Invest like a ninja: Akbar Gbajabiamila says don't let fear get in the way of saving

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Akbar Gbajabiamila is the epitome of success. A child of immigrant parents, he grew up in South Central Los Angeles, played for the NFL and is now the co-host of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

And he learned something along the way.

Starting with nothing and suddenly coming into “solid money” as a pro-football player meant he needed to know how to manage his finances.

“I still remember my first year — $225,000 in 2003,” said Gbajabiamila, in a recent interview with CNBC’s “Fast Money.”

“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is a lot of money,” he added. “What am I going to do?”

Luckily, he got some good advice about saving and investing his money, and not blowing it all on things like fancy cars — especially because the football career he thought was going to last a decade ended after only four years.

“Once I started invested to learn about investments, it then really started to make me think: ‘Where else do you learn about financial literacy?'” said Gbajabiamila, who played for the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders.

“You don’t learn about it in elementary [school],” he said. “You don’t learn about it in junior high school, high school or college.

“No where else,” he continued. “It’s not until you get into the real world where everybody goes, ‘Hey, you are supposed to be reasonable with your money.'”

Gbajabiamila has since made it part of his mission to teach others financial literacy. The principals are a part of his new book, “Everyone Can Be a Ninja,” coming out in May.

For one, he points out that there are always obstacles to achieving your financial goals. What really matters is how you respond to those obstacles and that you learn from your mistakes so you can make better decisions in the future.

Also, don’t let fear rule your life.

“So many of us are afraid of investing,” Gbajabiamila said. “If you are emotional about it, then it is very hard to really try to trust the investment process.”

That can be understandable in volatile market, but the goal of investing is looking out over the long term, he added.

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“On the other side of fear is something magical,” he said. “All of sudden, if you look at it over the history of it, you go ‘Wow, on the other side of this, this is great.

“I’m glad I took the time to be patient and invest in this and now look, I’m reaping the benefits.'”

That doesn’t mean just investing in anything, though. Instead, it’s important to do your homework and know what you what you want to accomplish.

“You also have to understand your ‘why,'” said Gbajabiamila. If you keep your focus on that, it will help you reach your dream — whether it is saving for retirement, your children’s education or traveling the world, he believes.

“When it comes down to investing, if you don’t know why you are investing and what you want to invest in or what you want your future to be, your financial future, then it’s very easy to live in the now.”

—CNBC’s Danielle Trubow contributed to this report.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns. NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC Network and CNBC.

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