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3 Normal Singaporeans Whose Setbacks Resulted in Financial Success

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Joanne Poh

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Singaporeans are notorious for being terrified of failure. And no wonder, for a single botched exam can instantly place a whole bunch of career options out of reach—or at least many, many years away. While nobody would argue that Singaporeans aren’t resilient in a crisis, on an individual level personal failures are often considered very difficult to surmount.

It’s not unusual to hear talk about how someone has “ruined his life” by screwing up a major exam, or “wasted his potential” by turning down a high paying job in a lucrative industry. Still, look around you, and for every guy you find whining about that opportunity that got away, you meet another who managed to turn a setback into a financial blessing. Here are some real life stories.

 

Couldn’t get into uni and ended up making big bucks as a full time tutor

Yanling, a 31-year-old full-time tutor, is considered very affluent by Singaporean standards. She earns a five figure monthly income as a private tutor. Students come in droves to the HDB flat she shares with her parents. She bought her first car in her mid 20s and never looked back.

Things weren’t always looking that bright, though. After graduating from JC in 2002, she was left with an A level cert that would not get her in to any of the local unis (at the time there were only NUS, NTU and SMU). She started giving tuition full-time at 19 in order to bide her time while she decided what to do with her life. Her initial plan was to save up some money and then look to getting a degree overseas.

However, over the years, her tuition business grew as students referred their friends to her, and soon she found that the money was just too good to give up. It’s been 12 years, she still doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree and no longer has any plans to obtain one in the near future.

“I never expected or planned to become a full-time tutor for so many years. It’s been more than 10 years since I started. I have no plans to stop,” she says. “Tuition is hard work, but the pay can be very generous if you know how to organise your lessons. I earn more than most of my friends now and consider myself financially successful.”

 

Didn’t get into law school and became a bank executive instead

Marcus is a 31-year-old bank Vice President at a European bank based in Singapore. He earns a very decent salary that’s more than twice the median income in Singapore doing operations work. While his job isn’t entirely stress-free, he admits that operations work isn’t as hectic as front-office work. He has been in banking operations since he graduated with an arts degree from NUS and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Marcus got decent but not exceptional A level results. His initial plan was to go to law school in Australia or the UK, since he did not qualify for a place at the NUS law school. However, he realised he would have to take a huge loan to pay for it, and finally having done his sums decided he would be better off entering the working world.

Fast forward more than 5 years and he has done very well for himself as a banking professional.

When asked if he still plans to become a lawyer someday, he says, “I no longer have any desire to do law. I feel lucky that I was able to find a job that I like in an industry and company that pay well. Although it is hard to wake up for work in the morning sometimes, I love my life.”

 

Quit his job in frustration and changed his line of work

Like many finance grads in his cohort, 28-year-old Bernard jumped straight into a job with a  multinational bank upon graduation. The pay was decent but he found himself working very long hours with little fulfilment.

After working for two years, he quit his job. “I felt damn lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I didn’t want to go back to banking unless I really had no choice,” he says.

During a break of about a year during which time he lived off his savings, he brushed up on his web design, HTML and CSS skills and also picked up programming skills, studying and practising several hours a day. Fast forward to today and he’s working as a project manager and software engineer, commanding a higher salary than he was receiving in his previous entry level banking job.

Making the career switch was scary, especially as he picked up all the necessary skills on his own, but he has no regrets. “Just because you can’t find your dream job at the start doesn’t mean there is nothing out there for you. There is always a way out,” he says.

Have you ever bounced back from a career setback? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.