Why I Choose to Invest Early Even When My Mom Disagreed

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Like most Singaporean families, my mom is firmly in the camp of “work hard, upgrade yourself constantly, get promoted, get higher pay, rinse and repeat”.

Which is why when I mentioned that I was going to be investing in the stock markets for much of the foreseeable future, my mother almost immediately went nuclear.

Before I could even start to try and calm things down (or explain myself), she launched into how I was gambling with my salary, throwing away my future, and dooming the entire family to repay my soon to be, stock market incurred debts.

Like most family arguments that start with illogical, pre-formed and ultimately ignorant but well-intended points of views, this one.

Once the argument started, it wouldn’t stop until at one point, fed up and wanting to punch a hole into the nearest wall, I stood up and walked away from the table halfway through a home-cooked meal…

…and you don’t walk away from a home cooked meal without some repercussions.

In words familiar to John Wick fans, for the rest of the day, I was “ex-communicado” to my mother.

To be fair, I understood where my mother was coming from: “work hard, upgrade yourself constantly, get promoted, get higher pay, rinse and repeat”.

I really did.

She had been a straight ‘A’s student when she was young and her family could barely even afford to pay for her ‘O’ level examinations.

Standing by and watching the rest of your classmates who had wiled their days away in school advance on to polytechnics and later on, universities, could not have been easy for her to accept.

Doubly so when she was top of the class for three years running.

Triply so when she was too busy trying to work three jobs a day just to put food on the table for her younger siblings, of which she had 7.  

The pain and anger at the unfairness of the situation must have been excruciating.

To top things off, as her old school friends rose steadily through the ranks of their company, their snide comments and chants became invariably loud.

“Credit card! Cash! Condo! Car! Country Club!”

She watched them go on holidays while taking their families along.

She watched them purchase homes she barely dared to step foot in, and she watched their children go to schools in cars worth the price our house.

I did not need to ask how strongly she believed in education and job promotions.

I did not need to ask questions to find out how painful it must have been.

I had years of watching shame and embarrassment colour her face whenever her friends met us outside and not so subtly insinuated how her performance in school was quite lacklustre compared to their performance in life.

Pain. Is an extremely. Powerful. Motivator.

So I cannot blame my mother for the viewpoint that she holds. Or that many of our parents and our grandparents’ generations might hold.

And yet I cannot simply adopt their approach.

We don’t live in a world where a degree is unique anymore. Where you get pension schemes for being in a company 25 years. Where you get higher salaries and get promoted internally in a company.

No.

We do not indeed.

To operate, and to succeed in this different world, we have to change the rules of the game.

And changing the rules of the game is not free.  You do not get to break the rules of the game without a cost.

To fundamentally change how things are going to be played out, you have to adopt new techniques, new methods, new learnings.

To do that requires focus and discipline. And to maintain your focus and discipline, you need to know your “why“.  

Your Focus & Your Why

Being a great salary-man requires a different set of rules. Most of you would be familiar with them.

It’s the same one my mother and many of her generation espouses.  

Being a great businessman requires a different set of skills.

A keen mind, good analytical skills, great logic, some maths, and a thirst for lifelong learning. Diligence. Social skills. Networking. Teamwork. Excellent credentials. Staying ahead of the curve.

But you get the idea.

Different paths.

Different rules.

Different sacrifices.

You can choose to become an investor as you work (which is recommended of course, please don’t leave your job randomly), but your focus won’t be on your career, it’ll be on your ability to invest.

You can choose to focus on your career, but your focus wouldn’t be on your expanding, deepening, and improving your investment abilities. Rather it will be on your job. Your boss. Your project.

You have 24 hours in a day. And you can choose to be exceptional in one but you cannot choose to be exceptional in both.

You have to choose your sacrifice.

And you have to choose your why.

Personally?

I want to succeed in life.

I want to live a life that I choose. Hike mountains. Feast my eyes on beautiful scenery. Be there in person.

