I Became a Millionaire at 33 And It Was A Disappointment

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I’ve heard hitting the magical 7-figures mark is a goal of many. It was mine, too, for many years, until I finally did it and got to having a million dollars in my bank account. It was an extremely long process though, because it came about when the business that I co-founded and grew for 17 years got acquired, and I walked away a millionaire.

For context, I came from a low/middle income family. My parents dropped out of school after the age of 12, and their hope was for their kids to not be like them, and be university graduates instead. That was what they felt guaranteed success. When I was 17 years old, I had the good fortune to bump into this one particular classmate of mine, who would later become my company’s co-founder and business partner. We started a small business after knowing each other for a few months, with no capital nor investors, and we worked day and night growing it into the company that it became.

With my newfound status as a millionaire, the first thought that I had was that I finally made it. The second thought was that I was suddenly very lost. The business, which was a large part of my identity for almost half of my life, was suddenly gone. I had to start exploring and look for new things to occupy my time with. This path led me down what was most readily accessible and available – chasing material possessions as though it was a hobby or even a newfound purpose.

Fancy Watches

watch collage

Mechanical beauties, fancy watches can be exclusive and very expensive. The right ones may make you money, but that’s really an exercise in speculation, because no one really knows which watches can really make money, even for established brands, like Rolex. I had a few fancy watches from Panerai, Audemars Piguet, IWC, Brietling, Omega, Rolex, and Chopard. Panerai was a favourite of mine because I particularly liked the styling, and I had several of their watches. 

What I found though, was that my love and appreciation for the mechanical ingenuity, and the aesthetics of the watches, does not last. I found myself getting bored very quickly, and watch ownership was made worse by the fact that maintenance rears its ugly head again. For some brands, even a polish can cost a few thousand dollars, and worse, take 6-12 months before you get your watch back from the service centre. This is on top of the fact that you face an ongoing depreciation of the value of your watch.

Expensive Meals

I’ve also always wondered about expensive, fancy dining, so I went about trying these meals, and specifically at Michellin-starred restaurants, purportedly the very best in dining options around. Sadly enough, despite the price, the food can still be a hit or miss. In the end, I found it to be extremely unsatisfying, even though it is supposed to be quite the experience.

Flashy Cars

Lamborghini Gallardo

One day, I decided to get a Lamborghini because it was always a childhood dream of mine, and I was finally able to afford one. The first day that I took possession of the car (it was a second-hand Lamborghini), I was ecstatic. A dream of mine was finally coming true. I was also nervous as heck, having never driven a car so powerful nor so expensive before. It was an experience just simply driving it home that day.

After a few weeks of owning the Lamborghini though, the allure of the dream just started to fade really quickly. The realities of ownership set in. One evening, I had a blown tyre, and it happened right before a business trip that I was scheduled to go for that night. I learnt three things that day. Firstly, it’s really hard to find a tyre shop that stocks Lamborghini tyres that would be open at night. Secondly, Lamborghinis have a special wheel nut that requires a special tool that only Lamborghinis have. Typical tyre shops will not have this, as typical cars will not need this wheel nut. This tool typically comes with the car, but because I bought a second-hand Lamborghini, I didn’t get the original equipment, and I didn’t know enough to check for this tool. Thirdly, if stuff goes wrong, and you want to leave your car overnight at a workshop, they’re very reluctant to let you do so if your car is a high-value car, like a Lamborghini.

I managed to get all those issues resolved that evening, but I had to make a lot of frantic phone calls, and it was a very stressful experience that I wouldn’t like to repeat. Now, admittedly, some of that is my fault for not checking, but if I were to drive a typical car, I could at least leave it at the workshop while I head off for my business trip. This, amongst many other problems that happened over the course of my ownership, left me a very sour taste for high-end flashy cars. I decided to sell off the Lamborghini, and truthfully, the only 2 days that I was happy were the days that I bought it and the day that I sold it.

Big Apartment

If a flashy car was a mistake, then I thought I couldn’t go wrong buying property, and that it would be a great idea instead. So I looked around and decided to get a nice big apartment, and finally settled on a 1320sqft apartment that was in a quiet neighbourhood. In my mind, I had all these dreams of entertaining guests over at my place, cooking big meals, and throwing parties. In reality though, I realised I didn’t have the patience nor passion to cook or clean up after people. In fact, just tidying up a big apartment is a gigantic chore in itself.

In addition, because the apartment was in a quieter neighbourhood, I was far from supermarkets and eateries and public transportation. That meant I was reliant on my car, and made me very helpless whenever the car was in the workshop for servicing or repairs.

What Really Makes Each Of Us Happy

I’m not dissing big apartments, flashy cars, fancy watches, or expensive meals. Some people have a genuine love for these things, and I respect that. However, it’s just not something for me, and I’m now very much more aware of what makes me happy. My choice of apartment is a small one that’s just right for my needs, but located at a very convenient location such that I don’t have to drive to get to the supermarket or other amenities. I do not drive, and if I do need to buy a car again, it would be an economical car that’s functional, not a flashy one. My watch of choice is a Xiaomi Mi Band 3, a watch cum heart-rate tracker that costs SGD30. I have meals at the neighbourhood eatery and seldom dine at anywhere expensive unless I have to. When the basics are taken care of, I find myself facing greatly diminishing utility.

Even though I have the ability to buy really nice things, I now know that my previous pursuit of material things does not make me happy. What being a millionaire does though, is open options to you. An option to be part of networks and friends that you normally wouldn’t be able to be part of. An option to provide financial assistance to financially needy people. An option to go experience things that you couldn’t before. An option to have the freedom to do whatever it is that you want. These days, I focus my efforts on philanthropy, fitness, travel, and experiences.

The words that Jim Carrey said come to mind, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer”. It’s easier to say that now that I’ve seen the other side of the fence, and a lot of people will definitely think that way. I know the younger me wouldn’t have believed this too, but hopefully something will click in a few of you such that you’ll start to re-evaluate what your life goals are, and what you are pursuing.

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About the author

Alvin Poh

I've over 17 years of entrepreneurship experience, having built a tech company to be the top in the country, which was subsequently acquired for an 8-figure sum. As CEO, I led the company through robust growth to 150 employees across 4 countries. After the acquisition, I embraced minimalism, sold off my personal possessions, and started living around the world.

Read more about my story here.

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By Alvin Poh

About Author

I've over 17 years of entrepreneurship experience, having built a tech company to be the top in the country, which was subsequently acquired for an 8-figure sum. As CEO, I led the company through robust growth to 150 employees across 4 countries. After the acquisition, I embraced minimalism, sold off my personal possessions, and started living around the world.

Read more about my story here.