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This compilation of articles deals with self-discipline, positive thinking, money, and scores of other social, and life related issues. Some are practical. Some are serious. And some are humorous. But they are all intended to make a small contribution to the personal well-beings that matter most - those who thrive in the society - where our future is. So if the articles on this weblog contribute toward that objective in some measure, then my effort in writing them will have been worthwhile.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Love Behind The Wheels

Love is one of the most beautiful things that happen in a person's lifetime. You can't say that it CAN happen because it WILL happen.

It may not be the time you read this nor the day after next week, but it will certainly happen. Love takes time, and it is the only one that knows when the perfect time is and who the perfect person is for you to love. It cannot be dictated nor be forced. Love is the one that dictates you and forces you to be in love with someone. You wouldn't be able to stop it when it happens nor convey it to somebody else.

Love is the one that makes the first step for you and gives you the upper hand when you fall in love. It gives you the feeling and the perception of being in love. But it doesn't do everything for you. It gives you the options, but it doesn't give you the choice. It doesn't tell you what to do; it only gives you the wisdom to choose what you want to do. Love will pass on to you the responsibility of loving and being loved. You're gonna have to stand on your own feet, make decisions on your own, and take risks to make a difference.

Love is also about taking risks. If you like someone, take the risk of telling that person what you feel. If you want to take your relationship with a person to the next level, take the risk together and face whatever challenges that might come along the way. If you feel that you don't love a person anymore, you should take the risk of saying the truth. Risks make things happen, and whether they are good or bad they will surely make a difference in your life.

When you're in love, you can't just take risks anytime you want to. Not everything can be done with just a blink of an eye. You have to wait patiently before taking it. You have to take time thinking about making the risk. It will come to a point when you think of the many bad things that may happen and it may stop you from doing it, but you will never know the many good things that might have happened if you took it. You will be filled with regrets and what ifs'. Without it, you can never have progress in your life. You will never make a difference. So don't be afraid of taking risks, but think about it first and be rational and reasonable.

Loving and being loved is part of our lives. You may never know when will the perfect person come into your life, but definitely he or she will come. But love will not wait for you to come; it will come to you. But it doesn't mean that you should just wait at the bus stop and wait until a bus halts in front of you. Sometimes you should go right to the bus terminal in order for you to take the ride. But choose the bus carefully, because you might have just been in the wrong bus. You should also pick the right destination because you will be the one who will take yourself back where you have come from in case you are in the wrong place. Check also the condition of the bus, because you'll never get any warning in case something might go bad during the trip. And most importantly, check the brakes so that whenever you have to stop, you won't miss the next bus ride.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ten Steps to Wealth Creation

Disclaimer: I am not rich. Read and follow at your own risk.

It doesn't take ten steps. Just a single step - Start your own business. Look at top 500 wealthiest people in the world. Except for those who inherited wealth, they got rich by owning businesses! Yes, that includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Sam Walton and Li Ka Shing.

If you want to be a salaried person and don't want to own businesses, you can still create wealth - by owning business precariously i.e. by owning shares of companies or indulging in multi-level marketing businesses or buying Toto (Tolong orang tipu orang)

Follow the steps below.

1. Write down your goals that require money.
These are usually - Retirement, Education, Marriage, Car etc. Each person will have his unique financial requirements.

2. Write down your financial assets. These are Bank FDs, Shares, Mutual Funds, Insurance policy surrender values, Gold, EPF balance etc. Don't include "stuff" (like Car, TV, Home that you need to live in).

3. Write down your liabilities (loan, credit card dues etc).

4. Take cover - life insurance, medical insurance, accident/partial or permanent disability. Cover costly "stuff" - home and belongings, professional practice (for doctors and lawyers). Cover self and those financially dependent on you. Life cover is only for those who have financial dependents.

5. Pay off any debt whose interest is higher than that what you can earn in the market over the term of the loan. Meaning, if you have credit card loan at 18% interest for 2 years, pay it off before you start investing. Same with personal loans. Home loans are an exception because of the attractive prevailing market interest rates. Let's say the loan is for 15 years. Can you get returns better than 6 to 7 % over a period of 15 years ? Yes ? Then keep the home loan. Don't prepay. Otherwise, pay off loans before investing. If you are the type who borrow to invest (that too in shares!), you are in the wrong blog. I have wasted your time.

6. After factoring in the liabilities, calculate what your monthly outgo for those liabilities is.

7. What's your monthly expense ? Better, take your yearly expense and divide by 12. If you don't know your expenses, this is very bad. Start noting down your expenses and find it.

