I finally completed my first 5 years as a working adult which I started when I was 23 years old.
This concludes the chapter of my life as someone who was new to the working world.
Adjusting to working life and #adulting was not easy for me, the challenges I faced were vastly different from university. It took me quite a lot of time to adapt.
In this post, I reflect on my challenges so far, achievements and areas of improvement in my career, finance, relationships, self-esteem and mental/physical health.
1. Career: Figuring out what I want and learning the importance of internal stakeholder management
Finding out what I enjoyed and was good at took two years.
When I graduated, I was lost in life. I did not know exactly what I wanted. Since I like public policy and current affairs, joining the civil service was one of my top choices. I got rejected from the roles which I applied for.
Eventually, I settled for a business development role. In my first two years in this field, I felt a sense of inferiority compared to my peers. I did not feel like I would do well in this field and even tried to explore other options.
Fortunately, I decided to stay in my field, learn as much as I could and made a few good moves strategically. My earnings from work have also surpassed my own personal expectations – increasing at least 20% year-on-year.
In my first few years of work, I had the naive belief that my focus should be 100 percent on exceeding my KPIs.
Yet, I experienced firsthand that this was not wise. My focus should instead be on managing internal relationships.
If a superior doesn’t like you, you can be meeting your KPIs every single month but they will still focus on your shortcomings.
However, if you have a good relationship, even if you do not meet your numbers, they will cover for you, find opportunities for you and focus on the positive aspects i.e. how you sacrificed personal time and sent an email at 10pm.
For those of us who spent a huge bulk of our time in the Singapore education system, this doesn’t feel like meritocracy. However, this is reality.
After learning this lesson the hard way, I decided to approach my work differently. Here is how I view every job now: 50 percent of one’s job is trying to exceed KPIs. The other 50 percent is about building good relationships with one’s internal stakeholders.
What is my next challenge?
It would be to figure out what my career goals are. In this journey so far, I only had a financial goal but not a career one. I’ve been struggling to come up with a goal.
So, I signed up for MentorConnect, one-year pilot collaborative mentorship programme by IMDA, Dell Technologies, Salesforce and ST Engineering.
I just completed my first session with them and hope that this mentorship would give me some direction.
2. Finances: Setting the foundation right
Before joining the workforce, I did not really care about money. I felt that they would manage themselves and that all investments were complicated and risky.
Then, a few things happened
- I realized how expensive it was to meet my goal of buying a home and starting a family.
- I started volunteering with WP and came across many people retrenched in their 40s and 50s and had to struggle to support ageing parents and children.
- I was trapped and unable to leave a job with a toxic boss because I needed the money.
These three factors drove me to set an aggressive target of achieving financial independence in my 30s.
I do not want to ever have to worry about money. I want to be able to quit as and when I like. I want to be able to meet my life goals without struggling too much.
To put simply, my goal is to become like Christopher Ng Wai Chung. In his 30s, his dividends from his investment portfolio began to exceed his take home pay and he was able to not just retire from the corporate workforce altogether.
If this is your goal as well, I would really encourage you to attend his Early Retirement Masterclass.
What is my next challenge?
I am also actively diversifying my portfolio. In my early years of investing, I bought tons of technology stocks which made my investment income volatile.
This year, I started to invest in more REITs and blue chips which really stabilized things a lot for me.
3. Self-esteem: Letting go of the need to prove people wrong
For a huge part of my life, one of my main motivations was to prove people from the past wrong.
I felt mistreated by some people in the past. So, I wanted to let them see me excel and feel inferior to me.
Towards the end of last year, I read this article by Brianna Wiest which really resonated with me and helped me let go of all these injustices to my life.
According to her “If you’re really hung up on trying to prove people from your past wrong, you need to realize that you’re ultimately just failing yourself. You’re denying yourself what you didn’t have then and you still don’t have now which is a genuine, radiating sense of inner peace, the kind that doesn’t concern itself with whether or not you ever measured up to the people who didn’t love you to begin with.
Trying to get a revenge life is like trying to earn the love of someone who has never had any interest in giving it to you. So why bother?
Start rebuilding your life in a way that makes you feel good. Not just good, but well enough that you’re so immersed in the experience of your everyday life you no longer even think about what so-and-so from such-and-such a time could possibly think if they happen to one day in passing see you again.”
It all sounds so simple and logical. Yet before reading her post, I never thought this way.
4. Relationships: Developing a secure attachment style
Throughout my love life, I did not have many healthy romantic relationships.
I would enter relationships with people I did not like as much to protect myself. There would always be a barrier which I put between myself and them. So, I would not feel hurt when things ended or when they did disappointing things.
Naturally, these relationships did not work out. I did not even shed a tear during many of my break ups.
My relationship with Z is not perfect and yet by far, the most balanced one and longest lasting one I’ve had in my life.
What is my next challenge?
I am working toward building a secure attachment style. I am also working on my communication skills. I’ve learnt the hard way that if you avoid conflict and do not communicate your needs, you are simply letting problems snowball.
5. Body & mind: Learning to take care of myself
When I first started work, I was not able to form healthy sleep habits. Now, I sleep a minimum 7 hours per day from 12AM – 8AM.
Sleep is underrated. There are so many benefits to sleeping 7-8 hours per day. Sleep helps memories form, and it gives the body time to repair itself.
As the sleep debt mounts, the health consequences increase, putting us at growing risk for weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and memory loss.
I am also able to achieve better work life balance and drawing a clearer line between work and my personal life.
I am aiming to also start traveling more and doing two holidays per year – one long holiday and one short holiday. This year, I visited two cities I’ve not been to in my life – Melbourne and Bali. Next year, I am going to Helsinki and Estonia. However, i’ve not decided on my shorter trip yet.
What is my next challenge?
This year, I encountered some health issues in Q4 2019. It has been quite a setback for me. However, I’ve made a resolution to eat much healthier and to focus on rebuilding my strength.
I’ve also not worked out as much as I should. Over the past 5 years, my weight has increased by 5kg. My weight is now 52.5kg and two years ago, I was 48kg.
As my metabolism slows, working out becomes more important. A new gym just opened near my office so I will going there during lunch and aiming to do so twice a week.
While my first five years as a working adult has ended, I know that there is much more ahead of me.
I cannot guarantee that life will be smooth, or that I would always get what I planned to achieve.
What I have promised myself to do is to stay positive in adversity; focus on becoming a better person and focus on the things which I can control.
After all, life is a journey of continual growth. In describing the journey of life, Michelle Obama said something which I felt was really true:
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self.Michelle Obama, Becoming
The journey doesn’t end.”
How was your first few years as a working adult? What have you learnt?