To Live the Good Life, Make Life Decision First Before Wealth Decisions

Christopher Tan

Jane “Nightbirde” Marczewski, a singing contestant on this season of America’s Got Talent (AGT) took the internet by storm last week when she sang an original song called “It’s ok”. The audition reached 15 million views in 3 days. Jane has cancer in her spine, lungs and liver and has only 2 % chance of survival. But most importantly, she sang beautifully, and the words of her song touched many souls. The past few weeks, I have been feeling down, tired, stressed out and as a result, could not breathe properly. After I spoke in a webinar last Wednesday evening, one of our clients asked my colleague whether I was feeling alright. She noticed. The next morning, I watched Jane sang, and I broke. Over the next few days, I kept watching various AGT’s videos and simply allowed my emotions to flow. Why did I feel this way?

I started my career in financial services back in the 90s with an insurance company. In less than a year, I had already qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table (a much-coveted title in the industry). I was also second top rookie in the company. Over the next 2 years, I won a lot of awards, went for numerous incentive trips, and most importantly, made a lot of money. But I was not happy at all. This was because I could not do what I believe to be the way wealth planning should be done. So, I left the insurance industry after just 3 years and started out on my own. A few of my colleagues from the same insurance company did the same. They gave up a good compensation and joined me.

When we first started Providend, we were very young. I was only 31 years old, full of energy, naïve but very purpose driven. We wanted to change the way wealth advice is given. Not just in terms of how the advice is being dished out but also how we are paid for the services rendered. Providend then became Singapore’s first wealth advisory firm that does not take commissions, be it insurance or investment’s trailer commissions. For almost 20 years, building a firm that gives better advice was my single focus. In the initial years, just like any startups, life was tough. We took home little pay. But our families adjusted our lifestyle to support our purpose and were happy. Today, the investment assets that we are managing for our clients have grown exponentially and life has gotten much better, at least financially. But ironically, I am less happy. I have become involved in so many things and in the busyness of my life, while keeping my eyes on the business mission, I have forgotten my mandate. I have been tired out by the activities, easily frustrated, and lost my sense of purpose. So, when I watched Jane and the other AGT’s contestants sang last week, I broke down because each one of them had a story. They had a purpose and showed the passion in doing what they went to AGT to do. I became emotional because they reminded me of my mandate and how I have forgotten it. So, I made some decisions over the weekend and while these decisions may cause me to have to make some adjustments to my life again, I know it will help me find myself again and make me and the people around me, happier.

What has my story got to do with wealth? In their book, Repacking Your Bags, Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro defined the good life as “living in the place you belong, with people you love, doing the right work, on purpose.” We will notice that wealth is never mentioned in their definition. However, we would be bluffing ourselves if we believe that wealth has got nothing to do with living a good life. The question really is, which comes first? Must you have wealth first to live the good life as defined by the 2 authors? My conviction is that we must first purposefully decide the place (country, city, town, types of houses, etc.) that we want to live in that will make us feel belonged. We need to honestly ask ourselves who are the people whom we will love to live with and decide the right work that we want to do. Only after we have done that, then can we begin to make wealth decisions to enable this good life. The wealth decisions may mean that we need to accumulate more. But sometimes, it could also mean deciding to simplify or declutter our lives to spend less. Many times, we may even discover that we already have enough today to live the good life. In short, it is about first making a life decision before enabling that life decision with wealth decisions.

But if making a life decision first is so important, why do many people focus on wealth decisions first? I suspect this is because it is not easy to make a life decision on your own and not many wealth advisers are trained to guide the conversations. You see, the conversations are not just about when you want to retire, what you want to do in retirement and how much you need in retirement. It is not just about where you want to send your children for university education and how much you need to make that happen. It is also not just about what you want to leave behind for your loved ones when you passed on. A life decision is not just about how you want your life to be tomorrow but also today. It also goes beyond financial needs. It is about knowing your core values, your motivations and purpose in life. Many of our clients are surprised with the outcome of these conversations and the kind of wealth decisions they need to make become very clear after that.

Where are you now in your life? What does money mean to you? Are you like me, busy with the daily activities, earning a good living but not living the good life? Do take some time off during this season to clarify your intentions and take stock of your financials to have better clarity.

There was one more thing that moved me as I watched Jane “Nightbirde” Marczewski sang. If Jane does not survive cancer, she will die leaving behind a legacy of being an inspiration to millions of people around the world. But the judges (specifically Simon Cowell), they made a difference in this lifetime for her by giving her the “golden buzzer”, an act that sent her straight to the live shows without having to clear the next round. It was a simple act, but one that only the judges have the power and the opportunity to do. We all have our circle of influence. What is the one act that you can do to make a difference to someone’s life?

I was initially hesitant to share my raw emotions on a national newspaper like this. But if this sharing of mine can make a difference to your life during this pandemic, then I would have been a step closer to fulfilling my mandate.

The writer, Christopher Tan, is Chief Executive Officer of Providend, a Fee-Only Wealth Advisory Firm and author of the book “Money Wisdom: Simple Truths for Financial Wellness”.

The edited version of this article has been published in the Money Wisdom Column of The Business Times Weekend on 19th June 2021.

For more related resources, check out:
1. The Providend Conversation: Living the Good Life with Loo Cheng Chuan
2. RetireWell Part 8: Purpose-Driven Retirement Planning
3. Let Your Financial Decisions Enable Your Life Decision

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