Parents want the best for us.
They give us advice hoping we won’t make the same mistakes they did.
My dad once told me, ‘Never look down on people because they are uneducated. They can teach you things you cannot find in textbooks.’
He was trying to tell me that there is something to learn something from everyone I meet.
It’s one of the best advice I ever got.
Being open to learning from anyone, even a 2-year old, has given me many business and personal opportunities I would have otherwise missed.
But not all the advice my parents give me would be as useful.
As children of the post-Japanese occupation Malaysia, my parents experienced hardships that I cannot even imagine.
I know they mean well when they advise me. They don’t me to go hungry like they did.
However, the world today is very different from the one they grew into 20 years ago. It was a world without YouTube, fast fashion and globalisation.
So though they may mean well, a portion of their advice can be outdated enough to hinder our progress.
Here are three that I think you should ignore:
‘Study hard and you will have a better life than me.’
If you are Asian, your parents might have given you the same advice.
As a high school kid whose family went bankrupt young, I saw education as my way out of my family’s financial problems.
Working 12 – 14 hours a day, I became the best in school: #1 throughout my entire high school and then top 3 in pre-U and college.
But just two year before I graduated college, I found out that I had made a big mistake: being the best in academics alone was not enough.
As a year three student, two things became clear to me:
Graduating from even the best colleges in the world would not guarantee you a good, stable job.
From online news, I found out that many smart, ambitious graduates in the US found their degrees useless.
Many graduates of prestigious law schools all over the world could not find jobs as lawyers, or even if they did, their pay checks did not justify the high cost of getting the degree.
As a Malaysian, I realised that it was only a matter of time before the same thing happened here. (Actually, unbeknownst to me, it was already happening.)
The new world required new skills you cannot learn in college.
And I learned none of them in college.
Skills like marketing, sales, customer service, digital product development – I had never heard of any of them in college but as I saw it, they were becoming increasingly important for the new world.
Great academic achievements pale in comparison to skills that can help companies generate revenues with low investment.
College textbooks and syllabuses are slow to include these new skills into their curriculum.
I don’t blame them. Information and skills get updated so quickly that no college that runs on conventional protocols can catch up.
The alternative: The good news is that you can learn most of the new skills you need online. They are either free or cost you a small amount of money.
But learning new skills is only 50% of the journey. To become good at it, you need to apply your skills in real life situations. You can do it using two routes:
The first is to work for a small company with limited manpower that is selling a product or service that you think is pretty good. Help them with their product development or marketing.
Because the team is so small, everything you do (or don’t do) will move the scale on the company. This is the best way for you to see if your skills contribute to results.
Caution: If you wish to join a big company, be extra vigorous about measuring the results of your work. It can be easy to become dependent on other people to do the work while you sit back and watch.
“When you have a stable income, invest in a house.”
The idea of generating a passive income through property investment is a no brainer: put a 10% deposit on homes and rent them out for a higher price than your monthly mortgage payments.
Voila. Passive income.
Or so you think.
The reality of this model is one that is much less intriguing. There are two problems with this income model:
Your mortgage is only one of the costs of owning a house.
When considering this model, many fail to take into account the additional costs of home ownership.
This includes maintenance costs like painting, repairs and annual property tax.
All these costs can cost more than the rent you receive from your tenant.
If you are not careful with accounting your costs of ownership, you may make a loss on the properties you own.
Too many people trying to make money using the property investment method.
Property investment as a way of generating passive income has become mainstream in Malaysia.
Hundreds of seminar by popular investment gurus are held every year, producing more and more people who want to buy properties.
In response to this demand, developers build more and more houses.
As houses are built without considering actual demand for housing, the number of houses begin to exceed the number of people who actually want to, or can afford to live in them.
This is the start of a housing bubble.
With less people renting, more and more houses become vacant, reducing their market prices.
At this point, people who have invested in property using loans will feel the pinch: they have to pay for an empty house they do not live in.
So instead of making money as they imagined they would, they instead have to fork out money from other areas to pay for their idle property.
The alternative: The best thing to do when you have a stable income is to invest in yourself.
By investing in yourself, you will build in you resources and a sense of resourcefulness that will allow you to find opportunities in any situation. Even bad ones.
The (best) investment in myself—and I don’t say that lightly. Even Warren Buffett says that the greatest investment you can make is to improve your own skill sets because you are the one asset that will grow geometrically if you grow personally.
Learn skills that will make you indispensable no matter what the economy is like.
“Wait for instructions first before taking action. This way you will not make any mistakes.”
In school, you learned that following instructions will get you higher grades than coming up with your own answer.
When you follow instructions – write your answers this way to get an A, use key words from the marking scheme – you score.
When you score, your parents praise you and tell your relatives about your academic achievements. You feel proud.
The idea that success is a result of following instructions wires itself into your mind.
Even after you leave school, your mind looks for instructions. ‘How do I become a star employee at this firm? Is there a guideline I can use?’
‘How do I make sure I have a fulfilling life? Is there a book I can read?’
The truth is that life outside academia is not straightforward. No single set of instructions can help you answer the questions you have.
The reason is this: instructions are written based on experience.
Unlike school where everyone takes the same exam, the likelihood that you will experience the same exact life as another person is miniscule.
So even if a successful person you admire were to write down every single step of her journey to success, you would not be able to repeat the same success.
The alternative: The only reason why instructions matter to you is because you are afraid of making mistakes.
The inconvenient truth is failures precede success because failure teaches you lessons that no instructions can.
If you become too afraid of moving without clear instructions, your life will stall and you will see all your dreams vaporise in front of you.
Prevent that by being bold and take action even when you feel afraid. Feeling afraid is not a sign that you should stop. It is a natural response to doing something new.
Comfort, though it makes you feel relaxed, can hold you back from your reaching your full potential.
Fear is normal, comfort is fatal.
There may be proven paths to be a successful lawyer, doctor or engineer.
Your parents may encourage you to follow these paths. However, take caution as the routes to success are never stagnant. It may be better to do nothing than follow an outdated path that leads to self-destruction.
Our parents may mean well, but not all of their advice are applicable today. Because of how they grew up, our parents can become blind to the changes that have happened since they were our age.
Listen to your parents when they give you caution, but never listen blindly. Put their advice against the current circumstances and check if it is still applicable.
You are the one to blame if you follow outdated advice because you did not do your due diligence of checking.