6 things I wish to tell my 23 y.o. self

September 19, 2019

| 7 minutes read |

"I've gotten my first pay! After 20+ years in the education system, I'm finally a salaried working adult! There are so many things I want to buy, but first, I'm going to get myself an iPad because my morning commutes are so long and I desperately need to watch my Korean dramas!" I heard a young woman exclaim to her group of friends at the next table in a restaurant.

Her rather loud sharing brought me back to those good old days when I got my first pay. Like her, there were many things I wanted to buy - a new phone, a new backpack, Iron Man collectible figurines (what can I say, I love Iron Man 3000), Sennheiser headphones, oh and a car, definitely a car, and the list went on and on...

It turned out that it didn't quite matter what I bought in the next six years, my life simply revolved around work (really meaningful work at that, in the Singapore Police Force) and clocking up as much rest as I can before the next high-key period (which was pretty much 90% of the time back then).

Looking back, I wish someone had sat me down, spoke to me and told me these 6 things.

 

1. Buy your insurance early (and plan for your parents)

Let's just get this out of the way. I'm a financial consultant and this is literally what I breathe right now. But beyond advice from a financial consultant, I wish someone had emphasised to me the importance of the basic policies and told me that I should get them earlier, so that I can generally pay cheaper premiums and get full coverage since I was at the peak of my health.

It really sucks seeing the premium of my whole life plan now (versus what I could have been paying for the exact same policy) if I had started at 23 years old.

It also sucks telling my dad that his policy will not cover his liver and any other complications resulting from any liver disorders. He did not have fatty liver when I was 23 years old - he was diagnosed with it just a couple of years ago.

It also sucks telling my dad that his policy will not cover his liver and any other complications resulting from any liver disorders.

I wish I was more seng mok back when I was 23 years old.

 

2. Prioritise your spending

"Joyce, you really don't need that Iron Man/Toy Story figurine!"

I'm sure I've been yelled at many times for this by my partner (who was thankfully, a lot more seng mok then I was).

As always, she was right. I wanted to be a collector but the expenditure really didn't make sense. They were all sitting in my very cramped "collectible" shelf and I've started to sell most of them away (mostly at cheaper prices then when I first purchased them) to clear space for a more zen life.

Marie Kondo was right - the clutter frustrated me and I am much happier now that I've a less cluttered room.

Oh, and the headphones? It turns out that I didn't quite like travelling with bulky headphones and I settled for $20 Samsung earphones.

I wish someone had taught me how to better prioritise my spending, to value experiences over material goods, and to optimise the amount of happiness my purchases brought me.

I wish someone had taught me how to better prioritise my spending, to value experiences over material goods, and to optimise the amount of happiness my purchases brought me.

I wish I had spent more on my parents and grandparents and to bring them out for meaningful experiences over getting that $200 figurine. I probably won't remember that figurine when I die but I'd definitely smile at the memory of going on a rare trip with my grandparents - it doesn't have to be far, it's the experience that matters. For the record, I haven't brought my paternal grandparents overseas yet, something that I still hold with much regret.

 

3. You are not defined solely by work. Spend your time wisely with family and friends.

"Work is not everything, Joyce. You have a life beyond work. If a mistake is not fatal (and very little mistakes are), it's ok, move on. You are so much more than what work defines you."

I can't believe I only heard this in the 5th year of work, from one of the best supervisors in the world. (You know who you are, mdm.)

Many people whom I plan for are still working late nights in offices, busily typing away on their laptops over weekends, prioritising work over family gatherings.

Let's get this straight. Work is important. I have developed many skills from work and I take a lot of pride in my work. I am proud of what I do and I still devote myself fully to work when I need to.

Here's what I am saying: Work is not the only important thing in life. I am defined by so much more - the relationships with my friends and family (I'm so sorry that I have neglected you guys for the first 6 years of my working life), those mind-opening trips that made me realise how small the world is and how much more of an impact we should be trying to make, the time spent with my dogs, my other hobbies (like jogging, cycling, and climbing), volunteering time to meaningful causes, mentoring others in life... and the list goes on and on.

All of us have 24 hours a day. It's up to us to spend it wisely - and spend it wisely. This is time that you will not get back in your life. And while spending six hours drafting and replying emails may seem like that's all there is to life, it is NOT. Split your time fairly - to be fair to your loved ones and most importantly, to be fair to yourself.

Split your time fairly - to be fair to your loved ones and most importantly, to be fair to yourself.

 

4. Start setting aside a sum of money for your retirement

The power of compounding interest is crazy. I wish I had understood that earlier. I'll just let you digest this figure below - where we start off with 1 cent and double it every year.

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Seriously? Seriously.

Granted, our monies probably wouldn't double every year but you get my point. The compounding effect is pretty powerful.

I'm constantly worried about my parents' retirement and I don't want my kids (if I have any) to worry about my retirement in the same way.

If I had set aside a small sum a month for my retirement, I would have been 7 years in by now and would have a SUPER SIGNIFICANT sum for my retirement by the time I am 65. Well, I can never get that 7 years back. I can only get started now.

I was in the car with my grandma last month and she said that she couldn't sleep the entire night. When I asked her why, she said that she was thinking about things. I probed a little more and she said this (in Mandarin of course), "I don't know where all my money went. I worked for so many years when I was young. And now I don't really have much for my remaining years. I really don't know where all my money went. I kept thinking and thinking but I couldn't figure it out. It kept me up all night."

Ah ma, thank you for sharing your vulnerabilities and thank you for reminding me that I really don't want to be kept awake at night with these worries when I am 70.

 

5. Read more

Most of us stopped reading when we started work. Instead, we watch Netflix or scroll Facebook on those long commutes. I'm not judging you - I do the same sometimes. I wish I didn't.

I've learnt the best lessons from reading and really, that's the best way to constantly improve yourself. Centuries of cumulative knowledge are often stored in ONE BOOK. Imagine how much knowledge we're giving up for that 45-minute episode of Lucifer.

Centuries of cumulative knowledge are often stored in ONE BOOK.

 

6. Define your own success

We are all made different. Stop comparing yourself with others.

That big house or big car may not necessarily make you happier. Getting that next rank may not necessarily be your definition of success. Giving a really good presentation in front of the higher management may not mean much to you. Take time to define what success means to you. Take time to find out what happiness means to you. Then make sure that you take actions to bring yourself closer to your definition of success.

Take time to define what success means to you. Take time to find out what happiness means to you

Most importantly, make sure that you always prioritise your mental and emotional health as your pursue your definition of success. If you don't take good care of yourself, noone else will.

If you're that 23 year old sitting in that restaurant that fateful day, I hope you'll read this. Your best years are ahead of you - make them count.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely my own. Help share this article and expand its reach if you found it useful. 🙂 

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