Breaking Radio Silence

It’s the week of mourning for the foremost of our founding fathers, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Although I had previously expected to be quite unemotional when the time came, I surprised myself by being rather teary-eyed for most of this week.

I’m not going to attempt a tribute post here, because I think what needs to be said has already been said by many others, and in a far better way then I ever could. I admire his genius immensely, and my political views run along very similar lines. While I don’t agree with everything he has ever done, I do respect his “make-no-apology” attitude.

When it comes to the building of my beloved country, however, I am always cognizant of the fact that it was a team effort, and there were some really talented and upstanding men in the founding group. I don’t think Singapore would have been what she is today without any of them (In fact, my sympathies have always lain with Dr Goh Keng Swee, all-rounder superman). I think most of my emotions this week were more to do with the fact that Mr Lee was the last of them, rather than any feeling of gratitude to Mr Lee personally.

Anyway, rest in peace, sir. And I wouldn’t mind if you would keep your promise to rise again if you see anything going wrong with Singapore.

Really.

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Support A Business Through Unnecessary Luxury Spending?

Conscious spending is one of the cornerstones to wealth, and I’ve been trying to practice it ever since I got the gospel that is financial independence. I’ve been reasonably good at cutting things out that I don’t care for, but lately I’ve been running into a problem.

I had a facial contract with a boutique spa for a couple of years due to some long running skin problems. Having monthly facials had improved a little but never really solved my skin problems. However, since getting onto a certain hormonal medication for other problems, my skin issues have more or less disappeared. Hence I have been ruthlessly cutting down on the frequency of my spa visits, and decided to completely stop once I used up my contracted visits.

I finished up all my visits a couple of months ago, and have not renewed. Yay for me?

The thing is, my last visit coincided with the laying off of my facial therapist, as the spa is being taken over by a new owner. This therapist has serviced me for as long as I have had the contract with the spa, and have been doing a fantastic job all this time, frequently going above and beyond what she needed to do, just so I could have a pleasant and useful visit.

Since being laid off, she has decided to open her own facial lounge with an ex-colleague of hers, and has called on me to support her in her endeavour. She has been calling quite frequently, as I understand that she has trouble getting enough customers at the start of her business. I have a soft spot for entrepreneurs like her, because I’m a child of entrepreneurs who used to be in similar straits. I am where I am today partly due to various kind people who supported my parents with their custom when the family business needed them, and I feel that I should pay it forward.

But also, I’m kind of conflicted.

Supporting mom-and-pop shops when you have to get something you need anyway is one thing. But what happens when you have decided that an item or service no longer adds value to your life, but another person, especially one you care about, needs to offer it to earn a living? Furthermore, the cost is something I can afford to spend, just that the service no longer fits with my needs and values.

Some people in real life have advised that I consider the cost of supporting my therapist’s new business as charitable contributions, but for my part, I find that extremely insulting to the person offering the service. I just can’t see it that way, and I don’t believe any entrepreneur wants to be seen that way.

I have finally decided to see the therapist just before Chinese New Year and get a facial done. New year, new face. I haven’t decided if I will sign up for a bigger long term facial package with her yet.

What will you do in such a situation? How far will you go in supporting a business that is superfluous to your preferred lifestyle?

Cronyism – Bad Word?

Cronyism as a bad word for many people.

Cronyism is the partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to
positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications.

Say you have been tasked to swop in and rescue a project that another group had messed up. This is a group of really intelligent, experienced and qualified people who may have made some mistakes. You’ve saved projects before, and you definitely have got the ideas to save this particular one. Heck, you even know exactly how you need to implement your ideas. You just need someone to do it.

The problem with this group of really intelligent, experienced and qualified people is that they are really intelligent, experienced and qualified. Since they are, they want to be the ones to make decisions. They don’t want to follow instructions. They also don’t think your ideas will work. Actually they don’t want your ideas to work so they don’t have to admit they messed up. They are more interested in messing things up further trying to prove to you and your bosses that they didn’t really mess up.

