Making a career out of "being your own boss"

Most of the Malaysians who migrate to Australia come from the educated middle-class professional cohort. Their main aim in life is to ensure their children get the best education they can afford so that they would eventually become lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers and dentists so that they can find work among the best MNCs anywhere in the world. 

Where I grew up, the line of reasoning for most parents ('educated' or otherwise) was pretty much the same as described above. The idea is to get as much education as you can so that you don't end up working for your dad as a mechanic (in his workshop), as a shop assistant (in your parents' sundry or traditional Chinese medicine shop) or a cashier-cum-manager-cum-waiter-cook at your parents' seafood restaurant. So, if you are ambitious, you don't want to get 'stuck' in your parents' family business. 

Today, it seems that such line of reasoning is giving way to a new kind of logic - a more- pragmatic-and-less-absurd kind logic. You see, people in the past think that education is very important but at the same time, they 'look down' on what they do for a living. So they want they kids to get a degree so that their kids will not be 'stuck' in their little small family business. 

Today, if you have a small business, you'd better cherish it with both hands. Even if you don't, your kids, if they are smart enough, will see your family business as a wonderful opportunity that will give them a head start in their quest for financial freedom. 

Here are some quick examples I see among our family friends. 

Two brothers, one is a qualified pharmacist, the other an engineer. The elder brother worked as a pharmacist for a few years before he decided that if he wanted to attain financial freedom faster than his peers, he should be running a pharmacy and not work as a pharmacist for God knows how long. So, he talked to his parents (Vietnamese Chinese who came to Australia in the 1970s) who own an Asian grocery store about his plan. With a loan from his parents, he was able to start his own pharmacy and need not work for others anymore.

His younger brother worked as an engineer. After working for a few years, he too decided that he has had enough crap from his employer and has decided to be his own boss. He turned to his parents for a loan to start another Asian grocery store, capitalizing on the long-running relationships which his parents have built with their suppliers, located three suburbs away from his parents' flagship store. 

Another example is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner. This man, in his late thirties now, studied IT for two years before he decided that his passion lies in TCM and not in IT. His mom (a Taiwanese who, with his dad, came to Australia in the 1980s) was practicing TCM back in Taiwan. So, he was exposed to this field early on as a child and has somewhat become interested in it. Unfortunately, her mom does not have enough English skills to get her qualification recognised in Australia. Thus she could not practise her trade here. Anyway, this young man changed his major, did an Applied Science TCM degree at Victoria University and became a qualified TCM in Melbourne. He admitted that he did have a great advantage over his course-mates whose parents aren't involved in TCM at all. Today, he is running two successful clinics enjoying being his own boss.

Get educated. Pursue your degree or whatever you have a passion for. But at the same time, keep your options open, including your parents' business. Most importantly never look down on unimpressive looking small businesses. The world today is very different from the world it was yesterday. Job security, like dinosaurs, is non-existent. When how much you make becomes uncertain, how much you save becomes paramount to survival. And you can hardly save and invest if you do not have a business you can call your own. If you don't save or invest in income-generating assets, you will always have to work for money yourself. No money will be working for you.

Fish stalls, restaurants, accounting or legal firms, they are all the same. None of them is good or bad, superior or inferior to each other by their very nature. I'd rather own a profitable fish stall than a prestigious sounding but debt-ridden law firm.


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