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Without National Service, I Would Have Been Poor

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

So...Money Maverick is in reservist.


First of all, I would like to express an apology to any readers who feel that there’s been a slight decline in quality in the last two weeks. I had been preparing for reservist by working intensely for many hours, and I have not been able to do a high-research based, numerical article.

Thankfully I have had help from friends, readers and the team (like last week's article), but it's still hard to manage.

I am supposed to be serving the nation at the moment, after all - and being in Finance, I take taxpayer money EXTREMELY seriously. So I get my job done and then I write, not before.

This is my 5th time.

The last time I was in reservist, I grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take to adjust back to work and meet client expectations. As a result, I had to use savings for almost a month and a half. It really set me back for my semi-retirement plan.

This time will be different.

I was bitter about last year’s effect on my personal life – but having better prepared this time round and matured a little bit over the last few times coming back – I’ve realized something.

If I could go back in time and choose whether I would do National Service (NS) – knowing that the outcome would be like this, I would do it all over again.

I think many guys have considered this. They look back and wonder – well, could I achieve everything I’ve achieved without being trapped for two years by mandatory conscription? Do I really need the relationships that I built in NS?

Would I have been better off without it?

Was it all just a waste of time?

For me – as the title says – I’ve had to really admit that without my time in NS, I would have been poor.

Not to say that I’m particularly rich now, but I am comfortable.

Comfortable enough to be operating a small business without feeling strained or having to underpay myself or work a 100-hour work week like when I first started in this line.

Comfortable enough to know that I can feed myself, give back to my family, social center and prepare for my future while occasionally treating myself to something nice. I think that’s all anyone can really ask for in today’s day and age, and I’m always thankful to God and my clients for that.

Without NS, I would not be here – I would not be Money Maverick. I would have done something else, and I would be far less comfortable.

National Service has given me experiences and values that I could only dream of acquiring in years of working in a corporate environment. Here are some.

1) Relationship Skills

Sometimes when I look at my fellow sergeants, I am in awe of the fact that these guys genuinely like me as a human being.

It’s hard to imagine having become friends with them in another context.

I would have disliked the guy who comes across as anal when in fact he’s just really particular about his hygiene.

I would have thought that the only son with three sisters was sexist when he was really just comfortable and far more used to close relationships with women.

I would have looked down on people who appeared lazy when they were really just disturbingly efficient.

Being stuck in a committed relationship with the army also leaves you stuck in a committed relationship with a group of unique men from all sorts of backgrounds and personalities. You can learn so much from them, let alone simply how to get along with people – which has a quantitative value to your finances that you may never have realized.

Remember, married and well-liked people tend to get paid more regardless of performance.

2) Leadership (and Entrepreneurship)

I am not creative. And I was never a particularly good leader – at most, I would be appointed de facto if it were something I was particularly good at, or if I were simply the exception (like a guy in a group of girls).

I remember that I wanted to be an officer strictly for glory reasons. It was a good achievement for a young man, my parents would probably be super proud and it would open up career opportunities in the government sector (having been rejected by NIE 4 times in 7 years, I can absolutely tell you this is true).

…Naturally, I did not achieve this.

Some guys will provide excuses, but I was simply not good enough.

I think that’s okay. I took a little longer than some of my peers, but since I was already not able to lead on a large scale, I was comfortable learning how to lead on a small scale, and it turned out to be necessary.

The Money Maverick team has grown and shrunk and grown in the last year, with it being both a painful and happy experience overall. On the office side – I’ve learnt to better get along with my juniors and teach them what I can so that they can avoid my first-year failures, of which there are many.

NS was really an important part of learning to do all this.

No one can really force you to be a good leader, but I was already assigned a leadership position (sergeant) and to be completely honest, aside from what little I could do to lead by example physically, I was actually a largely incompetent leader.

My learning curve was much higher than my men, who were competent and intellectual for drills, equipment, etc. Such an environment was crucial for me to learn to be a little humbler (I’m still not very humble, but) and practice being a better leader on a day by day basis to save face.

Especially when people are counting on you for their income.