But you don’t have time to bring them round to your way of thinking. A single day’s delay on the project costs the company $50,000 in damages. So, you bring in your good friends in the company, people who are not as intelligent, experienced and qualified. Heck, some of your friends are just drones who can’t form an independent thought to save their lives. But you have chemistry with these people. They know what you want before you want it. You know they will do what you say without question, even if they don’t agree with you at that moment. They trust you to know what you are doing, and you trust them to get your back. You don’t need more ideas, you just need someone willing to do the work without making you jump through hoops to convince them. So you put them in the key positions, and get the work done. And that is enough to save the day.

The project is rescued and your team of good friends gets rewarded with bonuses and some promotions. “It’s just cronyism,” the really intelligent, experienced and qualified people say.

See, I was that “crony” for many, many years. And I’ve always asked, “How do you define qualifications?”

I’ve since learnt:

1)      Team work works, but not just any team.

2)      Good people-to-people chemistry can trump individual intelligence, experience and qualifications, or what some people term collectively as “merit”.

3)      Because of 2), you don’t form an A-team just by putting all the most intelligent or most hardworking people in the same team.

4)      Because of 2) and 3), A-teams can look like “cronies” nest to people who don’t understand the process.

I can understand people who practice cronyism, even politicians. Who wouldn’t want someone they trust at their backs?  And if you ask most people, they would admit to preferring to work with friends who might not be the best workers, but who are loyal to them, rather than really clever frenemies who would back-stab them given the first opportunity. But when someone else actually does it, it’s a morally bad thing?

Also, sometimes, those in really critical positions don’t get second chances if they messed up. Why take a chance on the unknown if you already have a team that you know will definitely work out, even if they aren’t the most qualified people in the vicinity?

Sure cronyism can lead to bad endings. But that isn’t because cronyism is bad. Blame the people, not the process. Ultimately, cronyism is just a neutral process. It depends on the people who practice it.

And if you are ever faced with cronyism in your workplace, maybe you need to first ask yourself if you are one of the “really intelligent, experienced and qualified” people, before you judge.

On Inheritances and Entitlement

I know that most people hold the view that our parents’ money is theirs to spend. If they choose to give money gifts to one child and not to the other, then it is their prerogative. People have been called entitled when they dared to express unhappiness at any inequitable distribution (for equitable circumstances).

Note: I use equitable as opposed to equal to take into account stuff like financial and non-financial contribution towards the family and parents.

Personally, my sympathies lie mostly with the shortchanged party, because it is easy to imagine myself in their shoes.

It is highly likely that I will receive an inheritance from my parents when they pass on, probably to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars.

I am not demanding that my parents give me this inheritance. If they want to give it all to charity, by all means. I will not harbour any ill feelings. In this case, I am not entitled to their money.

However, if there is to be an inheritance, whatever the amount, I expect that it will be equitably divided between my sister and I. If it should be otherwise, I think I will feel a hurt that will be very hard to assuage. I may not be entitled to their money, but I think I should be able to feel entitled to feeling that they valued me the same way they valued my sister.

To put it another way – It is not about the money. It is about the message being sent via the distribution of it as well the feelings this message engender in consequence.

If there is an inequitable distribution…why? What message am I to take from that? Is it me? Did I do something wrong? Do my parents love me less after all? Am I not as good as my sibling?

It is one thing if parents spend all their money and leave nothing, or if leave their assets completely to external third parties, and all the children receive the same – nothing.

But under circumstances where there is an inequitable distribution, are children also obliged to have no feelings on that? Is it really an entitled attitude to expect to be treated equitably among siblings? Is it really unreasonable for us, as children, not to harbour feelings of hurt when we feel treated unfairly?

