I got 31 points for my ‘O’ Level L1R5. Here’s the story of how I bounced back. These were my grades from when I took my O Levels:
English – B4
Combined Humanities – C6
Mathematics – C5
Physics – B4
Chemistry – C5
Chinese – D7
That adds up to 31 points for the L1R5 or 24 points for the L1R4. There was no way I was qualifying for a junior college and the only 2 courses I qualified for in polytechnic was nursing and electrical engineering.
Now before you continue reading, you might be thinking, what are my current circumstances? If you’re looking at more traditional measures of success, I have half a million in savings, CPF and stock investments combined, hold a managerial job and I have a masters degree from an autonomous university.
Just to be clear, this is not a how-to guide and I acknowledge that I might be privileged in ways that others aren’t. For example, I’m still living rent free with my parents and that saves me a ton of money.
If you want to write me off because of that massive privilege right there, go ahead. I’ve got nothing to gain from your success, I’ve got no dog in that fight and I’m just here to share my journey.
The key to my rebound can be summarized in three points. Adopting a growth mentality, frugality and not caring about social status.
I developed a skill that I monetized, had some side hustles, got a sales job as my first job to increase my earnings, exposed myself to other areas of work by taking on additional responsibilities and job hopping, then enrolled into a masters degree at an autonomous university when I switched to a more stable fixed income job.
Epiphany 1: Can’t be a scholar, embrace being a coolie
I considered signing on with the Navy but it didn’t make sense to sign on in exchange for the military to sponsor an ITE education which I figured I could afford on my own after just one year of work.
Instead, I started doing freelance jobs and attended courses in kayaking, sportclimbing and abseiling with the aim of entering the outdoor industry which seemed to provide a decent salary although it wasn’t a white collar job.
During this time, I also stopped drawing an allowance from my parents which required me to be more frugal.
I eventually got conscripted into the army as part of a mono-intake with other 18 year olds with little education. Mono-intake meant I went directly to the unit for my basic military training and didn’t go to Pulau Tekong. Out of the entire battalion of about 200 men, only the best soldier would have the chance of going to SISPEC to train to be a sergeant.
This experience led me to my second epiphany.
Epiphany 2: Society favours those with credentials and money
My life experiences since I left school showed me that society at the time favoured those with a credential and/or those with money. So achieving those 2 things became my goals. For some context, this was back in 2008.
It would be another 9 years before the Singapore civil service decided to stop grouping and identifying its officers by education level. So I saw these as ways to overcome the societal bias and stigmas of the time.
Before I ORD-ed, I enrolled myself into the Singapore Institute of Management’s Diploma in Management Studies. I chose SIM because it seemed like the most legitimate private education institute and had the most “recognition”. By that I mean most people in my social circle had heard of it. I later chose to progress on to the RMIT Bachelor of Business Management instead of the University of London because my experience in school made it clear that high stakes exams, weren’t for me.
Epiphany 3: Focus on growing earnings
While doing the diploma, I built on the skills I picked up during my “gap year” before enlistment and got myself certified as a kayaking coach and was actively coaching to earn side income during weekends and holidays. This continued all the way through to my university days.
On top of that, I was an early adopter of online shopping and would import items from overseas to sell at a tiny profit on forums like Hardwarezone. This was additional income on top of the money I made from coaching on weekends.
It was at this point where I learnt that it makes more sense to grow your earnings rather than to save more. When I got conscripted, I only had $4 in the bank and I brought my frugal habits to the army. I rarely went on canteen breaks and would eat cook house food.
But it comes to a point where you can’t really cut any more costs without seriously affecting your quality of life and becoming miserable.
Epiphany 4: Choosing growth potential over social status
After graduating I joined PSB Academy despite the low social status that came with the job title of Admissions Officer as I saw that the earning potential was high due to the pay structure that rewarded results.
Working there and clocking in 12 – 14 hour days helped me hit recruitment targets and save up my first $100k by the time I was 28. Despite the long work hours, I also spent my weekends creating content for a blog to generate leads. One of my how-to guides got more than 10,000 downloads and despite leaving PSB Academy in 2014, people were still calling and texting me for admissions enquiries as late as 2018!
Epiphany 5: Money doesn’t buy you happiness, but it buys you security!
With that safety net in hand, I did a bit of job hopping trying out roles in corporate training sales, student affairs and business development. Some of those roles involved pay cuts, but the learning opportunities made up for it and the $100k buffer plus my frugal lifestyle meant that I could learn what I needed to move on to greener pastures, without a huge change in my lifestyle.
During my job hopping phase, I made sure to learn something at every job that would make me a more attractive candidate for the next job I applied for. This I feel was essential to my success and when I transitioned out of a variable income structure to a fixed one, I made use of the stability to enroll into an autonomous university and complete a masters degree.
And that’s the story of how I went from 31 points at O levels to an autonomous university graduate with a managerial job and half a million networth at age 33.