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Zen Lessons for Investing Wisely

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What is “zen personal finance”? Is it a new-age thing? Is it a type of meditation? Is it a new way of looking at our personal finances?

It might be none of those things, or it might be all of those things and more!

Now that I’ve been out on my own for a while, I’ve had some more time to think and reflect on what I want out of life, and on what personal finance means to me. This post reflects my own personal thoughts and approach, and reflects some of the lessons that I’ve learned over time.

What does it mean to “invest it wisely”?


When I first started writing, I was originally interested in learning more about the technical and investment side of finance; the sort of stuff that a CFA might be interested in. I had done well in finance in school, I enjoyed having some of these discussions with my good friend Mich @ Beating The Index, and I was a little bored with my job as a software developer at the time.

Over time, I tried to whet my appetite for learning more about the intricacies of investing in options and futures, or analyzing the balance sheets of a company, but I wasn’t able to do it. There was always a question in the back of my mind, and it was asking me “What does this do for me?” Technical knowledge on its own wasn’t going to put me on the road toward financial independence, or increase my happiness in life.

It turns out that there were some serious questions that I needed to address, long before I worried about the small details. How was I going to reduce my debt and increase my savings? How was I going to advance in my career and move toward financial independence? How was I going to move toward self-actualization?

I now believe that the most important investments we make in our lives are those that we make in ourselves. Before we can move toward self-actualization, we need to be fulfilling our life purpose. We need to be happy in our station in life. Moving toward financial independence isn’t just about money: it also means being secure in one’s own beliefs and being in an internal state of peace. We can take important steps, such as ensuring that we reduce our investment costs by investing in index funds, and lowering our debt load by not buying more house than we can afford, but these are all ancillary to the true goal: mental satisfaction and contentment with oneself and the world.

We are all born with a given amount of mental and physical capacity, and everything that we achieve in this world is achieved through the focal point of our mind and body. Our minds can become a trap, imprisoning ourselves inside of an inpenetrable fortress; our minds can also be the greatest enabler of our highest aspirations and dreams. Our minds are the ultimate resource, and we must learn to invest this resource wisely.

Why do we sometimes feel jealousy, envy, and greed?

Some of the main sources of the unease we feel can be traced to the primal emotions of jealousy, envy, and greed. Underpinning these emotions is often a base feeling of fear: fear that we’re not keeping up with our colleagues, fear that we won’t have enough saved for retirement, and fear that we won’t live life as fully as we want to.

I believe that it’s perfectly normal and healthy to feel some amount of jealousy, envy, and greed.  We are social animals, and we evolved in an environment where these emotions could have increased our chances of survival. In today’s world, these emotions don’t necessarily make as much sense. I grew up in a fatherless home with a mother who remarried, had another child, and pushed me out of her life. I spent much of my life being angry at the world.  For the longest time in my life, I was held back greatly by my own personal feelings of envy for others and the lives they lived, and fear that I couldn’t achieve the same. Why did they have good homes? Why did they have normal parents? Why were they wealthier? How come they didn’t have money problems? The world had wronged me, and it wasn’t fair!

I now believe that as humans, we can overcome any adversity. One of the main reasons that I was so unhappy was because of all of the unease I was creating for myself! A little bit of envy was good to motivate myself to change things, but letting myself be overcome by these emotions was becoming destructive. There is beauty in the world, but we must choose to see it. If we don’t see it, then we can’t achieve self-actualization; our minds will always be hungry and starving for more. How can we achieve anything in our lives if we can’t see past our own noses?

The four noble truths

There’s a concept in Buddhism known as the “Four Noble Truths“; I believe that we can learn a lot from these truths by applying the concepts to our own lives. I’ve written my paraphrase of the truths below; however, to learn more, I recommend going straight to the source.

  1. The noble truth of uneasiness: Life is filled with uneasiness from the moment we’re born. Many things in life cause uneasiness, and we don’t always get what we want.
  2. The noble truth of the source of uneasiness: We have desires, beginning with the sensual desires and pleasures, and moving up to self-actualization and contentment. We all want some degree of freedom, security, fortune, power, and success. There’s always something to go after.
  3. The noble truth of the cessation of uneasiness: It is the relinquishing of our uneasiness, and of achieving freedom from it.
  4. The noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of uneasiness: As humans, we are always acting toward reducing and eliminating the uneasiness with our lives. Some ways of acting will be more successful than others. The Noble Eightfold Path is about acting with the right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

I really believe that it comes down to that: how can we act to reduce the uneasiness in our lives? Isn’t that what financial freedom, paying down debt, and saving money is all about? The money is just a means to an end.

We can all take small, incremental actions, such as reducing the fees we pay on our investments, and eliminating high-interest debt such as a rolling credit-card balance. However, we must change the way in which we operate internally so that we can move toward reducing the unease that we feel, and move closer to that state of pure contentment. If we are always creating unease for ourselves by entering into debt to buy a bigger home than we can afford, or if we are feeling unease because someone is “luckier” than we are, richer, more attractive, and what have you, we are going to make ourselves miserable. We are doing it to ourselves.

With every action that we take, we can ask ourselves: “Does this maximize my long-term happiness and satisfaction?” Since other people are usually more willing to be nice to you if you’re nice to them, first, this is a path that leads to greater social cooperation and harmony. Since we’re focusing on the impact on our overall lives, we avoid falling into the trap of living only for the present, or worse, living only for the future when we might give up all that we can enjoy in the present, and we might even be too old to enjoy our savings.

Through the power of our minds and by following the right path, we really can overcome adversity and move closer toward happiness and peace.

Follow your own path

I haven’t always been successful at practicing what I believe in, and I won’t pretend that I’m any wiser than anyone else or even that my way is better than anyone else’s. In fact, I see this as a continuous learning experience.

Everyone has to find their own path, but I hope we can take the journey together. Your goals and dreams belong to you, and nobody can ever take them away from you.

_____

About The Author

This article was written and produced by Kevin of Invest Wisely, a fantastic resource dedicated to educating the common investor. see more.

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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