Episode 241 — Investing Back in Yourself



In the beginning of our career, we’re really hungry and we want to learn everything: all the tutorials, all the training, we want to learn every part of what we’re doing. However, after we get that first job, everything tends to stop. We think that we’ve made it and we don’t need to continue learning anymore.

And a lot of the time, it’s the soft skills that we tend to neglect: Leadership skills, productivity, managing time and business mindsets. It’s only 11% of professionals who continue to seek knowledge after they begin their career. They are the ones who become the industry leaders and go on to have fruitful careers.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay explains why he invests in his learning every year, how much he spends on training — and how to get the most out of your money and your courses.


[03:59] Learning in the Beginning of Our Career
[05:24] Why We Stop Learning
[06:39] How to Choose the Right Courses
[06:39] Surround Yourself with Successful People
[10:28] Mastermind Groups
[16:12] Online Courses
[20:01] Conferences
[23:47] Books
[28:50] Aiming at the Highest Level

Episode 241 — Investing Back in Yourself

Hi, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 241! I’m going to be talking about how much money I spend on self-improvement and learning new skills; on courses, books, conferences. I also talk about how much time I invest in myself and why it’s important. I want to share this information which I’ve never shared before.

I also talk about why we don’t tend to learn after a certain point — and about how those who continue to learn continue to succeed. I am this to be a chance for you to realize, “If Allan spends so much on his training, maybe I should be investing in myself as well.”

Let’s dive in!


[01:24] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[30:48] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!


[03:59] So how much money do I spend on courses every single year? I want to go into how much money I spend on training and what I am investing in and why. I’m going to explain why I invest in myself every year, how much I spend and what I try to avoid so I can get the most out of the courses that I do. I want you to walk away knowing why it’s important to focus on your growth daily, what you should be focusing on and how to get the most out of your money — as well as how to avoid mistakes.

[04:38] In the beginning of our career, we’re really hungry and we want to learn everything: all the tutorials, all the training, we want to learn every part of what we’re doing. However, after we get that first job, everything tends to stop. We think that we’ve made it and we don’t need to continue learning anymore. It’s only 11% of professionals who continue to seek knowledge after they begin their career. I’d like to place a wager that those 11% become the industry leaders and go on to have fruitful careers. And that’s because they continue to invest in themselves and continue to evolve over time. A lot of the other people become stale and get replaced by younger, hungrier artists.

[05:24] It’s really important to continue investing in ourselves and focus on growth and new things. When it comes to learning new information, the problem is threefold:

A. We get overwhelmed by how much information is out there (we try to learn everything and not everything is at the same great level).

B. I tend to look at: from whom I’m learning and what their actual credentials are. I say “actual” because I see people paste other people’s bio all the time, to try and sound like a badass. That’s the key challenge: A lot of us don’t know what’s quality and what’s trash. There is nothing more frustrating than watching hours of someone’s content and feel like they never lead you anywhere.

C. Other information contradicts everything or it’s just wrong. It’s frustrating to get to the end of the video and they reveal that they’ve made a mistake. Or none of it resonates.


[06:39] Here is the thing: It’s really important to pay attention to where and from whom we’re learning; why that info is relevant and does that person have any credentials (or are they just hype)? We think that all information is equal, or that that paid-for information is instantly better. The problem is we’re just scraping the bottom of the barrel. Most courses I buy start at $2,000 and that’s not to say there isn’t a good product that costs less than that. I’m willing to pay for a premium course because there is a course that’s been set for me to follow. It’s not a cheap course from a beginner course maker — but actually from an industry leader. And they’re sharing everything they can on that subject, in an easy format. The premium courses are cutting the fat and giving you the secrets. I love Udemy and other platforms like that. There’s only so much I can get from a $50 product. They might actually have a high rating but it’s because the people writing those reviews have a low bar of expectation.

[08:13] So what I look for in a course is actually something that can move the needle: Something that can change my life. I constantly do these again and again as a refresher. I continue go over these courses if they had a major impact on me. This is also why it’s no brainer to invest $2,000 on a course — because what I got from it is tenfold.