8. Put the amount needed for each of the financial goals. Also put how many years you have before that goal. For example, you are 22 and you want to retire at 50. You have 28 years to the goal.

9. Now here's the big gyan. There is some thing called Asset Allocation Plan (AAP). I don't know why AAP works. But Nobel Laureates and smart MBAs believe in it. I take their word for it. The gyan is: The best way to meet financial goals is to create AAP.
Which means - for every financial goal, make an AAP. What is AAP ? It is simply a way to distribute money across various asset classes. What are asset classes?
These are the various types of financial instruments - shares, bonds, precious metals like goad, real estate and good old cash. The theory is that the distant your goal is, the more you should be in equity.
The closer the goal is, the more you should be in cash. Bonds are for intermediate goals. It doesn't mean that you should 100% in shares for long term goals. This is where allocation comes in. Here are the rules (roughly put, without the mathematics and customized to Indian conditions):
(a) Money for a goal which is less than 2 years away should be in cash (cash can be in bank spread across branches, under the carpet, or in Liquid Mutual Funds).
(b) For goals between 2 and 6 years away,keep 80% in bonds (Post Office/Bank FDs, RDs, Debt Mutual Funds) and 20% in equity (shares or Equity Mutual Funds). Decrease equity by 5% every year and move it to bonds. When you are two years away you will be 100% in bonds. Now treat this as case (a)
(c) For goals more than 6 years away, stay 80% equity, 20% bond. When you are six years away, treat as case (b).

10. Now some mathematics. You do remember what a compound interest is, right?
Consider long term equity returns as 14%. Debt returns as 7%. Now apply formula to calculate what you need to invest every year. Divide by 12 to get the monthly investment amount. For example, you need 1 million for your kids' education 15 years. Consider roughly 14% return. If P is invested every year for 15 years, here's the equation:
P * [(1.14) + (1.14)**1 + (1.14)**2 + (1.14)**3 + ..... + (1.14)**14] = 1000000.
Solving this (you can use Excel or you ask your geek friend), you get P = 22808. Monthly investment is 22808/12 = 1900.
So now you know by investing about two thousands a month into equity, you will have 1 million in 15 years.

Do the above exercise for all your financial goals. And you are all set.

I started this post by creating a dichotomy - salaried person vs. business owner. But in reality, even a salaried person is a business owner. As a salaried person, you are in business of selling your time and expertise. In business, products need to move up the value chain. Similarly as a individual, a salaried person needs to move up the value chain. That's why Warren Buffet said investing in yourself gives the best ROI. In other words, if you want to create long term wealth, start moving up the product (i.e. yourself) up the value chain. Get additional training/degreesand experience. Money may get stolen, share market may crash but your knowledge and expertise will be with you. And that is the real wealth you should be after.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Squeeze Money Too Tight, And It Will Slip Out Of Your Hands

Money is the element of life that inspires the greatest of emotions in individuals. It is tightly connected with the emotions of agony and ecstasy. When you have money, you never feel you have enough. If you have lost money, you wish you had appreciated it more when you did have it.

Every day, we are fighting and winning the battle within not only to establish in our own mind our right to material wealth, but to develop within ourselves the ability and will to go out into the world and fight for it.

Money is an uncertain thing; it is made and lost every now and then. The person who has acquired wealth by successfully fighting the inward and outward battles is not so devastated by financial catastrophe as is the person who has acquired wealth by accident of birth or windfall. Misfortune may strip him of material wealth, but he still has the ability, will, and confidence to acquire it again. On the other hand, the other person has not ever made a serious attempt to become wealthy through his own effort. He has never engaged in the inward and outward battles for wealth, he is unable to go out and restore his fortune. However, if he is fortunate enough to inherit wealth and not has the misfortune to lose it, that can sometimes, be a curse as well. He will be imprisoned by his wealth which strips him of the need to work encouraging idleness and engendering feelings of worthlessness.

The path to wealth is not to chase money for its own sake, but to understand and develop your own intrinsic talents and inclinations. You must seek a livelihood that allows you to do what you were intended to do and brings you joy. If you do, the money will take care of itself. Too often we select a job because it pays well or offers security. But no matter how well a job pays initially or how secure it makes you feel, it will turn out to be a dead end unless it is in line with your own particular talents. It will eventually rob you of your enthusiasm and creative brilliance. At best, you will become mediocre, and your rewards in terms of money will likewise be mediocre.

