Rags to Riches – You could be one

We all love to hear rags to riches stories and we never get bored of them. They inspire and motivate us on the large possibilities in life, on overcoming adversities and on how it’s never just about luck, but about how to create that luck and opportunity for yourself.

I’ve got my own story to share.

It’s not mine, it’s my family’s and I wasn’t aware of the structure of the story until recently when my mom visited Singapore, on her regular visa extension stay.

It’s common for me and my mom to discuss on issues related to money, religion and society. She loves to save, she’s frugal, she’s a devout Muslim and while she doesn’t champion for causes for the society, she is very much aware of what happens and has had her own personal encounters through her network of friends and it was during one of our conversations on money that she shared with me this.

She told me that I must never forget where and how our family was in the past. At this juncture, the only memory I had when I was a kid was living in a 3-room HDB flat in Yishun, that was it. I knew we lived in Ang Mo Kio when I was too young to have any recollection of memories and that my parents used to rent a room when they were a newly married couple with my sister when she was a baby.

Little did I know that this is how the structure looked like.

Rented a Room > 1 Room Flat > 3 Room Flat > 4 Room Flat > 4 Room Flat > 3 Room Flat > 7ha of Land

Total time taken?

30 years

Yes, I know it took 30 years because when they got married, it had to be 5 years before I was born (1 Room Flat) and at the time when they moved back to my dad’s homeland, I was 25.

But this progression was equally tiring and painful as well for both my mom and dad.

My dad’s career progression:

Construction Worker > Diver > Sailor > Captain > Tug Master > Self declared retirement cum Property developer cum Entrepreneur

He came to Singapore as a 13 year old and began working as a construction worker with barely a P6 education. One of the few lessons my dad always taught me was to study hard and he would be there to study with me, especially in mathematics. He would make me memorize the multiplication table almost every night, after dinner when I was 8. 

If I got it wrong, I had to go memorize it again. He was good in maths and physics despite. That’s one thing I can’t deny and for someone with only a P6 education, he writes in manuscript. I always thought it was horrible handwriting because I could never read them. Little did I know, he was much better than me in handwriting.

He’s an inspiration for me and gives me hope knowing that if you work hard and continuously improve yourself and work towards your goal, you can get there. 

I mean, he would always tell me that growing up, the only clothes he had were the ones he was wearing. He’d wash them at night before he slept and wear them again in the morning, EVERY SINGLE DAY. If that’s not poor, I’m not sure what that is.

Mom on the other hand, had a totally different experience in her working life:

Clerk at ROMM > Homemaker cum Seamstress cum Entrepreneur

I don’t think she ever knew she was running a business from her own kitchen, taking in orders from people to sew clothes for them. She always had an eye for detail and focused a lot on building customer relationships, ensuring quality of clothes sewn exceeded expectations, always improving her designs through taking up challenging tasks and keeping the price affordable for customers yet enough to make profits to sustain the family.

She was, however, never enterprising enough for the bigger business because she is risk-adverse. 

Through my mom, I picked up everything I observed she did and applied it to myself and to my business, in how I decide to deal with people. An inspiration for me as well.

Two very different individuals, providing me with different sources of learning and inspiration.

Today, they live comfortably in the 7ha piece of land that my dad bought in his hometown where he grew up and he’s still working hard, for himself at least and now, I’m making him do a bit of work for me since he’s got so much free time on his hands. And my mom, she’s still taking in orders to sew and word of mouth just keeps getting better even at this age for her. 

I’m not sure if I could ever learn her nifty sewing skills but perhaps I should and put that into good use for my business as well since I’m doing handicraft work as well. 

Regardless, one thing remains.

What’s the story of your family?

Perhaps, if you dig deep enough and spend enough time talking to your parents, you might just discover some interesting things about your family’s history and have a better appreciation for your parents journey in life.

One thing I hope for now, is to be able to spend Hari Raya as a family again. We haven’t been able to do that for the past 4 years, ever since they moved overseas.

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