[08:58] I like to think that you’re the average of 5 people you spend the most time with. That’s why I choose to surround myself with the best people with the higher quality content. That also means that there will be people in that community who will be serious about learning. I’m not going at it alone. I’m working with people who are dedicating their time into transforming their lives and careers. So I’m looking for people who’re seeking to peak their experiences rather than dabble in a subject. It also means that I will take this course seriously as well. “Those who pay — pay attention!”

[09:48] Let’s break down how much money I spend on my courses and training, based on my tax returns for the past 3 years. (That’s another benefit: You can write these courses off when you file your taxes.) I also look at my training as ROI = a Return on Investment. If I signed up for a course or a mastermind group, I set goals before I do them and plan to make that money back tenfold. Having clear goals before I go into a course is really critical, that way I can make the most of it.


[10:28] I spend on average $75K per year on learning. I’m at a point of my life where I don’t want to waste a lot of time, I want to get the maximum amount out of [my training], to be able to collaborate at the highest level and to aim to get higher results. I spend $40K to be part of a mastermind group with other high performance people. Together we get to talk about our wins, as well as any areas where we’re struggling. You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. [11:07] I choose to surround myself with successful people. It’s also a great place to build a network. Each of us pulls ourselves up. I choose to be around people who are better than me and who are going to pull me to their level and [give me] motivational support. Being part of a mastermind group isn’t just about information and knowledge. It’s about having a strong network of people. As they go on with their careers, you go on with yours. A lot of mastermind groups have a set level of requirements (otherwise, it’s easy to get bogged down with questions from people who are still struggling). It’s important to have people at the same level and together you continue to grow until you feel like you’ve capped out at the roof of that group and you move onto another one. I’ve been a part of many mastermind groups, I’ve also hosted several. Bit by bit, I would look for the next group at the next level at which I want to be.

[13:22] It’s typically pretty expensive to join a mastermind group. But when you’re ready to join one, it means you’re ready to invest in yourself at that level. Typically, we either do a group calls or meet each other every quarter and share successes of our businesses. It doesn’t mean that you need to have a business to be a part of this. It might mean that you’re looking to get better at a certain area: negotiating, or maybe it has to do with your art or your brand. With anything you want to do / learn, you’ll find like-minded people who’ve had some success at some point; and you want to latch on and get some knowledge from them. I host a mastermind group myself. We meet up at some AirBNB in a nice area and we hangout, talk about our goals and our pain points. Sometimes, it means getting a recommendation of a certain book; or you could work together at trying to solve a problem. Each of us leaves with a clear plan. I love this because it means you aren’t alone. Every two weeks, we also do a call. It’s not too structured (some groups will have structured calls). We help each other and hang out; and we leave better than we came in.

[15:38] Mastermind groups are for everyone but it’s not something you want to do right away. You don’t need to invest $40K to be a part of one. You can do one for free; or you can organize one with your friends. You can have a chat room or meet in a Discord; and talk to that select group of people.


[16:12] Another thing I do is I spend on average $20K per year on classes. Why specifically online? Because I want to access the information on my own time, at my own pace. I like to study at [6:00] in the morning, after I’ve gone into my sauna. I can learn this information while I’m traveling as well, in a taxi, or walking. I’ll have [some courses] on my phone and use that time as a refresher. This can be good for your soft or hard skills: If there is a new tool I want to learn or to learn how others do something. A lot of the time, it’s the soft skills that we tend to neglect: Leadership, productivity, managing time and businesses, mindsets. These are more for motivation or if I’m having a problem with something. There are always subjects that I want to learn!

[18:12] I also want to say really quickly that I’m not constantly learning. I still watch tv and listen to music. But I try to put in 1-3 hours a day into learning. Whether I’m in an Uber or taxi, or I’m relaxing before I go to work, it’s productive to learn. You can goof off with your friends; but you can still allot a couple of days a week to have some “me time”.

[19:01] Typically, I focus on what I need to learn right now. It’s more about “just in time, rather than just in case”.

  • What are my immediate goals for this year?
  • Who am I learning from?
  • Who are the other people in the learning community?

It’s better to not do 5 courses on the same topic. I’d rather choose one premium course that will give me everything. Then, I’ll fill in the gaps with free content that solves a specific problem. That means that I will Google and find out specific problems I need to address down the line. The problem with the smaller courses is that they don’t provide the big picture.


