I always feel a bit pensive at the end of the year. Perhaps, it’s the feeling that I’m closing a chapter, and I’m about to crack open a brand new one before I am ready to. Or the feeling that time is flying by and I’ve not done everything I intended to do in the year.
The feeling of having not done enough is a common one. To combat this feeling, I’ve developed the habit of doing reflections and reviews in recent years.
It’s a good exercise because I can see that I’ve actually done and experienced a lot of things in a year, despite it feeling like I didn’t. It may not all be massive life-changing things but it’s things that have added colour to my life and provided me the opportunities to learn and grow.
Reflecting on the past 12 months helps me sort out the ups and downs, putting everything in perspective. It also helps give clarity to make better decisions, be a better person, and move forward in the right direction next year.
Here are some lessons I drew from my reflection this year that I hope can be useful for you too.
1. Prepare for your best-laid plans to go to sh*t
In April, I tendered my resignation. It wasn’t exactly part of my plan. I wanted to stick around at my job until the end of the year, and gracefully transition to something new.
Life had other ideas and decided to throw a wrench in the works. Health issues popped up, and it was almost inevitable that I had to leave my job sooner than I anticipated.
It’s funny how you can plan and strategise, but sometimes, unexpected twists come your way.
That’s why I’m a firm believer in having a safety net or a couple of backup plans.
I squirrelled away more money into my savings and career break fund earlier this year in preparation for my departure. Little did I know, these savings would come in handy sooner than expected.
Though it meant I had a bit less to splurge on fun stuff during my break, I’m glad I had enough savings to leave when I needed to.
2. It’s hard to reverse lifestyle creep
Reversing lifestyle creep is like trying to unlearn bad habits for your wallet.
I started earning more money in the past couple of years. So I wasn’t squeezing my belt like I did when I first moved to Singapore.
I got comfortable, treated myself a bit more, and life was good. I indulged in little luxuries like taxis and food deliveries quite often.
But after quitting my job and relying on my savings, I needed to hit the brakes on these expenses. What’s more, they’ve also become even pricier, thanks to inflation. So it’s a double whammy.
It was a challenge to downgrade once I’ve grown accustomed to these conveniences. But I just gritted my teeth and did it.
Relearning how to live leaner again is a work in progress but with a bit of discipline and tough love, it can be done.
3. What goes down comes back up
At the start of 2023, things were looking a bit grim for my investment portfolio. Everything was in the red.
Fast forward to now, my portfolio has made a comeback. It’s just a smidge above breakeven, but that’s better than nothing.
It’s a reminder that the market has its own rhythm, and sometimes, patience is the best investment strategy when you’re investing in quality assets and index funds.
So don’t hit the panic button, especially if you’re in it for the long haul. The stock market goes through its ups and downs, and knee-jerk reactions might not be the wisest move.
4. You are not your job
A job is a safety blanket, it’s predictable in some ways.
You’ve got bosses to tell you what to do, you have yearly performance evaluations that (hopefully) validate your hard work, and you have colleagues to turn to when you’re having a bad day. You get a steady paycheck each month.
So, it’s practically a given to feel lost, purposeless, and anxious without a job after you’ve been working for so long. I knew it was going to happen, and I knew that I would do some crazy things when it did.
Not long after quitting, I went into this bizarre loop of job hunting as if I couldn’t allow myself to not be in constant motion. As if, I was nothing without a job.
I felt even more panicked when I heard how tough the job market is from friends who got laid off.
The irony? Deep down, did I really want another job at that moment? The answer was a resounding no.
So, the challenge was more than just enjoying a break; it was about rewiring my brain to embrace the idea that not having a job didn’t mean lacking something. Instead, it was an opportunity to explore things I genuinely wanted to do, without the pressure of ticking off a to-do list just because I had to.
5. The world changes at a faster speed today than ever before
This year showed further evidence that corporations care more about maximizing profits, appeasing shareholders, and keeping costs on a tight leash.
As interest rates climb, the price tag on capital shoots up. Companies scrutinised every penny they spent and cut costs. One of the outcomes of this cost-cutting mindset is layoffs – a tough reality that many faced in 2023.
What’s more striking is the breakneck speed at which companies are embracing AI and automation as a way to cut costs. I feel like it’s a technological revolution on steroids.
So, to stay relevant in this rapidly evolving job market, we need adaptability. We’ve got to reskill ourselves, constantly upgrading our skill set to align with the changing demands.
But the problem is the pace of this change has hit warp speed compared to just a decade ago. This concerns me because I don’t know how hard it will be for us to keep up with these changes.
It’s not just about our willingness to adapt; it’s also about the resources and access we’re given to make that adaptation happen.
The real question is, are we (we, as in, Malaysians) equipped with the right tools and support to ride this wave of transformation, or are we at risk of being left behind in the wake of progress?
