Let me tell you a story about my friend, a Malaysian who migrated to the San Francisco silicon valley.

I visited him in the Bay Area during my last trip to California. Let’s call him Tan, a Malaysian working at one of the hi-tech MNCs there. During our casual chit chat, I asked about his son. Let’s call the son Tan Junior, who is studying computer science at one of the best universities there. 

I voiced my thoughts that Tan Junior will have a great career working for the hi-tech companies in Silicon Valley. He can start with an internship in one of the well-known big tech companies there, get a high-pay job and pretty much all will be smooth sailing like what his dad has done. 

It has never crossed my mind that my spontaneous comment has sparked a thoughtful discussion. My friend Tan has a plan to inspire his son to achieve greatness. It has gotten me to contemplate the issue of parenting deeply.  

Tan said that he actually told his son “NOT To Get a Job”. 

“Why get a job? Why rely on stable pay?” 

Tan elaborated that nothing is unique about buying a decent car, purchasing a decent house and living the American dream. As the father, he has done all that. And his only son is going to inherit all the nice houses and cars one day. 

Therefore, Tan encourages his son to pursue the next stage. His junior should venture into something more significant. He can start a business or join a tech startup

Tan added, “Use my car, stay in my house. We can feed you—no worries about that. Just start up something! Be bold! We will assist you in achieving new heights, something that we haven’t achieved yet!”

That’s a very motivating speech!

Come to think of it. Tan has made a great point!

That’s how we actually achieved what we have today, isn’t it?

We are HERE Because of What Our Parents Prepared for Us

My parents were not highly educated. They never had the chance to do so. My father studied until Primary School Standard Three and left school to support his siblings and single mother. Meanwhile, my mother got to Standard Four, and she was one of the top students in her class when she stopped. But in her family, females didn’t get to study. Consequently, both my parents worked full time before ten years old due to poverty. 

My parents understand that they missed many opportunities because they didn’t complete formal education. So in their mind, they have to make a difference for the next generation — my siblings and me. Education is our way out of the hard life they endured.

One of their best decisions was to move the family from a small village 15km east of Baling to Sungai Petani. There, I got to study in a reputable public school. No matter how hard life was, my mother told me that the most important thing for me to accomplish at that time was to get a good grade. So I could get into a university and be a knowledge worker. I would have a much easier life working in offices rather than in the jungle, like my father, who was a lumberjack

I remembered that sometimes when I helped her with some house chores, she would take over and ask me to focus on my study instead. Therefore, I got a conducive environment to study hard and got good grades. I might be the only student in my school who scored 10A in SPM without any extra tuition classes. Making my parents proud is one thing. But because of the groundwork that they laid for us, plus their sacrifice, I get to live a good life that they have never been able to. 

I think that if they had had a different mindset, my life could be totally different. Imagine if they thought, “My life was tough, and I wanted you to go through the same hardship. You shouldn’t have an easy life. Why should I spend my savings on your piano lessons? If you don’t spend my money, I have more for vacations. I get to have the things I want.”

Luckily they are not like that.

I am fortunate that my parents have a growth mindset, and they are great role models. They sacrifice themselves for the next generation. So we can do better than them.

What should we be doing so our next generation can get THERE?

Now my son is a teenage boy. He is our only son, and one day, he will also inherit a portion of our wealth if we don’t spend it all in our lifetime. The conversation with Tan also got me thinking about whether we are preparing our son well to cope with the future. 

Pulling out Buffett’s quote here:

Leave the children enough so that they can do anything, but not enough that they can do nothing. 

~Warrren Buffett

The more I think about it, I guess I shouldn’t be content to prepare him just the bare minimum. As parents, we definitely want to see him achieve more success than we do. If you aspire to start a business, do one bigger than mine. If you’re going to be a musician, put in the 10,000 hours of required practice to achieve excellence! If you desire to be a fund manager, we’ll also support you wholeheartedly.  

I discussed this with my wife, and we came to a consensus that he should have the freedom to pursue what he values in life. He might not have the aspiration to be an entrepreneur. So that’s fine with us too. We just want him to be happy, take control of his life, and dictate his own destiny.

I said to him “Bear in mind that we are here to support you to achieve what you set your mind to. I will lay the groundwork for you.”

This reminded me of what Jeff Bezos said about starting Blue Origin, the space tourism company. We need to go to space because the earth seems big, but it is finite. However, someone has to lay the groundwork for efficient space travel. 

Bezos started Amazon in 1994. All of the heavy-lifting infrastructure needed for Amazon to exist was already in place. They did not have to build a transportation system to deliver packages. It existed already because of the US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx. Amazon got to stand on top of that infrastructure. 

Similarly, we won’t have Google and Facebook if nobody invests in the internet infrastructure. 

We are here today because our ancestors laid the groundwork for us. And we should also prepare the foundation so the next generation can stand on top of our shoulders, achieving the next level of greatness!

Before you have billions of dollars required to solve humanity’s biggest challenge, isn’t it just a simple idea to start from your family?

Big things start small. Do what’s necessary now so your children can be better than you!


KCLau
KCLau

Personal finance author and trainer

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