[20:01] I spend about $15K on conferences every single year. I try to attend 2-3 conferences every year. Not only are those conferences attended by the leaders in your industry, but they also share their wins for that year [in a] 45-minute presentation. With every talk, you will get more and more knowledge and it will help you evolve. It’s also a great way to meet like-minded people. I spent a lot of time at marketing events this year. At the first one I attended, I was an attendee. It was the first time I wasn’t a speaker. I met this couple 3 years ago and they were into fitness. Now, they’re make 40 million dollars a year in their business. It’s really inspiring to get in at the ground level! These people become really valuable down the line. By establishing a relationship early on, you will be able to get a callback or a response from highly successful people. It’s about getting in at the ground level.

[22:02] Attending conferences is a great way to meet like-minded people. Another key thing about it is that it’s a great way to get out of your environment. Sometimes, I’ll just hop on a plane and as soon as I’m up in the air, I’ll get clarity on some things. Going away is a good way to reset and reflect on things. That can be hard to do when you’re doing your daily routine. There is also a huge benefit to traveling to new places, not to mention job opportunities, whether it’s SIGGRAPH or Autodesk University, or a lot of other venues. I look for someone outside of my industry to meet the [learning] needs that I have, like a negotiation summit. Something outside of your typical echo system gives you a chance to be vulnerable and learn something new. These events usually vary between $400 to $1,000, sometimes more. It’s the airfare and a hotel that ends up being costly. But if you get into their Facebook group, you may be able to share an AirBNB with like-minded people. You can still network but also cut costs at the same time.


[23:47] Another thing that I spend about $1,500 on is books, e-books and audiobooks. It’s the most affordable and accessible option. Sometimes, I’ll buy the same book in all three formats. Sometimes it’s about finding the right way to absorb the information. I’ll read a book and then listen to it as a refresher. With a Kindle, you can have highlighted sections from previous readers [which helps you absorb it faster]. That might sound as cheating, but it’s more about skimming. You want to gain a lot of knowledge quickly. When that transcends into Kindle, it’s already done for you. There are different ways to learn all this stuff. I used to buy books but then I’d leave them behind during my travels because it’s such a pain to carry them. That’s why I love the Kindle.

[26:09] I want to clarify: I tend to not buy a lot of technical books. I feel that by the time they go through the publishing process, they can get stale. Attending a course is a much more effective way to learn that. The publishing process is so slow that courses are much easier to learn from. I’ve been offered opportunities to write a few books, but I’ve turned them down. I find that creating online courses is much more effective. For soft skills, books are great. I’d rather pay $2,000 for a course and get access to the teacher and the community that comes with it.


[27:19] These are the areas where I invest my time and money. You don’t have to spend as much! You can create your own mastermind groups. Books are always affordable. And of course, courses are the most valuable. I look for courses that have a lifetime access and access to the teacher in some form. Perhaps, down the line, I can build a relationship with the instructor. Premium courses are always the way to go! I’ve had some students in my courses who get to know me overtime. I’ve even recommended them for jobs. I do an event in Paris every year and I always meet up with my students there. Sometimes, it’s not just about the information you’re getting in the course. It’s about getting closer to that person. Suddenly, you’re part of groups you wouldn’t otherwise be a part of.

[28:50] The key thing is not only to keep learning — but to aim to learn to learn at the highest level. Avoid colleges where the prices are high but the instructors don’t have that much experience. I tend to aim [for courses] by industry leaders, the community they offer and a lifetime access. I always set goals for what I want to learn from a course. I have an idea about how much I’m going to make back in the end. I also put faith into the learning. I don’t expect that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to teach me. It’s about my showing up and doing the work.

[29:38] I want you to function at the highest level and start putting focus on you rather than other people. Courses can also become a conversation piece so when I meet people who are industry leaders, I always ask what books they may be reading, or what courses they may be doing. If there’s something worth mentioning, it’s probably worth doing as well. I’m curious to see what courses you can recommend to me, or what what book had an impact on you. Please leave a comment. I hope to hear back from you! I want to hear how you invest in yourself and how much value you put on yourself.

I hope you got a lot from this Episode. If you have any questions, feel free to email me: [email protected].

I will be back next week. Until then —

Rock on!


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