Because each of us possesses a spark of individual brilliance, every one of us is capable of making money in our unique way that cannot be made by anyone else. Striving to discover our niche in this vast human market is part of our conquest of life in chasing after the wealth.

In most cases, life of making money does not play hide-and-seek; rather, we are blind. Our unique abilities often display themselves in many situations in the course of our lives. Because we are so focused on making a living, we do not see anything else. In this case, for our own good, sometimes life will pull the rug from under us, so we are compelled to look around and discover new possibilities. What happened here is because we wanted to get more money out of any particular situation, we squeezed the money too tight, and it has just slipped from our hands. To be more accurate, the whole thing to us is never about making a living. It is only about money.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Totally Uncool

Ever had one of those days when you just wish the ground would open up and swallow you. They’re amusing in hindsight, but the moment they happened, you just wanted to disappear. We’re not spared the blushes or the excruciating silence that ensues after a particularly memorable blunder. Someone just asked me about my most embarrassing or awkward moments and I had to depend on my not-so-fresh memory to recall one particular incident which I would like to share with you. Rest assured, you are not alone.

I had been in an all-boy school from Primary One to Form Three. In Form four, I transferred to a co-ed school in an affluent area of Ipoh.

On the first day of school, I had to visit the washroom. I was so used to being in an all-boy school so it didn’t occur to me to check which washroom I was entering. Yup, you guessed it – I went into the girl’s washroom.

The first thing I realized was the absence of urinals. I thought, “Wow, the schools in this part of the town are so unusual!”

Then, as I entered the cubicle and started doing what I had to do, I saw the blue dustbin with the “Rentokil” sign on it. I thought, “Wow, this school must be very rich.”

After I was done, as I was washing my hands at the basin, it finally hit me that I was in the wrong washroom. Luckily, no one else was there at the time.

But as I walked out, I bumped into a girl coming in. She looked at me funny and asked, “Are you sure you got the right toilet?”

I tried looking nonchalant and replied, “I doubt so.”

That girl ended up becoming one of my best friends in school.

Sound exaggerated, guess so, but I was red in the face.

Monday, September 19, 2005

English For Life

The English language has become the language of the world and is the lingua franca most widely used in science and mathematics, technology, business and the mass media. Malaysia is now on the fast tract to modernization and technological development. However, if we are to achieve this status, it is important that Malaysians check the decline of the standard of English. I think the best way to do this is to start with the concerned citizens of the country – us!

One of the best ways to improve our English is by reading materials written in the English language. As students we are surrounded by reading material in school. For those of us who are school leavers or working adults, we can make the library or bookshop a place to visit every time we may find the opportunity. There is something there for everyone. Newspapers contain a variety of articles ranging from current affairs to sports. The collection of books on general knowledge is a wealth of information for the curious and the interested. Magazines on cooking and fashion appeal to those who prefer less serious matters. Some of us may prefer humour can choose to read jokes and cartoons. Reading gives you the language you will need to use when you begin to communicate with others.

Now that you have acquired the language by reading, you must use the language. Participate in as many speaking activities as possible. Your working area is a good place to start. Make it a point to speak and respond to others in English. Nonetheless, please bear in mind that you don’t have to speak English in a thick ‘gwei lo’ accent like the native English speakers as you weren’t raised up to speak in English in the first place; you learned the language during your growing up years. You can also choose to sing songs in English. You may not be speaking, but you have to say the words loud. Even if you just read aloud to yourself, or speak to the mirror, it is a good start. Speaking comes with practice and practice makes perfect.

You are not alone. Always ask your teachers, colleaques, friends, relatives, and your close ones for help. You may not understand everything you read or know the pronunciation of every word you come across. That is why the dictionary is always coming handy whenever you need it. Or you can even get help from the internet where there are many “Learning English As A Second Language” websites. One such good resource is EnglishClub.com which can be assessed at www.englishclub.com. It is a site to help you learn English as a second language. The access to all its web pages is free. You’ll find everything from grammar and vocabulary lessons to interactive pages such as forums, games, quizzes, chat, help, and pen pals.

The television or radio is a good source for listening practice. You will experience the language in its natural context. Besides, you can hear the correct pronunciation. Programmes such as “National Geographic Channel,” “CNN News,” “BBC News,” “ Discovery Channel,” “Animal Planet,” and others are not only a good source of information but the commentaries are well spoken. Therefore you can kill two birds with one stone. If you need more practice with listening, record the programme and re-listen it as many times as you want. Listen to what you like, the variety is endless.

