How I learned to mind my own business

Some of my loyal readers – ok, make that two – asked me at what age I started to mind my own business and to actively take care of my own business.

Here is how it all started:

minding my own businessWell, that’s not really how it happened.

This is what happened:

I experienced two epiphanies in my early stages of my professional life.

The first one occurred in my mid twenties. My boss, who I looked up to because of his strong job dedication, disclosed to me that he got retrenched.  His position was ‘made redundant’.  I could see the huge disappointment in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he told me:

“How could they? After all those years where I dedicated the majority of my waking hours to work for this company.  They always gave me positive feedback about my work and praised my attitude.  Upon a little change in wind-direction – they claim market forces – all of my previous work is forgotten and they let me go just like that.  And the worst thing is, I have always assumed that my salary would continue to grow forever and that I could afford my life style easily in the future.  But the truth is, I have hardly got any savings.  I have a huge home mortgage to serve and two kids to bring through their tertiary education.  Why haven’t I started saving when I was young and when it was relatively easier.  I totally missed out taking advantage of time in the market.  Now I pay for the magic of compounding through my mortgage instead of earning from the magic through a nice stock portfolio.”

The second one took place around the same age during the presumably happy occasion of a retirement farewell office party (aren’t we all looking forward to that day?).  After a few beers (mind you, that was back in Germany where beer is considered liquid bread and thus beer in the office was a common sight) the lucky retiree suddenly shared with me his biggest regret:

“Andy, you know, my biggest regret after having worked in this company for 35 years is that I have not spent enough time with my children.  Back then when it would have made a difference.  To listen to their problems and to be there when they needed me.  To watch them in their important sports competitions.  To talk to them more about values and help them to form a strong personality.   Work, however, always took first priority for me.  For what?  Now they are adults and have their own kids.   I dreamt of spending ample time with my grandchildren, but my energy level and my health does not really permit me to do so now.  Andy, don’t you ever repeat that same mistake.”

So, you see, the reality is not too far off from the above parable.

Don’t get poked by life.

Don’t always follow the herd.

Live your life by your own design.

The earlier the better.

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan.

And guess what they have planned for you?

Not much.

 

Have you experienced any epiphany – that sudden feeling of knowledge that brought to light what was so far hidden and then changed your life?  Care to share?

13 Comments

  1. Hi Andy,

    As a corporate guy, I shares the same sentiment. Instead of calling myob, I calll mine searching for my own 2nd career, where career not nec means chores! Nonetheless I dun hate my job, and in fact like it now.

    All I know is I am nearer to my second career each day! At least each day, I spend some time working towards it! 🙂

    FYI Like u, I seen my former top Danish boss packed up within a day after his dedication to the company. Worst still, just only relocate to Singapore for less than 3 months with family.

    My Singaporean former boss also tell me his story of golden handshake at age mid 40s after being MD of the company for more than 15 years!

    Apparently, both of them did even better after they were retrenched.

    • Those episodes are great encouragements to not put up with being stuck in a rut. There is always a choice in life. As Jerry put it: “living a life without regrets”.
      It’s a fact that there are only two things in life where we do not have a choice:
      1) We all have to die – someday.
      2) We all have to live until we die.
      But how we live is totally up to us again and a matter of our choices.
      As Albert Camus so rightfully quipped: “Life is a sum of all your choices.”

  2. Andy,

    I had originally “planned” to retire by 55 – the old Singapore retirement age.

    Career was going well, and I thought a few more tours of duty overseas I’ll be 55 in no time.

    Then I realised the people that matters most to me may not have another 10 years.

    Checked my finances and when my contract expired in Athens, I said no thanks!

    I have enough 🙂

  3. Hi Andy,

    Really loved this post!

    “Have you experienced any epiphany – that sudden feeling of knowledge that brought to light what was so far hidden and then changed your life? Care to share?”

    I experienced many epiphanies. Most of it was due to zen philosophy and business struggles.

    However, one thing that really shaped my path was a recurring nightmare I had as a kid whenever I got fever… about 5-7 years old. I kept dreaming of being stuck in a factory, working, doing the same thing day after day… I was surrounded by chugging machines and conveyor belts. It was very Pink Floyd – Another Break in the Wall – kind of atmosphere.

    So since young I was determined not to be stuck in a metaphorical “Factory”. I decided to shape my own destiny.

    We shouldn’t live life in fear of Failure.
    What we should be wary of — is living a life of Regrets.

    • Hi Jerry,

      Thanks for sharing. Very “early” epiphany you had there. I cannot remember anything that happened to me before the age of 8 or 9.
      I love your last two statements. Booh to regret aversion.

  4. I am nearer, I am nearer…to the starting point…Yes, starting point to live better.

    I hope the 2 gentlemen in your articles are living their best life now.

    We only know how rich we are, when we know how much we need.

    • I know what you mean (read your latest post). But I beg to differ. You are far away from the starting point (when you set the goal for your live-better). Now you are close to the finish line already. Followed by a long period of ‘celebrations’.
      I hope so too, unfortunately I have lost contact to them (that was 20 years back).
      True, reminds me of what John Paul Getty shared: “To be truly rich, regardless of his fortune or lack of it, a man must live by his own values. If those values are not personally meaningful, then no amount of money gained can hide the emptiness of life without them.”

      • Great sharing. What appeal to individuals are different. I may like swimming but someone else may hate it. What matters, is the meaning to our short stay in this world. The next generation may come and go forgetting about Andy or Frugal Daddy. Identify what matters and not, life should be worth celebrating in general

      • Hi FD,

        And there are so many things we should be grateful for and celebrate. But more often we take them as granted and don’t even recognize them any longer.

        We shall celebrate together one day. Latest when your big day has arrived or even some smaller milestones on the way have been achieved 😉

  5. hi tacomob, is there an equivalent of an ‘iron ricebowl’ in Germany?

    • Hi Kyith,

      Not any longer. When I grew up many of my senior peers in Germany still believed that you learn a profession once and then practice it for your entire career. There is no more guaranteed job security. Times have changed.
      The German government is having a hard time instilling the mindset in its people that one can never afford to stop learning and upgrading. The equivalent authority in Singapore is dozens of years ahead in that regards.

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