‘We can’t start businesses Lu Wee,’ my friend told me. ‘We’re engineering students, not business.’
I wanted to believe her.
But something was happening in the world. Young people were making millions online. Not all of them have business degrees, do they?
The year was 2010. I was 21 years old. Facebook was 4.
Selling things on Facebook?
Not many people were thinking about that then.
Everyone in my class was excited about being hired by big oil and gas MNCs.
I was excited about making money online.
Classes felt out of date, out of touch.
‘Mama, can I drop out of uni?’ I asked my mom one day in my third year.
She was shocked, but understanding.
‘I just want to do something interesting in my life. These classes are boring the life out of me.’
‘If it makes you unhappy,’ she told me, ‘maybe you should really quit.’
But it wasn’t that easy. I had signed up for a scholarship I couldn’t back out of.
I had to pay them the tuition fees for the entire course if I dropped out. That was RM90k.
I didn’t have RM90k.
So I spent an extra one and a half years dragging my feet through uni and graduated.
I learned my lesson.
Never say yes to a lot of money just because it is a lot of money. Never say yes to a good opportunity just because it is a good opportunity.
Say yes because you really want to. Say yes only when the road ahead of that yes matters to you.
Because no matter what road you choose, you will face tough times.
No amount of ‘good opportunity’ that doesn’t matter to you will make these tough times bearable. The tough times will only be bearable if it brings you where you want to go.
But this post isn’t about that. It’s about giving yourself permission.
A. Don’t wait for people to tell you, you can
I want to say that I was strong. I wasn’t affected by what my friend said.
But when I went home and told my parents the same thing, ‘I want to start a business’, they told me that starting a business would cost a lot of money.
Other than that, they said I wasn’t street smart enough. ‘Don’t mistake book smart with knowing what to do in the real world,’ they told me.
It hurt, but they were right.
I made a promise to myself to learn the basics first. That year, I spent US$2,000 on my first business course that year.
It was a lot of money to me because I only made RM300/month as a part-time tutor.
As if spending US$2,000 of money I didn’t have wasn’t stupid enough, I decided to spend it on buying a course online. The random stranger I found appeared to know what he was doing.
‘Is it a scam? Are you sure?’ my mother asked me.
I wasn’t sure. It could have been a scam. I almost didn’t buy it. But I was desperate.
‘I’m sure it’s legit.’ I lied to my mother.
If I had a credit card, I could have just hidden it from her. But I didn’t. So she had to know.
I spent two years paying for that course. But it taught me everything I needed to know as a noob.
‘Spend 5 hours per week on this course,’ I remember the course instructor telling us.
I was so desperate to learn I spent 20 hours instead. I was even bringing notes of it into my classes in uni.
I spent most of my time at home looking at the videos online.
‘Who is that guy?’ my family would ask me whenever they passed by me.
I told them he was the instructor for the course I spent US$2,000 on. They didn’t ask very much after that.
‘What is he teaching you anyway?’ my siblings would ask me sometimes.
I didn’t know what to say. ‘Some business stuff I guess,’ I told them.
My interest in business always seemed like a nice hobby to my family and friends. They really didn’t think it was possible for me to actually start a business.
But one day in 2012, I did. I started my first ‘online’ business and it was profitable within a month.
B. Only listen to the advice of people you want to be like
In Secondary Five, my English teacher told me writers could not make a living writing.
She said that to me because I asked her, ‘If you love reading and writing so much, why don’t you become a writer?’
She laughed at my question. Naive child.
‘You’d starve to death! That’s why I chose to teach. You can’t make money doing something you love. Don’t be stupid. You need to choose something practical.’
I was disappointed. But the message was clear: Abandon your ambitions. Spend most of your time on something practical.
So I spent less time reading fiction and more time reading my Science and Math textbooks.
I didn’t want to starve.
But I shouldn’t have asked her for advice about writing. I should have asked Stephen King.
Stephen King worked in restaurants while writing his novels. But no matter what he did, he wrote. He wrote every single day. He’s written 55 novels like this.
For advice on writing, I should have sent a letter to Stephen King, not my English teacher.
Because I didn’t want to be an English teacher.
If I had asked Stephen King, I would have continued writing every day.
But I stopped. And then spent six years preparing myself for a ‘practical career’ instead.
Those years feel wasted.
I mean, I loved those years. But I wish I wrote more.
But I’m writing every day now. I hope I can catch up on those six years I wasted.
tldr; If you have a dream, don’t ask people, ‘Am I allowed to have this dream?’
Dream. And then make your dreams a reality.
Don’t ask people who gave up on their dreams, ‘Hey, what would you do with a dream?’
They would tell you to give up.
Instead, ask people who are already what you want to be: ‘What would you do with a dream?’
They would tell you something that would push you to keep going.