It was late 2010. I got suckered into a crappy job with a large MNC. They told me I had great responsibilities – leading the planning of projects, liaising with contractors and stakeholders, being part of a booming industry and maybe get offered a permanent position if I had a good review.
I ended up being an admin boy, whose only technical responsibility was to make sure engineers filled up their ‘timesheets’. It was ironic that the engineers had to waste time filling out an excel form detailing what they spent their time on. One engineer even quipped during a meeting, “We should just put in our timesheets: ‘Spent 2 hours filling a stupid timesheet’.” The whole meeting room laughed, even me, and I was the one in-charge. A kind-hearted engineer saw me punching in data into excel one day and told me this:
“Go learn some Visual Basic or Macros to automate this brainless task.”
And that was how it all began….
So what did I do with the rest of my time?
– Looked for jobs online
– Read funny news
– Use facebook. Like funny posts. Share funny posts.
– Gossip with colleagues on Web ex
Within 3 weeks I got so sick of this routine I wanted to shoot myself in the head. I had bigger dreams than studying 16 years to be an admin boy. I wanted to run my own business and be my own boss. But I entered the working world because I was curious and needed some start up capital. Also, it was good to get a taste of this whole get a degree, get a career thing.
To build capital fast I could not rely on just a salary. I noticed another colleague, a fresh graduate just like me, looking at shares on SGX one day and I got interested. I pestered him into teaching me the basics like looking at the bid-ask spreads, how to place and order and how to sell. I then proceeded to download e-books about stocks and read them on my computer while at work. Remember, I only worked 2 hours a week!
HOW TO ACT LIKE YOU ARE WORKING WHEN YOU ARE NOT REALLY WORKING (Bonus Tips)
- Frown at the computer as if you are working on a really tough problem
- Mutter to yourself, as if you are going through the problem in your head
- When you are walking to get water or going to the toilet, make sure you WALK FAST WITH A PURPOSE
- Greet people with a quick nod and a quick smile to signify that you are a busy man
I did that for a few more months while waiting for my new job to start. I worked 2 hours a week, and spent the rest of my time learning about investing in stocks.
I read the The Intelligent Investor: The Classic Text on Value Investing but I struggled to understand the financial jargon written in the book. Price to book value, intrinsic value, current asset minus total debt divide by – oh my head! Then, the criteria Benjamin Graham listed out for picking stocks was so strict I could not find stocks on SGX that matched his criteria. But then again, I was really a beginner and probably wasn’t searching for stocks efficiently.
By googling ‘Best Investment Books’, I soon picked out a list of books which I read fervently. The one which really inspired me was One Up On Wall Street by Peter Lynch , a cool, white-haired Fidelity fund manager who explained stocks investing so simply that a fool like me could understand. Furthermore, he went on the emphasize a quality that really gave me the confidence to start investing:
“A strong gut is a more important prerequisite for success in the markets than a sharp brain.”
He then proceeds to give some examples of everyday people investing successfully. That was enough to overcome all my hesitation and inertia to get started buying my first stock.
A few days later, my account was up and I was pestering my broker with phone calls, “Ay, how do I pay for this stock which I just bought ah?”
Many people talk about getting rich but refuse to take calculated risks. They cling onto their money so tightly and park their cash in banks, letting inflation erode away their purchasing power over time. Putting your money in the bank is not ‘safe’. It is a sure lose situation. Rather than sitting back and bemoaning that our financial fates lies in the hands of merciless macroeconomics, shouldn’t we take a chance and invest? You can’t win if you don’t try!
I bravely bought my first stock, China Minzhong with about $5k and my heart sank right into my gut as I proceeded to watch it plummet within seconds after buying, causing me to chicken out and sell at a loss of more that $500 after holding it for only 1 week. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I proceeded to watch my portfolio go down by $15k from 2010 till 2011, a time when you could blindly pick a stock and reap 100% gains easily. I did a remarkable feat. I was the only stock investor who lost money while Asia equities bounced back like a basketball post recession!
That anecdote wasn’t meant to scare you. Learning theory does not necessarily translate into a smooth application.
As Bruce Lee once said, “Learning is not enough. You must do.”
After plunging into stock investments, I never looked back. My losses turned out to be temporary and my earlier ‘investment’ in these books was the start of a wonderful investing journey that got me through financially challenging times, especially when I started my business later on.
Thank you, Peter Lynch. I would probably be eating grass by the roadside if not for you 🙂
Enjoyed my story of suffering, loss and paying school fees to the market? Subscribe to us below to see how we build the new Bf Gf Portfolio. No spam! But the requirement is to follow this blog for 10 years.
*How did you get started? Share in the comments below 🙂