IMPACT 0307: REFINED BY THE PAST: FINDING SUCCESS AND FINANCIAL FREEDOM
Michelle Lee, 31, widely known as @askmichellelee on Instagram, is a finance influencer and founder of Legacy Edge. She has been in the financial advisory field for more than 10 years and was recently awarded Financial Adviser of the Year during the 6th Asia Trusted Life Agents & Advisers Awards 2021. She was chosen for her initiatives to empower women using her financial knowledge, and for striving towards greater economic and social equality. She is also an awardee of the Singapore Young Entrepreneur for dedicating time, effort and resources to social initiatives.
Her tough childhood made her hungry for success and she has sought to give back to society in her free time by volunteering and creating content to encourage people to achieve “FIRE”, which stands for “financial independence, retire early”. She is a financial wellness advocate and believes that financial freedom is not just based on monetary terms. She shares some wisdom that she has learned during her journey.
Coming from a low-income family whose parents are not highly educated, I was taught to study hard and excel in my examinations so that I could get into good schools and if possible, win a scholarship. I grew up thinking that academic achievements was the key to a success life.
I had my first setback in life when I retained in junior college and had to repeat another year. It was demoralising and embarrassing to be labelled as a “retainee” by the people around me. I felt like a failure. Soon, I fell into depression thinking it was the end of my life – after all, I was taught that academic achievements was the only route to success.
This changed when one day I picked up a book titled “Millionaire Women Next Door” by Dr. Thomas J. Stanley. I read and studied the characteristics and habits of women who had found the key to success. I was inspired and realised that “earners” are readers and learners for life. Don’t let your grades define you. Don’t study for the sake of getting good results. Imagine yourself as a computer and the books you read are firmware upgrades to your brain. Acquire knowledge and skills by reading at least 10 books a year because then you will become irreplaceable.
Have an end in mind
“What do you want to become when you grow up?”
That was a question my dad asked me all the time. My answers would always change because I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to be rich and have a lot of money because I came from an underprivileged family. However, I realised I wasn’t happy with all the money I did eventually acquire, so I kept searching and I finally learnt to focus on my purpose, vision, and mission. I feel so much more fulfilled now that I have embarked on my journey to empower women through their finances, by advocating for financial wellness.
Clarity is one of the keys to success. When people fear the future, it is because they lack clarity and vision. Write down what is most important to you, set clear goals and always have a strong purpose in whatever you do.
Always give back
I have been a recipient of all kinds of financial assistance available, which has been helpful to my family of six as I lost my father at the young age of 14. It was not easy for my mother to bring up four young children single-handedly, and the financial aid helped lift the burden on my mother’s shoulder. Because of this, my motivation in life is to give back to society by helping the underprivileged.
In the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “You make a living from what you get. You make a life by what you give.” I choose to give my time and resources to meaningful causes by volunteering regularly.
Volunteering does not involve financial returns because it is priceless. You will understand that it is a blessing to give, and you can use your talents to bless others. From this experience, I recall how I have benefited from the generosity of anonymous sponsors and kind donors, and I wish to continue paying it forward.
Be grateful at all times
It is easy to be grateful in the good times. But what about bad times? Life is never made to be smooth sailing, it’s like a rollercoaster ride, full of ups and downs. When bad things happen to me, I shift my mindset and ask myself: “What is the worst that can happen?” and “Will this matter one year later?”
As the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I have learnt to be grateful and acknowledge that things can be worse. Therefore, I am thankful for the little things in life even when things don’t go my way. Remember, whatever you focus on, expands. If you focus on the right things in life, it will expand.
Learn to focus on the good things happening in life and accept that bad thing in life are like fertilisers to our souls. Bad things happen to make us better and stronger problem solvers. Don’t give up and always give thanks for the good things happening in your life. Keep a gratitude journal and list down three things that made you grateful today, it will motivate you and keep your spirits high.
