Reflections About Life in 2021

Christopher Tan

In the blink of an eye, 12 months flew past, and just like that, another year is coming to an end. How has the year been for you? For me, there were plenty of things to reflect upon. So, in my last article for the year, I would like to share some of my significant moments in 2021 as well as my reflections with all of you.

Health

Every year without fail, I will go for my health screen. Except for my usual high cholesterol reading, (which is probably genetic rather than lifestyle caused) my health is generally good. But in 2020, I was more tired than usual and many times breathless. Not wanting to take any chances, I went for a more thorough check-up in December 2020. Besides the normal health screening which included the usual blood tests, urine analysis, faecal examination, and stress ECG, I did a CT angiogram as suggested by my doctor. When the result came back in early 2021, I was discovered to have 2 uncalcified blockages in my heart (something the ECG will not be able to detect). While this is not serious at this stage, it needs to be monitored and I was referred to a cardiologist and have been following up with him the last 12 months. My bowel movements have not been good too and so I also did my gastroscopy and colonoscopy a few months ago and the gastroenterologist discovered 2 polyps in my colon and duly got rid of them. If this was not done, they can develop into ulcers which can be a precursor to cancer. These episodes not only reminded me not to take my health for granted but it reminded me of my mortality and made me sit down to really think about my life. I was also glad that I have bought my medical expenses insurance early. It gave me the financial peace of mind that if I ever need to be hospitalised or do a procedure like what I did, I have the option for the best medical care. I recently met a retired C-suite executive who was from an MNC. After he retired, he lost his comprehensive health insurance and is unable to buy a personal one for himself now because he is no longer insurable. We should not just rely on our corporate plans but buy a personal one as soon as we can.

Family

My father-in-law and mother are age 80 and 81 respectively. While my father-in-law, who was a vegetable-seller, has always been healthy, my mother, a homemaker all her life has chronic obstructive pulmonary (COPD). Unfortunately, my mother’s health took a turn for the worse this year and even though she still has the quality of life for now, we do not know when her condition will suddenly worsen. As for my father in-law, he was suddenly diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer about 4 months ago. By the time the cancer was discovered, it had spread to his lymph nodes and even near his windpipe. Over the last 4 months, I witnessed him suffering and withering to a point where he lost all quality of life. At the point of writing this article, my father-in-law has just passed on a few days ago. These incidences have once again reminded me that I have limited time with my parents. My parents (in-laws included) hardly inconvenient me. Because of their love for me, they allowed me to spend as much time as I need in my career to pursue my dreams. But many times, I take them for granted and think that they will always be around. The sudden death of my father-in-law (and the death of my father last year during the circuit breaker period) have reminded me that this is not so. I need to be intentional to carve out time to build memories with them, while they are still with me. I also experienced the importance of end-of-life as well as estate planning. Both my late father and father-in-law did estate planning via wills and CPF nominations. But while my late father did his advance care planning (ACP), my father-in-law did not. An ACP would have helped his healthcare team have a better understanding on the quality of life he expects and can act in his best interest. More importantly, the family can experience less stress, anxieties and clearer about the decisions to make.

Focus

I am already 51 years old this year and God willing, I may have another 30 years left on this earth. If I take away the last 10 years of my life, I probably only have another 20 active years left (statistically speaking, most people spend the last 8-10 years being sick and physically weak). 20 years is a very short time and I need to focus on what I can be best at, am most passionate about and can make the most impact to my family and society in this season of my life. So, in October this year and after spending 31 years in the army, I finally decided to retire from my national service to the nation. At about the same time, after much consideration, I also stepped down from my roles in MoneyOwl. This not just allowed me more time to focus on the work at Providend but have more time for family and it is also good for my health.

Growing up, I went to an unspectacular neighbourhood secondary school which was more famous for fighting than academic results. But I managed to do enough to go to Singapore Polytechnic and completed a Diploma in Electronics and Communications Engineering. But knowing that engineering was not my cup of tea, I subsequently supported myself to do a finance degree via a 3-year correspondence program and later a 4-year distance learning MBA. I knew from young that I was not academically smart. But I was willing to work harder than most people. So, I will read a lot and widely and attend as many personal development courses as I can to compensate for my lack of academic excellence. But nowadays, I only focus on attending those courses that are relevant to my life goals, one of which is to provide clarity and peace of mind to those who are planning for their estate and legacy matters. So, this year, I attended only 2 courses to deepen my knowledge in these areas – one in family office and another in international trust management. And just a few weeks ago, I attended a basic course in wines. Not only was it fun learning more about wines, but it was also relaxing for me as well, certainly something good for my mental health.

As I looked out of my window on an early Monday morning writing this piece, my mind was brought back to a conversation which I had with a friend who retired a few years ago from the corporate world. When I told him that he has more time to do what he wants to do, now that he is retired, he replied “No, Chris, I actually have lesser time left. I need to now focus on what I want to do with the remaining of my time left on this earth”. That to me is wisdom.

The writer, Christopher Tan, is Chief Executive Officer of Providend, Singapore’s first 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 Business Times on 21st December 2021.

For more related resources, check out:
1. Let Your Financial Decisions Enable Your Life Decision
2. What You Possess Does Not Define You
3. Conversation with Our Clients: Interview with Richard Hong (Part 2)


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