Not just look at it on my desktop at work.

I want to travel. Learn to cook. Learn a language. Learn physics. Learn quantum mechanics.

I want to read and read until my eyes pop on an old comfortable chair with a coffee table and a book reader, facing a large ceiling to floor window that looks out into a valley of green.

I want to finally be able to hit Grandmaster in Starcraft II (Terran is hard T_T).

I want to fly out to Magic Tournaments all over the world and tour the cities they are held in. Eventually, when my kids come along, I want them to be able to pursue their dreams too.

Whatever those dreams may be.

The likelihood of accomplishing all that on a job was unlikely – both time-wise and job-wise.

The financial likelihood of starting a business and achieving all that was higher, but time-wise, I’d be stuck.

Automating a business isn’t easy. And it’s even harder for people like me who love being hands on. I know myself well enough to know that if I start, I can’t stop and I can’t walk away.

And that’s ok. It just means I’ll have to rely on another way of making the money in a fashion that allows me the time to do what I want in life.

Even if the job paid me enough, where was I going to find the time?

That’s why I choose to invest early. Because when you look at it fundamentally, investing is simply choosing which business you are interested in becoming an owner of, and ultimately profiting from.

Would you like to own a small piece of Facebook, the company that also owns (Whatsapp and Instagram)? I would.

How about Google? The search engine that dominates 92.51% of the world’s market share?

What about Visa? The company that enables transactions on almost every piece of plastic you have in your wallet?

How about Apple? The company which created a fanbase entirely willing to pay thousands of dollars for a single phone, after having them wait overnight?

You see, owning shares in a good business allows me to become a pseudo-business owner as well.

Except this time, I simply have to choose what is a good business to own and watch how much I’m actually paying for it.

You too will have to choose. Whether to embark on the path of the extraordinary salaryman, the path of a business owner, or the path of an investor (pseudo-business owner).

You too will need to start with your why.

And remember.

Time is ticking.

P.S. For those of you who have decided to be an investor, and for those of you who wish to shortcut your journey towards mastery of it, I can’t recommend enough the following books that you should read, cover to cover.

  1. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham (Chapters 8 & 20 are highly recommended by Warren Buffett)
  2. Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Phillip Fisher
  3. One Up On Wall Street by Peter Lynch
  4. Big Debt Crisis by Ray Dalio
  5. What Works on Wall Street by James O’Shaughnessy
  6. Fooled by Randomness.
  7. Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger
  8. The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (Biography between Buffet and a reporter)

P.P.S If you’ve always struggled to understand how to value a company, how to evaluate it, and how to decide if it’s a good buy, we can teach you how to do so for free. Reliably. Safely. And quickly – all wrapped up within an academically backed, well-proven framework, with a long track record. It’s a great, free, introductory course. You can register for your seat here.

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Irving Soh

Behavioural Psychology fanatic. I like good food, movies, intelligent conversations and logical reasoning. I also dabble with options, factor-based investing, and data analytics.
  • Wow, Irving, you sure hit a nerve.

    Being a Merdeka Gen person, and in similar situation as your mum, I do empathise her. Eldest of 6 siblings, I too got to leave school to support my widowed and uneducated mum who did odd jobs to raise all of us.

    Unlike your mum, as you put it; pain is a powerful motivator, her views of work hard, get promoted, live frugally and save, I got into investing early. Those days, in my twenties, investing in shares IS gambling. To negate it, I strove by reading as much as I can in that space.

    Today, most of my peers are still working hard in their respective careers whereas, I am now happily retired, playing with my grandchildren mostly. My passive incomes from various sources far exceed my last working income and my expenses.

    Yes, Irving, you are right. Investment is the way to go. Today, 40% of our millennials are graduates, one would be an outlier if you are without a degree. Unless you are a working elite on a rank of a President Scholar or General, you will destine to work to old age, not that you want to but you will have to, esp. living in the world most expensive city.

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