How did you become financially wealthy
I went from being the babysitter’s daughter to millionaire by 28. Here’s how I got financially wealthy:
#1. My parents imbued in me a great work ethic and provided me access to a great education.
As someone who grew up on donated clothing, lived humbly as the babysitter’s daughter in a wealthy family’s home in my formative years after my family immigrated to the US from China, I always admired the wealthy. My parents, while embodying every stereotype of highly-educated Chinese immigrant parents of being tough, also set a great example of what hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance combines to achieve.
Despite being highly educated and having achieved success in China, my parents took the risk to come to the US to provide even more opportunities for me. They knew that the future was global and they had to equip me with the full tools to succeed. In the early 90s, my dad arrived in the US with $40 in his pocket and immediately went to work in a restaurant and my mom tried all sorts of jobs to see what she could do, having never worked a service job in her life (my mom’s dad was a general so she had it really good in China).
Ultimately, they decided on living in a family’s home in an affluent mostly-white suburb as babysitters to their children. We would live on the 3rd floor of their beautiful home and I would be the babysitters’ daughter. It was in that amazing school district surrounded by other peoples’ wealth that I grew up. I got to experience, through this family’s kindness, the life of the wealthy even though we were not.
Don’t ever forget those who sacrificed to provide you shelter, food, and gave you the gift of life. Your parents may have been much better or worse than mine, but it doesn’t change the fact that they breathed in you life. For that, we can begin our journeys and have the privilege to exist on this earth. As I clearly document in my many writings, my childhood was painful in many aspects, but looking back, I’m very grateful for everything my family did for me.
#2. I was never spoiled; I was put to work at a young age.
My parents were highly stressed out my whole childhood due to being poor, new immigrants, having no idea how their life would pan out in this foreign land. We were never given any allowance, extravagant gifts, or brand name clothing. I grew up clothes donated from various churches, yard sales, others’ hand-me-downs, and my family’s weird outfits from China when they moved here. Instead, my mom spent her babysitting money on classes for us so we could experience the lifestyles of our classmates and be mentally enriched – much more important than material good accumulation and gratification in my mom’s eyes.
My earliest memories center around the restaurant my family opened up shortly after they got to the US. Sadly, my dad became a gambling addict around that same time and would frequently steal money from us and leave for months’ long gambling binges for the next 2 decades. As such, my cousin and I were put to work. We led the children we babysat as well to do chores. Back upstairs, my cousin and I would cook, clean, and all other household duties from age 7 on.
As we got older, we were immediately saddled with restaurant work duties. To a large extent, working as a waitress was a godsend. It made me a much stronger communicator, come out of my shell, and learn how to deal with adults at a young age.
Work is a blessing. It’s very hard to become wealthy if you don’t have a good work ethic. Unless you have inheritances or trust funds, the rest of the wealthy truly had to put in work and effort. The one-off examples of those who won lottery tickets or hit it big in the stock market at random, are not the norm. If there is a shortcut, sadly I never found it: hard work was inevitable in how my future would pan out. I still have to work hard today, there is no shortage of work.
#3. I experimented across many jobs when I was a student (both in highschool and college).
Despite my parents’ constant hope that I’d excel academically, I was quite an average student, mostly subpar in highschool other than senior year when it hit me how my college prospects would dim if I didn’t clean my act up. I chose my college based on money – they had offered me the best deal to attend through a combination of loans, aid, grants, and scholarships.
During college, I started bartending at my family’s other restaurant for summers and throughout the school year. Since I had so much free time in college due to the class schedule, I spent the rest of my time working and joining extra-curricular clubs to practice various skills like acting, singing, entrepreneurship, mentoring international students, etc.
Since I’ve never have any allowance, I had to earn my own money to buy books, clothes, food, and to finance the trips and events I wanted to attend. I opened up my own business ventures like my online store, sourcing, marketing, packaging, and shipping products between and during classes, weeknights, and on weekends. Eventually, I became an eBay powerseller using all of my earnings to treat myself to trips, experiment with stock market investing, and also for daily expenses.
I’m proud to say I never had to ask my parents for money. In addition, I created and taught my own brand of Chinese classes to locals briefly (that paid for spring break!). I also tried to set up a placemat advertising business, but gave up since I was leaving for a summer in China.
#4. I went straight into the workforce after undergrad and never took any more formal education since (nor will I plan to).
I’ve always spent very little time on my studies. In fact, I’d say my studies always came last in terms of priorities, to my parents’ endless dismay. Perhaps it was resentment against my parents’ aggressive obsession with academia or the annoying over-intellectual know-it-alls that “smart” people often come across as or the self-righteous pontificating professors and teachers who gave academia a bad name. Whatever the case, I wanted to learn real world skills and have nothing to do with academia ever again. I did my time; now I was free.
