The summer before my last semester at Berkeley, I had an interview with the founder of a startup. He was relatively unknown, and told me that he could only pay me $10 an hour, but that I would learn a lot. I didn’t think it was enough, so I turned the offer down for one that paid $25 an hour. He went on to build multiple companies and today he’s worth a substantial fortune.

Looking back, it was one of those decisions that increased my earnings in the short run but decrease my earning potential in the long run. I made a long-term sacrifice for a short-term gain.

When I graduated from the MBA program at Pepperdine in April 2009, the job market was the worst it’s ever been. If the market had been good, the degree by itself would have capped my earning potential at about $90,000 per year. I could have tried to find a job where that was my salary. But rather than do that, even if it meant significantly less money, I decided to focus on increasing my earning potential.

It’s likely I would have made more money at a day job than I have in the last seven years. But my business partner, Brian, made a really good point:

“It’s important to look at our trajectory as much as we do our current circumstance. A good trajectory, while it may not increase your earnings instantly, could be increasing your earning potential significantly over time.”

In the past seven years, I’ve built the Unmistakable Creative, where I’ve interviewed 700 people, become a published author, and been paid to speak. As a result, I also learned a ton and got an education that kicked the crap out of the one that I got in school.

Increase Your Earning Potential by Becoming a Life-Long Learner

In the movie Scent of a Woman, Chris O’Donnell takes a job housesitting for a blind companion played by Al Pacino. When he arrives at the house, and Pacino’s niece leaves, he says to Chris O’Donnell to pack up his bags because they’re heading to New York City. When he says, “New York City is too much responsibility,” Pacino replies, “What are you, some kind of chickensh*t who sticks to job description only.” Pacino understood what it meant to increase your earning potential.

If you look at top performers across any field, they all have one thing in common—they’re all lifelong learners:

  • They read books about their industry
  • They enroll in courses and actually complete them
  • They go to seminars and conferences for their industry

And they go above and beyond the bullet points in their job description. They’re what Seth Godin would call “linchpins.”

You can increase your earnings or you can increase your earning potential. In the short run, it might boost your ego to increase your earnings. In the long run, increasing your earning potential will have a much more significant ROI. In many ways, it’s about planting seeds today for who you eventually become.

You increase your earning potential not necessarily by choosing the opportunities that pay the most, but the ones that cause you to grow the most.

This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.

Photo of man focused courtesy of Peopleimages/Getty Images.