What Does It Take To Be Successful?

by Patrick Liew on August 20, 2019

What Does It Take To Be Successful?

I was born in a poor family and grew up among the poorest of the poor.

My parents were low-income earners and they have to support a relatively large family.

As a result, we were literally living from hand to mouth.

While growing up, I did not remember having any toy.

Still, I had a lot of fun playing with whatever was around me.

Entertaining myself with a rich imagination and make-believe stories, and creating my own “toys”.

Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs.

When my brother gave me his school uniform, I had to wear another pair of shorts underneath it.

He was – let’s just say, bigger in size than me.

I had only needed to be mindful that when I coughed, I should not cough too hard.

My pants might drop.

Our family had barely enough money to spend beyond the basic necessities.

We didn’t even have the luxury of eating fruits on a regular basis.

On special occasions, we might share an orange.

It would be carefully sliced into more than six pieces so that every one of us could have a share of the fruit.

I would eat the orange slowly, including parts of the back of the skin.

I would allow the juice and the pulp to slush around my mouth as I savoured the sweetness of the fruit.

I could still feel the juice uplifting my senses even as it flowed, drip by drip down my throat.

If I could, I would have eaten the whole skin too.

The lack of vitamin C has unfortunately left me with a less than healthy-looking skin.

To this day, the pockmarks on my face were the result of a lack of nutrition.

In my younger days – yes, a short while ago – I used to attract girls with my rugged look.

Those wise girls could appreciate beauty when they saw it, and I was definitely a star attraction with them.

If you believe I was ever a star, you can believe anything in the world.

Even though I was poor, I did not feel poor because I had good parents.

How can I complain when they didn’t even have a share of the orange?

They sacrificed their own proper diet for their children and my aged grandmother.

Bringing us up was not an easy task but they managed to keep us alive and well until we reached adulthood.

While growing up, there were nine of us, including my parents living in a small flat.

To make ends meet, my parents would rent out whatever space they could spare.

At one point, we even had a few people renting our living room.

We would have rented out our toilet if we did not have to use it every now and then.

My grandmother and siblings were squeezed into a small room together with me.

I used to joke that the room was so small even the mice were hunchbacks.

If I had a dog, the dog would have to wag its tail vertically to avoid hitting the walls.

On one end of the room, my elder brother had a canvas bed and a study table to himself.

My grandma’s bed occupied the other end of the room.

The rest of us would sleep on the floor.

I never had a proper bed for the first 21 years of my life.

Every evening I would retrieve a woven straw mat of about 3 cm thick from a cupboard and laid it out on the floor.

After a while of tossing and turning on the mat and hard floor, I would get to sleep.

On many nights, I might roll and sleep underneath my grandmother’s bed.

Hence, if you look at my face, it’s a little flat from prolonged sleep underneath the bed.

I would never forget the day when I was drafted to the army to serve my National Service.

My officer showed me a bed and told me, “Soldier, this is your bed”.

Truth be told, I didn’t even know how to sleep on a bed.

That evening, I slept under the bed as I did for the first 21 years of my life.

The next morning, the officer called for a “Stand-By-Bed” inspection.

What that inspection meant was that any soldier who didn’t tidy up his bed would be punished.

Guess whose bed was the cleanest of them all?

Which soldier was not punished?

After that day, most of my army colleagues slept on the floor.

You can say I started the first of many revolutions.

At a young age, I had to do part-time work, including helping to run a dinky little stall at the Sungei Road flea market to earn extra pocket money and to stay alive.

The Sungei Road flea market is no longer around but it will always have a special place in my heart.

I used to work there during my spare time and right from a tender age of 11.

At the flea market, you could buy almost everything you need for your home and workplace – and at a bargain price.

At that point, I was helping an elderly couple.

They were distant relatives on my grandmother’s side.

We ran the second dingy stall in front of the defunct ice factory and at the fringe of Sungei Road.

My grandaunt cum lady boss had an unforgettable personality.

For example, during every lunch, she would eat a bowl of rice.

Nothing strange about that – except that my seemingly invincible boss would pour a bottle of stout beer over the rice.

She would make sure it was stirred, not shaken before eating it.

In those days, the Sungei Road flea market was also known as Thieves’ Market – a trading hub for petty thieves, pickpockets, and purse-snatchers.

Those were exciting times.

If you lose the hubcap of your vehicle, you could buy one at the Thieves’ Market for a fraction of the price.

What’s more, you can get a second-hand hubcap within minutes.

After you have fitted the hubcap on your vehicle, when you go to the other side, guess what?

The other hubcap might be missing.

At the Thieves’ Market, I got to know many ethical, hardworking and creative hawkers.

They struggled to eke out a living by offering different wares and services.

Some of them broke the poverty cycle and became very successful.

They made a good living for themselves and for their loved ones.

I remember a 17-year-old orphan. He was a student from Beatty Secondary School who supported his entire family by selling second-hand shoes.

He made anywhere between $1000 to $3000 per month.

It was considered a princely sum of money during those days, and it was equivalent to the salary of a senior executive.

I was helping my grandaunt to sell jeans and all kinds of clothing for working adults in a highly competitive marketplace.

They carried white labels or generic brands, and the only selling point was that I could sell it cheap or cheaper.

Looking back, it was in that tough and highly-practical “business school” that I first learned about entrepreneurship.

Serious peddlers at the flea market ran their businesses based on simple profit-generating ideas.

However, all of us harboured big dreams.

Dreams kept us learning, improving, and strengthening our performances and results.

On a stormy day, when the crowd dwindled, our big dreams would warm our hearts and keep our spirits up.

Why am I sharing this story with you?

Regardless of your profile, background and experience, you have everything it takes to learn how to be rich and wealthy.

The only thing stopping you is yourself.

The greatest poverty is not a poverty of money, but a poverty of dreams and actions.

If you are willing to take massive actions to turn your dreams into a reality, you can become the next success story.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


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