time. 

Now, investing in yourself might not mean acting for free in a big-budget project with an A-list director, but it may very well mean sacrificing your weekends to work with an up-and-coming auteur for nothing; or it could mean financing your own short film or your reel to jumpstart your career; or it could possibly mean producing or promoting a film you’re starring in pro bono.

The whole idea is to take calculated risks to get your foot in the door and to forge new and exciting professional relationships. After all, it could be argued the most significant limitations you’ll encounter are the ones you impose on yourself.

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