If you had children, would you find it reasonable to give one child a large Christmas present and another nothing at all? Would you tell said child “I feed you and cloth you, and send you to school, but you are not entitled to Christmas presents. That’s my money to spend the way I want, and if I want to give your brother and not you a Christmas present, that’s what I will do, and it is entitled of you to feel hurt over it” and expected the child to be okay with it?

I like to think it doesn’t matter if one child is an upstanding citizen earning hundred of thousands a year, and the other is a deadbeat loser. Parents give the same to both, and the message is “I love you both equally, regardless of your faults or virtues.”

That is the message I hope to receive from my parents and I don’t think that is entitled.

Random Stuff

Once again, some random thoughts/rants that do not a full post make:

1)      Writing an instruction manual is an exercise in stupidity. Or rather, writing the warnings portion. We think, “Bah, no one will be so lacking in common sense as to do that.” And then we talk to the service people, and find out that people did that and more. It is one of those things that are simultaneously entertaining and torturous – coming up with ways people can use your product stupidly. Almost on par with working in technical call-centers, I think.

2)      I had one general manager of a partner company send a brand new marketing executive (with no technical background) to our highly technical engineering discussion the other day to take notes for her department, because all her engineers were not available. Why she would assume that some fresh graduate with no technical background would be able to follow a highly technical discussion and take meaningful notes is beyond me. Why didn’t she just ask us for our file notes? While most engineers may not have good writing skills, I am sure it beats the blank pages that the marketing executive ended up with.

3)      Once again, I have been told that I don’t know what I am missing regarding something I have not experienced. This has always been a source of puzzlement for me. Sure, I don’t know what I am missing. If I don’t know what I am missing, then I am surely not missing it. In fact, I don’t even think about it. It has no impact on my life. I am already so busy trying to get on the wagon with the things that I know I am missing, why should I mourn something that I don’t know?

4)      Actually, I have been also been told that I don’t know what I am missing when it comes to something I have experienced. And I get even more confused. Such as when I tell people I don’t drink alcohol, or eat seafood. I don’t drink alcohol or eat seafood because I don’t like the taste and texture of these items. And I know I don’t like the taste and texture because I have tried them before. So I know what I am missing but the thing is I don’t miss them. So, your point again?

5)      HR wants my boss to tell one of our subordinates that her dressing is inappropriate. My boss thinks I should be the one to do it, because I am a woman and it will come better from me. Seriously? No, thanks. Especially when the lady in question is a lot better looking than I. I don’t want to be known as that bitch. I especially don’t want to be known as that jealous bitch.

Life Insurance Advice From Young People

I pay about $700 a month for a $300,000 whole life insurance coverage.

My whole life insurance is especially expensive because I am on a limited pay version, i.e., I pay this premium only for 15 years and then I am done. I get covered for life after that. I also have critical illness cover with that.

Whether the whole life and the limited pay version was financially a good idea, I cannot really say with certainty even now. I was in a very different financial and personal stage of life ten years ago, and the purchase made sense. Even at this point, I can see some benefits to me even though having to fork out $700 a month quite severely restricts my cash flow, so I cannot really regret it.

But what I really wanted to say was this:

I do not think 20-something, healthy and single people should be giving advice to their peers regarding not getting life insurance just for the reason that they are all young and healthy and have no dependents at that point in time. That advice is too fraught with the bias of youth and health to be truly neutral.

I can say this because I am 34 years old today, and due to serious health problems a couple of years back, I am not eligible to many types of insurance today. If I decide to up and have a kid tomorrow, my poor kid would up the creek without a paddle if something happens to me. That is, if I hadn’t gone and spent money on life insurance ten years ago when I was much younger and healthier.

So, by all means, discuss the pros and cons of various life insurance or other insurance packages. Bash whole life insurance to death if you want. Get cheaper packages if you can.  But if your instinct is to tell other young people not to get life insurance of any kind, at least wait until life has had a chance to get its claws into you before saying anything.

It is not called LIFE insurance for nothing.