6. People aren’t optimistic about the economy despite earning more
It’s a paradox of sorts – the economy is supposedly doing better than expected, and people are earning more, yet a cloud of pessimism hangs in the air.
I can’t help but notice news and discussions on how folks are feeling discontented about the economic landscape this year.
Kyla Scanlon even coined the term “vibecession” – a situation where the overall economy is thriving, wages are on the rise, but individuals don’t perceive an improvement in their own well-being.
Here in Singapore, it’s a similar story. The stats paint a rosy picture – the median monthly household income has seen a 10% bump, going from $9,189 in 2020 to $10,099 in 2022.
On paper, it sounds like good news. But when you factor in inflation and soaring rents and home prices, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Despite the uptick in wages, many still feel like they’re financially struggling. It doesn’t help that the news always reports doom and gloom.
Economic well-being is a nuanced subject, and I realised that a lot of it depends on how you feel.
Some things are within your control and some things aren’t and it is more productive to work on the things that you can control than complain and feel bad about things you can’t.
7. It’s okay not to be “normal”
Many of my friends started settling down and having kids this year, and there was a distinct sense that I was being “left behind”.
Everyone around me is laying down roots, finding comfort in a stable life, and following the typical trajectory. And then, there’s me – feeling like a bit of an outlier, not quite fitting the mold of what’s considered “normal.”
The idea of settling down in one place for an extended period doesn’t resonate with me.
Kids, a house, a car – those are the milestones many strive for, but they aren’t on my radar.
I’m not working toward those conventional life goals so much so that I feel my personal finance knowledge and journey aren’t very relatable to a lot of people.
Yet, I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that it’s perfectly okay not to conform.
My choices might not align with the majority, and that’s okay. I’m learning to embrace the idea that being different doesn’t equate to being “abnormal” and find contentment in that uniqueness.
It’s important to carve out a life that feels authentic to me, even if it doesn’t check all the traditional boxes.
8. Don’t be afraid to be seen trying
“Don’t be afraid to be seen trying” became my mantra when I started experimenting with content creation on social media.
I started creating content on TikTok and Reels in late 2023, and while I’m not exactly a maestro at it, I’m committed to not shying away from trying.
There’s this concept called “building in public,” which is about trying things out openly and embracing the journey of improvement.
I get the appeal; it’s like having a built-in accountability partner because, well, it’s out there for the public eye.
But the illusion that people are intensely watching every move can be a double-edged sword. It can either be a motivating force or a paralysing fear that stops us from trying in the first place.
Do you want to know a secret, though? Hardly anyone is paying as much attention as we think.
So, I’ve adopted the mindset of just going for it and not being afraid to look silly in the process. Because most people are wrapped up in their own lives, the chances of someone scrutinising every attempt are pretty slim.
It’s liberating to realise that the fear of judgment is often just a figment of our imagination.
This is the attitude I intend to bring into 2024; try, experiment, stumble, and embrace the process – the audience you imagine is likely not as critical as you think.
9. Calling it quits doesn’t make you a failure
I started making TikTok videos commentating and explaining economic concepts and market news.
To my surprise, some of the videos went viral, racking up over 200k views.
But the sheer time and effort it took to stay on top of economic news, distill it into 90-second bite-sized content every day, and then have to deal with a load of negative comments got to me.
The platform was relentless and the joy I initially found in the process turned into a chore.
Despite friends encouraging me to soldier on, citing potential exposure and income, I decided to pause the project.
Past me might have stuck around despite the lack of fulfilment, but this year I’ve learned that it’s okay to pivot, to acknowledge when something doesn’t align with your passions.
I gave it a shot, learned the ropes, gained experience, and when it didn’t resonate, I decided to move on.
Will I pick it back up again? Who knows.
10. Bet on yourself
As I freelanced during my break, I saw a gap in the market for certain services that I could provide. That got me thinking about the possibility of starting a business.
The decision to start a business wasn’t one I took lightly. I went back and forth on the idea, weighing the pros and cons.
There I was struggling to let go of the comfort of the known for the possibilities of the unknown.
So, when a friend shared that she also wanted to take the entrepreneurial plunge, it felt like the universe was nudging us both to seize the opportunity together.
Objectively, I know I have what it takes to run a business. I excelled in the corporate world and helped my past companies make money.
But I am my worst critic.
I needed to believe in my skills, and ideas, and that I could create something genuinely valuable in the market.
So I decided to treat it like an experiment – I’ll give myself a year to give this a shot. I’ll face the unknown head-on and see what happens.
I’m excited and I know there will be challenges but there will also be rewards.
Sure, I can’t predict the exact outcome, and there’s an element of uncertainty that comes with betting on oneself.
Regardless of how it all turns out, one thing’s for sure, I won’t regret making this leap.
This is where I’ll leave you for this year. I hope you’ve read something useful that you can take and apply to your own life. And I hope you have a peaceful, joyful, healthful, and prosperous new year ahead of you.
Happy New Year 2024!