Keep failing forward
You must be thinking that I must be crazy to encourage you to keep failing. However, that’s the story of my life. In our society, failures are frowned upon. People feel lousy after failing and sadly, some just give up after a failure. To me, failure is the mother of success. When you fail, it means that you have been trying and have discovered ways that don’t work. It is an experience gained. I learnt to embrace failure from the day I failed my promotional exams. I celebrate my failures and tell myself that I am now one step closer to my success.
I have failed multiple times in my life – in my studies, in my business. I have used these failures as motivation to succeed. Always remind yourself that it is alright to fail, as long as you move forward and do not give up!
Greatness comes from difficult situations
I have to say that I am grateful for all the setbacks and difficult moments in my life. My life circumstances forced me out of my comfort zone. My childhood environment was filled with money worries and extremely difficult times with my mother, who struggles with her mental health. I was bitter about my life as I did not choose to be born into this family. But today, I give credit to the tough life that was given to me. The difficult moments shaped me to become mentally stronger and resourceful in life.
I started working at the age of 15, to make money for my family and pay for my education. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and I learned to take full responsibility for my life. I took up multiple part-time jobs from selling ice cream door-to-door, to doing the graveyard shift as a warehouse stock taker. I was able to save $10,000 in one year with the hard work, which meant I could provide for my family.
Responsibility and hard work are often avoided. Even when we face difficult times, we can become great. Our lives are transformed when we face challenges and take on difficult responsibilities. Think of a diamond as a piece of coal placed under immense pressure. What results in, is something more valuable and beautiful.
You are the sum of the company you keep
When it comes to friendships, I have learnt that it is important to choose quality over quantity. The people around us have a certain influence over our decisions, therefore, choose your advisors well. Finding people with integrity and strong values can be challenging. Appreciate them when you find them. Be invested in them. Stand up for them. Love them. Regardless of disagreements or differences along the way, always choose loyalty. Without loyalty, there is no connection between people, and relationships do not survive.
We are driven by our values and beliefs system; thus, it is important to find friends who align with your beliefs in life. Choose wisely. I am thankful I have friends who support my goals and encourage my growth. We empower each other to become better versions of ourselves.
Invest in yourself
You are your greatest asset. There is nothing more important than your own well-being. As the eldest in my family, I was taught to take care of others first. Many times, I have neglected my own well-being so that I could take care of people around me. This resulted in a lot of unhappiness in me. I neglected my health to make more money. I spent on others to make them happy and often forgot about myself.
I learnt to focus on my own mental and physical well-being so that I can have more energy and strength to serve others. I learnt to invest in my own self-development by setting aside at least $6,000 a year on courses so that I can grow to become a better version of myself and use my knowledge to help people around me.
Stick to your beliefs
I can understand how it feels when you share a new idea with the people around you and they try to convince you how it will not work. This is why I emphasise that you choose your company wisely. However, it is still inevitable that there will always be people who do not agree with you.
When I first started my financial advisory business more than 10 years ago, many people advised me against it as they say it is a sunset industry, they told me that it would be difficult to succeed and told me to choose something easier instead. My answer will always be “success is never going to be easy.”
The easiest thing to do in life is to be mediocre; if you want to be great, you need to put in the hard work and have strong beliefs in what you choose. Promise to stick to it no matter what. I stood by my belief that I wanted to do well in my chosen career path and envisioned that I would impact many lives.
Multiply your wealth
It is easy to keep working and saving up for your future mindlessly. Sit down and reflect on what you are working so hard for. Are you working because you are passionate about your job? If you say you are passionate about your job, let me ask you: would you still do it if you earned nothing from it? If your answer is no, then it is not a passion, and the real reason is that you are working for the money.
However, we will one day grow old and lack the energy to continue working. We might not even have the energy to enjoy life when we reach our retirement age! Therefore, I learnt to multiply my wealth by investing over the years, tapping onto the power of compounding interest. Having more wealth means that you have more freedom to choose whatever you want in life.
You cannot grow money on trees, but you can use money to grow money. Learn to invest regularly and wisely – if you need guidance, get professional assistance and you will reap great returns in the long run. Your older self will thank you for making the decision to start investing early.