Since I had made the economic choice of choosing the cheapest school to attend, I graduated with around $7k in student debt, unlike many others who graduated with 5–6 digits worth of consumer and tuition debt. I also self-funded my entire college experience, gallivanting internationally equally to the likes of my well-off classmates and others whose parents paid for their holidays, vacations, and all expenses. Through being independently responsible for my own livelihood and learning how to manage money well, I didn’t have any credit card debt that I couldn’t pay off myself through my eBay activities and other jobs.
#5. I chose my own profession: sales by way of headhunting.
I saw from a young age how incredibly hard my parents worked to provide me a great future; while I disagreed with them on their views, parenting style, steadfast dedication to what I view as the middle-class way of pursuing advanced degrees and a “stable” job, I nevertheless absorbed their tenacity and self-confidence that indeed – anything you put your mind to, you can achieve.
Deviating from my tightly curated, piano-playing, art-dance-Chinese-class-taking, college-going childhood and adolescence, I broke free from my parents’ control and decided to throw my finance degree aside to follow my passion into the career of accumulating financial assets – SALES.
During college and highschool, I had already experienced white-collar technical roles like data entry and financial analysis. I underperformed in those roles because I took no interest in them and I didn’t really know what I was doing! It was boring, monotonous, and the people, while nice, were not particularly inspiring or lived lives that I aspired to have.
However, through reading and learning about success, I found authors like Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Stephen Covey, etc. who had the life I wanted.
They had fame, riches, glory, and were able to help others also escape their misery through self-development, financial education, financial empowerment, and self-management. Not only were they exceptionally high-performing and great contributors to society, they had the power and message to inspire the masses, including myself. I was grateful to them and I could see a niche for me to also become someone like that. Being Asian and a woman, I knew this road would lead me to where I wanted to go.
Coincidentally, all of these types of authors are salespeople and started their careers in sales. Whether it was selling stocks, insurance, real estate, or pots and pans, they all engaged in SELLING, which made them the charismatic people they became. I put out to the universe that I wanted to be a successful saleswoman and lo and behold, a headhunting firm reached out to me and convinced me to get into the world of selling human talent: the profession of agency recruitment ().
#6. I worked VERY hard on my headhunting career.
In the business of sales and recruitment, the failure rate is significant. Some fail due to laziness and a lack of commitment. Some simply aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to learn better sales skills. Some are too arrogant and have a lack of self awareness. I was confident that I would not only survive, but that I was also going to be a top-performer. Because unlike those who fail, I viewed recruitment as a career that I am committing to, NOT a job.
My whole life I’ve worked JOBS. Roles that didn’t define me, mattered little, and was simply a trade between my labor hours into money. Recruitment was that, however it meant more at a more serious scale in terms of the payouts available. If I did this well, it would be my ticket to my future, out of financial depression, into wealth, riches, and success, which would then lead me to my ultimate goal of becoming a motivational force to help others succeed just like my idols had helped me find hope and excitement in life.
For the first two weeks on the job, I worked from 8am-9pm 5 days a week, and I also worked 6 hours each day on the weekend. After that, I consistently stayed in the office until I was the only one left and worked at least 1 day on the weekend many weeks. On a base salary of $35k in NYC in 2011, I made almost $90k my first year in total. Year 2, I clocked in at $130k. By year 3 of my career, I was making over $215k as a 25 year-old. I had achieved my dream of being like my idols in the books I read.
#7. I invested early and heavily.
Due to my frugal way of living (spurred by my college-aged habits as a scrappy young kid), I continued to decrease my cost of living throughout my 20s. At this point, I no longer had to work really hard at headhunting since I had become really good at it so I shifted my focus to investing all of my money. I started learning about real estate at the library on weekends, reading Rich Dad brand of books, and utilizing Trulia to understand property patterns, values, and availabilities. I used Excel to create very simple spreadsheets that helped me evaluate how much I should be paying for certain asset classes.
In general, I always invested my spare cash in equities that I handpicked through my own knowledge or those others recommended. Having already traded stocks through the 2008 calamity then the 2011 recovery, I knew that stocks were cyclical and not to be afraid of. Thus, I parked all my spare cash into equities. When I had a home purchase I wanted to make, then and only then would I convert equities into cash for the downpayment.
I’ve always invested 80–90% of my cash into something. I stopped using savings accounts because I invested all of my savings. I kept the cash I needed for normal expenses in checking. Instead of hoarding cash, I’m a big fan of understanding assets, debt, and leveraging. If cash is king, then debt is queen. I prefer leveraging kings to get me more queens.
