50+ Year Old Singaporeans Reveal the 3 Major Career Mistakes They Wish They Hadn’t Made


Ryan Ong



You know, I used to run a career counseling service. But it didn’t take off. “That’s because your only career tactic was to become an investment banker before 1981.” Hey, I promised correct job information. Useful is another issue. Better take job advice from real veterans if that what’s you want:


Regret #1: Not Upgrading or Learning a New Skill Set

Raymond (not his real name) turned 52 recently. Although successful – his car is the size of my bedroom – he still has regrets.

From my 20s to my late 40s,” Raymond explains, “I used to work in the civil service. And to be fair ah, even then they always warned us to upgrade. But in my mind, upgrading was only to earn more pay. To get promotion. That’s all. I was happy, so I didn’t bother.

Then there came a time when I had some problems with my higher-ups. I couldn’t stand it, and I left. And in the private sector, I had to pay for my complacency.

In the ’90s it was a big deal that I was IT literate, can use Word and make Power Points. Today that is taken as a given. It never even appears on a resume anymore. And there was no employer that needed a very general skill set, which was what I had.”

But you got on your feet eventually?

Luck, I tell you. Pure luck. I had a family friend who started a business and hired me. And even then I struggled for the next seven or eight years, to learn a new trade from scratch.

If you think it is troublesome to learn something new when you are in your 30s, it is 10 times worse when you are 40 something.

For seven or eight years my pay was almost halved. Lucky my daughter already finished school, if not I would have died.  Seven years is a long time to be suffering. I deprived my family of a lot of things.

And I still regret it to this day. So much wasted time and pain. If I’d just studied a bit in my 20s or 30s, I would not have gone through hell. Those are years I will never get back. However much I earn now I cannot buy back that lost time.”

Any advice for young workers then?

If you want to study for another diploma, if you want to learn a new trade, do it now. Do it when you are young. If you want to wait, it will get harder. You will get more commitments as you grow older, and it is much harder to learn new things.

So don’t say you don’t have the time to do it now. If not now then when? Later will be even worse.

And don’t be complacent. Even if you think your job is an iron rice bowl, iron can still be broken. Nothing is guaranteed in this world. If you become redundant tomorrow, what can you do out there? If nothing, then you better get ready to learn the same lesson as me.”


Regret #2: Refusing to do New Things

Admittedly, Mark Seah will only be turning 50 in October. But he’s veteran enough – he’s worked in the same position for over 15 years.

I am not adaptable,” he says, “And when I am asked to take on something outside my job scope I get very nervous. I still remember, at one point, they were looking for someone to do sales operations – a new position in the company.

The job was to track the sales in different regions, talk to different sales directors, and find out which regions were doing the best. I was offered this position, and the salary was very big. About three times more than I’m earning now.

I turned it down. I said ‘I know what I’m good at, I don’t want to try a job where everything is so uncertain.’  And my boss actually told me, he said I was crazy. He told me he recommended me himself, because I was a good worker even if I wasn’t a perfect fit for that job.

But I just refused because it was outside my comfort zone. And now, so many years later, here I am still doing the same thing. And I really regret it.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had many opportunities to do new things. Every time the fear of not doing a good job, of stepping outside my comfort zone, stopped me from doing it. And only now, when it’s too late, I realise how much it has cost me.”

Ouch. Any tips for young workers?

When you are given the opportunity to do something new, just go and do it. Don’t be the one who’s always saying no-no-no all the time. Try to open your eyes and realise that your boss is giving you a push up the ladder.

Maybe you are afraid because it’s new, maybe you even feel angry because it’s extra work. But if you refuse, then next time when someone gets picked for promotion, don’t bother to complain. You were given the chance to shine, and you decided to stay comfortable instead.”


Regret #3: Chasing Money Instead of Accomplishments

Anne (not her real name) is a Personal Assistant, who’s intending to retire in two years. She’s finally taking the big plunge and taking up jewellery making, even if it means a big pay cut.

For much of my career, I looked at nothing except money and work-life balance,” Anne says, “But now toward the end of it, I feel quite sad. I have always had good bosses. And my job pays well while giving me a lot of free time, so maybe I a bit of a complainer. I admit that.

But after 30 years in the workforce, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. I haven’t run a company, I haven’t made a famous invention, I haven’t appeared in any magazines…it’s been a good job, but it feels hollow at the end of it. That’s why I finally decided to quit and do something with my life.”

Well, it’s also about the opportunities that are presented to us…

I think you have to make your own opportunities. You wait for them and they will never appear, or they will appear exactly when you are not in a position to seize them. And part of making your own opportunities means having a certain vision, a goal of what you want to accomplish.

And if you think about it, the accomplishments will lead to money on their own. If you do well, you get to set your price.”

Any advice for us youngsters?

If you chase money, you will end up with a mediocre amount of money and a mediocre life. Think if that’s where you want to be, once you’re 50.

If you chase accomplishments, you will probably be poor and suffering for a long time. But at least you would have made some difference in the world, did something that you can be admired for.”

Got any regrets in your job already? Comment and tell us what they are!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.

  • Chung Hoo Tham

    Business activities are seasonal now after influx of foreign Talent.
    1. Christmas times, Westerners who are top management and Philippines at ground level going home for holiday, most companies do not allow major activities during the seasonal holiday

    2. Chinese Lunar New Year, Chinese Nation and Malaysian who are in middle management return to their native home, business activities comes to a haul.

    3. March school holiday; Singaporean bring their families to South East Asia for holiday as it is more expensive to stay in Singapore

    4. May, Labour day and Vesak Day, married couples without children goes for long holiday as it is in low season charges, sales activities from young sales personnel like bank’s relationship manager and officer all comes to a haul

    5. end of May, Singaporean mothers took leave to study with their children

    6. June school holiday, Singapore families goes holiday and FT lecturers in Universities and Polytechnic goes back to their native home. All education related business comes to a haul.

    7 July and August, all military sales comes to a haul due to SAF Day Parade and National Day Parade.

    8. Sep school holiday ,Singaporean bring their families to South East Asia for holiday as it is more expensive to stay in Singapore

    9. OCT school examination , father and mother take leave to study with their children, hopefully they will becomes SAF or President scholar.

    10 Nov major business activates are plan to postpone either management are going on leave or no budget due to announces of companies revenue. But nobody takes the opportunity cost
    of low labour charges to expend their companies infra-structure. On the other hand, of course the material cost usually goes lower as technology advance as you wait for the right time to expand. You do need to strick a balance in your decision making.

  • Chung Hoo Tham

    During my childhood during the 70’s, I still remember only the first day of Chinese Lunar New Year, most activities comes to a haul. Our Singapore business was not seasonal as in today, the year of 2014


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