3) Resilience

My idea of resilience a few years ago used to be undergoing interrogation for 24 hours before 3 days in the jungle with no food and limited water.

Now it’s being able to spend 15 hours in uniform before sleeping in a non air-con room.

How the mighty have fallen.

Still, no area in my life short of a life-threatening disease or the hit and run (okay that’s already two more than I thought) has taught me resilience like NS. I remember watching my brother work a dozen hours a day without fail, thinking to myself – there’s no way I could do that.

But having modelled my working style after his, I’ve realized that I can do it if I keep trying.

Whether it’s anything – getting clients or regular exercise – if you plan a progressively achievable goal and keep attempting to reach it, I believe you eventually will. It took me about 5 months to develop a habit of regular exercise – failing and failing again over a year and a half.

There are many things in this world you will not want to do. And I hope you will do them anyway, because overcoming difficult things will bring you joy.

Oh, and it’s almost certainly a huge factor in becoming straight up rich.

4) Risk-Management

NS is all about risk management. You’re training to defend the country – there’s a gazillion guidelines and necessary procedures, and a unit tends to intentionally convolute that even more for their own convenience. In any case, you’d have to manage risk really, really well.

Even with the simpler stuff.

Should you intentionally call in sick on a day where there may or may not be a core exercise to clear your ICT? [High Risk, Low Return]

Should you pack less so that you can lug less into your camp, at risk of needing to purchase more things at the E-Mart? [Low risk, Low Return].

Should you sneak/drive out of camp on a night that isn’t assigned a nights out for Lan gaming and fast food? [Medium Risk, High Return].

Hariz likes to say that our primary job is risk management. I tend to not like this because I worry that people will just assume, I can only do insurance.

But yeah, it’s true. That’s the job of a Financial Consultant.

Looking strictly at investments - without quality risk management, no one would invest through me. It would be far too troublesome and risky to take on aggressive, market beating portfolios without some idea of how a risk manager – such as myself – would go about it.

Even with a balanced, lower-risk diversified portfolio paying dividends over time, there are still some risks that will require future management – inflation, for example, or making sure the capital is maintained over time.

5) Support

I’ve saved this for last because it's the most important.

NS is a pretty crazy time for guys. Its one more phase that separates boys from men and girls from guys (this one's literal). Like any united tragedy - something happens.

And like any united tragedy, you get to find out who is going to stick around to be there for you.

It affects the vast number of your relationships. For companionship, there's countless break up stories that occur through NS.

It affects your mind. You naturally become less intellectually inclined. You might become more tactical, more street smart - or you might dull away.

It affects your social prospects. Because you might never interact with people in the same way again. And that might be better.

It affects your body - whether you gain weight to the extreme, or develop discipline and enhanced fitness.

The range is so huge and the potential changes are so drastic that it's very rare to find people emerge close to what they were before they entered. Some gain confidence in some areas, while others lose it. Sometimes both.

Simultaneously, there's a huge gap between those who have a supportive set of friends and family and those who don't.

During NS, and I'm sure most guys would agree with me - you learn to filter it out. The activities show you people who are genuinely good, trying to be good, pretending to be good or who just don't really give a crap. And you see who supports you, who you can support.

And from there you see what kind of person you want to be and the kind of support you want to have.

The good thing about NS is that it's a thorough 2 year experiment, followed by 10 years of follow ups. Each time you may sidetrack or get it wrong, you'll always get reminded of how it should be. How you should be.

Such support makes all the difference in your financial life.

Will your partner support your financial decisions?

Will your parents support your career choices?

Will your friends support you as an entrepreneur?

Will you be able to withstand the weight of making financial mistakes?

And will you be a better person for all of it?


Occasionally - and especially days like today where the day's activities are closed - I do wonder if life would be very different if I hadn't had to do National Service.

I would be working from the office instead of here, I hope. I hope I would still be working in this line.

But maybe not. Things could have gone very differently.

I'm certain - I would not have any of the developed skills required to make money, keep money or manage money.

What a scary thought.

...So I push that out of my mind, close this laptop and play Super Smash Bros in our bunk.

Money Maverick

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