So, take charge of your life today. Let the English language help you explore a wider horizon. Do not join the ranks of the unemployed who have not secured jobs because they are not proficient in English. Remember, English was the language that sent the first human to the moon. Go places with English.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Please Don’t Take Me To Holland!

Heaven forbid that you do this! Asking for help is admitting that you aren’t up to the job, that you have failed. Or asking for assistance and guidance is telling people that you aren’t good enough in your studies, that you need to work harder to become an ‘A-star’ student. Everyone will be ridiculing you if you do this.

Maybe. But they will certainly ridicule you later on if you fail, when you can avoid it had you mustered your strength and swallowed the last drop of your pride and asked someone for advice and opinion. As I would like to say, life is full of potholes, and every so often you hit one that you don’t know how to deal with. That is why schools are lined up with teachers. It is why our government has a cabinet. None of us can have all the answers, so we rely on others to advise us when we hit an obstacle. We have to assemble a group of trusted ‘see yeh’ – people you respect, who have experience outside your own, and who are willing to help you through the rough times!

You may be surprised to discover that, rather than seeing you as weak, people will see you as having the good judgment to know when you are outside your element and need someone else’s advice. And your advisors will be flattered that you value their input. I have learnt over the years that everyone likes to have others draw on their expertise, so long as you don’t become a leech. I have occasionally had people especially girls ask me for advice, when I gave it, they sent me a flurry of requests to solve their problems. After a time, I quit responding; not only do I lack the time to solve their problems, but I am no ‘sifu’ and I don’t expect myself to know how to solve each and every one of them.

This should give you something to think about. It’s fine to have others give you the solutions. When someone offers you advice, you are learning something worthwhile from that fellow. However, how often do we ask ourselves a question as to whether the thing that we learn is the right thing or else? Are we learning the correct thing? What is going to happen if we end up learning the wrong thing? I find it difficult to get this across to people. People are eager to find answers to deal with their ‘problem children.’ But in fact, I soon learned, they had no interest in learning principles, and if they don’t learn the principles behind the solutions, they will become lifelong blind learner. Let me give you an example. Suppose we have some common industry practices such as scheduling, resource allocation, monitoring, control, and report generations which are being adopted in a particular way day in and day out over the years. This specific approach is considered a norm in the market. Everybody is advising everybody that this is the correct way of doing thing. Some time later, we find ourselves in the school again, this time enrolling for a working adult learning program. In the class we are taught the same industry practices but they have to be approached differently from what are being championed by almost everybody currently. So the truth is that the lecturer is undoubtedly correct in insisting that they have to be done the other way based on the basic belief, theory, or rule that has a major influence on the way in which something is done. Well, here we learn that in the earlier part of the example, the blinds are leading the blinds, so the wrong becomes right until we correct it. We have accepted that the wrong as advice from someone and we deem it as right until we are jolted out of our sleep. So the wrong will always become right if nobody corrects it.

Yet, all education is really based on principles and examples of how to apply them. Once you know the method, the nature of the specific case doesn’t matter; you apply your principle to it. Nasa engineers are taught Laws of Gravity. Once they know it, they apply it to so many things in order to send the spacecrafts into the space. Civil engineers learn the structural analysis and strength of materials; these, too, can be applied to many different situations in designing the buildings. Our nurses in the hospitals learn the principles involved in treating infections, or in stopping bleeding, or cleaning a wound, and use them daily. So the irony is that even though we care enough to ask somebody for help, but if we don’t really bother to understand the principles behind every problem, we will end up learning the wrong thing again and again and eventually we may find ourselves being taken on the next available flight to Holland.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Learning To Slow Down

A prescription for renewed working life could begin with this simple phrase, “Slow it down.” There’s no doubt that the modern world has become terribly hectic. People work hard and they play hard, and they rarely have time to talk or even sit down and rest. This kind of killing pace isn’t healthy for individuals or for family life.

We all need to creatively waste some time now and then, to walk along kicking rocks and thinking pleasant thoughts. But, the whole world seems to conspire against such reconstructive activities. My close buddies provide a simple prescription for a healthier, happier life, but it must be implemented by all of us. First, add no new time consuming activity of any type until you agree to remove one of equal dimensions. Second, as an individual, you must simply resolve to slow your pace; learn to say “no” gracefully; resist the temptation to chase after more pleasures, more hobbies, more social entanglements; “hold the line’ with the tenacity of a tackle for Manchester United football team.

Now, this is not easy task in our fast paced world. But, I can assure that the effort pays off. If the commitment is deep enough, even the busiest of us can slow ourselves down and find a new measure of sanity and wholeness.