#8. When the time is right, it’s time to let a few things go.
In my last year as an employee, I had an inkling my employment journey would be over soon. 5 days after my 5th year anniversary, I handed in my resignation. I realized I could headhunt on my own since I had a. the skills/experience b. confidence that I could replicate my success c. free time to dedicate to my business (no desire to prioritize life over work) d. capital through my real estate assets allowing me to take a risk and e. low cost of living (I still live with roommates and live very frugally).
At the same time, I realized the housing market in NYC had reached a very good time to sell, so I also let that condo go. Since I viewed houses as investments, these were not personal choices. They were business decisions and I felt nothing but pure happiness having locked in such an insane amount of appreciation. I quickly got on the house-hunting game again since I was doing a 1031 exchange, a time-bound investment strategy that now required me to re-invest all of my profits and original debt amount. I traded one home for 3 more in other states, in what I call tertiary markets.
Throughout my life, I always had very clear understandings of who or what was good for me and at what point in my life. I always maintained my sanity by investing heavily into my personal skillset, activities that relaxed me and made me a better person to be around, and the very rare people who truly deserved my time and attention through life’s many tests and challenges. Everything and everyone else, like the seasons in the year, come and go as naturally as they should. I don’t believe in everwhich is a big reason why many people are unhappy.
To a large degree, that’s why I’m single (contentedly) at 31. Indeed, I’m very particular who I want in my life and if someone lets me down, I don’t give second chances to those who really haven’t been in my life long enough to deserve them. As much as those decisions are hard to make and hurt, I have to preserve my dignity and sanity and move on, whether in business or relationships.
#9. I became an entrepreneur.
Although I could have continued to increase my wealth through a job at a headhunting firm like I had been doing, I decided to create my own recruitment and life coaching businesses. To be honest, if life were only about the dollars and cents, I really could make more money in the short term being a highly paid employee like I was and continue to build others’ businesses.
However, like many authors on financial success and life success can attest to, entrepreneurship is truly the only way to become uber-rich and scale. Sure, as a $200–300k earner as a headhunter, I will be rich in most cases. However, owning a recruiting firm, although I only make a half of that in my first year, I’m building a business brand and value through that brand. In a few years’ time, that value could outstrip the short-term cash you earn as an employee. At least that’s the hope; such is the risk of entrepreneurship.
My advice to those who want to be their own boss is to really think about their reasons for entering entrepreneurship. For instance, if I wasn’t already a millionaire, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable leaving a high-paying job. If I was a family woman with demands outside of myself like children or ill parents, I also wouldn’t become an entrepreneur. Sometimes, staying an employee is a great strategy too.
Sometimes, being an entrepreneur is too much work and most people can’t handle it. Some don’t have the temperament, maturity, versatility, adaptability, financial cushion, freedom, and risk-tolerance to be a serious employer sustainably. If it’s just to see your name on a business or feel proud of having a company of your own creation or to just “be free of the man”, then of course, that is the biggest predictor of failure because it is totally emotional. Surprisingly yet unsurprisingly, many entrepreneurs fall in love with the idea of entrepreneurship versus really being equipped, prepared, and suited for it.
For almost every human in today’s day and age, we live in a shared habitat, a community. No one grew successful in a vacuum. Every wealthy person started somewhere (again, not talking about inheritances or lotteries). For people who boast about their own accomplishments with no idea how much others or their life circumstances helped them are ignorant and missing half the picture. On the same token, those who perform below their potential and make excuses for themselves are perhaps even worse as they are shirking their advantages in life, unfair as others would die to switch places, yet can’t.
For those who do good work, they deserve good, yes even phenomenal, pay for their hard work. Don’t ever hate the wealthy because they are not to be the scapegoat for anyone’s ills. You shouldn’t lump together a whole demographic of people because of a small portion’s behavior (i.e. all immigrants are illegals, the rich/poor are horrible, all Republicans/Democrats are terrible). That is narrow-minded and unequivocally wrong. It’s also how racism, sexism, and the rest of the -isms manifest and fester, ruining society’s trust and harmony.
We all came into this world with different decks of cards stacked for us and against us. To bemoan one’s lack of success unto others is simply not true. For every person who complains about their lot in life, infinitely more have it much worse. The “I have it worse” game is impossible to win and meaningless to play.
Recognize your strengths, your personal attributes, and be true to yourself, your future, and live the life you deserve through the work you put into it. Educate yourself beyond what is taught in a classroom so you can find your own way to your future life. More importantly, DO something about it.
Convert your thoughts into actions which then teach you things that you can do more upon. After a few cycles of doing, learning, then doing and learning again, hopefully you will end up where you wanted to be, or close enough.