May 18, 2007

Work, Study, Money, Freedom and Maslow

In conjunction with New York University, the NUS Law Faculty is offering a new master's degree course. You get two master's degrees in law, one from NYU and one from NUS, for the price of one. And getting the two degrees takes only about the same time as getting one.

ST May 17, 2007
NUS-New York uni law course draws 'rainbow' group
42 students from 23 countries enrolled; programme awards 2 master's degrees
By Jane Ng

MISS Marie Dalton could have done her master's in law in New York, but she chose to attend a 'more valuable' programme in Singapore instead.

She signed up for a course offered jointly by New York University (NYU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) and - in 10 months' time - will have two master's degrees.

Ms Dalton, a former associate attorney at a Los Angeles international law firm, chose to come here as it will give her a 'broader understanding of the economic and legal realities of doing business in Asia'.

This will help her advise clients better when she returns to her firm, said the 25-year-old NYU law graduate.She is one of five United States citizens enrolled in the NYU-NUS tie-up, which has a 'rainbow'' group totalling 42 students from 23 countries, including Chile, China, Rwanda and Uzbekistan.

All have basic law degrees and many have significant work experience.

The programme, which kicked off on May 7, is conducted in Singapore but taught primarily by NYU faculty members.

The course is taught in Singapore, but the tuition fees are based on NYU rates (that is to say, very expensive). However, to kickstart the programme, the universities are offering a very generous and large number of scholarships (including full scholarships). These scholarships won't be there forever - in fact, they will cease to be offered by 2010/2011.

Last year I seriously considered applying for this course. In the end, I decided not to.

Singaporeans tend to get a little fixated about paper qualifications. I admit I have this tendency too. But the truth is that one year of quality working experience will often be worth more than one year of further studies. And a master's degree, or two, does not necessarily add anything to a person's market value.

Market value, of course, is not the only reason for pursuing further studies. I had various reasons for considering this NYU-NUS course. One big reason was that I just felt like taking a one-year break from work and spending more time with the kids. And yet not live like a complete bum. Therefore the studying.

Incidentally, I remember Jimmy Mun describing me as a "financial ascetic", in the comment section of this post. He was referring to my simple lifestyle (relative to my income). I draw a 5-figure monthly salary, and my last bonus was double-digit, in terms of number of months. Mrs Wang, a lawyer, also commands quite respectable income. However, we live in a HDB flat and don't own a car.

Now the great thing about being a financial ascetic is that it makes many options available, if you need them. For example, if I really wanted to, I could just quit work and go study for a year. Or if I really hated my boss (I don't), I could just toss in my resignation letter without bothering to look for another job first.

Money can't buy happiness. It can buy freedom. And freedom is usually better than a condo or a BMW.'

I digress - but increasingly I begin to see that financial ascetism can possibly be a factor that leads you to enjoy your work a lot more. When you don't really need ALL that money you're earning, you start finding other reasons to work (or you find work that fulfills those reasons). Like, to challenge yourself, or to learn, or to contribute, or because you have a Vision or a Dream that you seek to fulfil through your work.

You know what I mean - it's self-actualisation. The work becomes meaningful for its own sake. The money ceases to be the point. Passion becomes the driver. And that is approximately the stage when individuals start achieving all the very best things they'll ever do in their lives.

Of course, our ministers are not there yet. Far from it. Because you see, their minds are still very much on money, money, money.


Anonymous said...

Back in the good ole days, when corporate excess was the norm and board rooms were littered with easy money, having an MBA or a similar paper was a prerequisite for promotions. However, the last 10 years (ex-2006) have been the dumps for global markets and scholarships have pretty much dried up. Hiring managers are no longer MBA grads. Hence, waving a MBA in their faces is no longer an advantage. In fact, it might even be a disadvantage.

And yes I agree on the bit regarding economic freedom. Singaporeans, generally, do not understand money. Once you spend your money on a car or a condo, you become tied down to that liability/asset.

Anonymous said...

I don't intend to buy a car or a condo too. The debt-freedom trade off is just not worth it. Actually condo is pretty dumb, other than status symbol (supposedly) how many hours a day does one really get to be in it or use the facilities. Rather save the dough for rainy days, getting more of them these days.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for spending within your means, but it can be taken to extremes. Just look at Nina Wang (Hey she's a Wang too!).

Money can buy freedom, and it can buy time too. A Korean off-peak car won't make a visible dent in your double-digit bonus, but it can save you time. And that's more precious than money.

Anonymous said...

Spot on Mr Wang.

If u don't feel bad that u have missed the bull run on high end property, then u have arrived.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"Money can buy freedom, and it can buy time too. A Korean off-peak car won't make a visible dent in your double-digit bonus, but it can save you time. And that's more precious than money."

I agree.

That is why I bought my HDB flat. It is situated two minutes away from an MRT NEL station. I can actualy reach Plaza Singapura or Vivocity faster by MRT than by car.

Also I am on a special scheme whereby I get priority when I call for a cab by telephone. The booking system recognises my handphone number and I "jump the queue" ahead of other people trying to dial in. Applies to NTUC cabs as well as Citicabs. Very time-saving.

Rush said...

self-actualization... very elusive indeed.

As a student, i seem to be surrounded by persons motivated entirely by their prospective starting salary. We are immensely motivated, but I have always felt that the motivation was actually fear of not having money (not finding a well paid job) rather then the thirst for knowledge or some other kind of motivation.

Far from the experience of "finding myself".

Anonymous said...


Maybe that is the point from Government.. to pay the ministers millions so that they can have self-actualization

Anonymous said...

Hey, this is a great post! I especially like the last part that makes reference to our ministars. It is full slap on their "money" faces. Hahaha...

Anonymous said...

I may not be rich like you but I feel quite self-actualised already. Poor also got its good point, even if you think I'm just self-consoling. But it's a good post. Thanks.

Jimmy Mun said...

Mr Wang,

you know that was written tongue firmly attached on cheek, not to be taken too seriously, right?

Every time my wife talk about buying car, I tell her the Mr Wang story. She's getting bored of the old story, good thing you offered some new numbers to splash on her...damn...11 months bonus.... I thought only factory workers drawing 500 a month get that...

As for the condo, I had a friend who bought a condo after getting married and landing a great job at the height of the dotcom boom. Then 9/11 happened and he was promptly retrenched and since he had no savings, had to take whatever job was available, at nearly half the pay. The mortgage that used to take just about half of his salary, now ate up most of his take home pay. To make things worse, it was a loan made in yen, and in those years, the yen kept gaining value and his loan just kept growing to the point he needed to top up with extra cash. He was squeezed to the brink of bankruptcy and his wife left him (and demanded alimony!).

Fortunately for him, he had a "Get out of jail free" card in a rich father, although it was humiliating of him to go begging for money - the money for the downpayment of the condo was supposed to by the "last time" he asked money from his dad.

Now, he has bounced back, and his pay is more than double his dotcom era highs, quadruple the lows. But he is a changed man now, very careful with money.

It is a good thing Mr Wang didnt need to be traumatised like that to be prudent with money.

The future is hard to predict, and your fortune can change in a heartbeat. Even though rainy days do not last forever, it can flash flood you in ways that would make Murphy proud.

Anonymous said...

wow Mr Wang, what scheme is that and how do we apply for it? The NTUC system recognises my telephone number but I don't think I get to jump any queue leh.

As for me, the nearest MRT station is 25 mins (15 mins ride + 10 mins wait) away. I would have reached the city area in that time. Oh well.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I shall not tell you because these things are best not announced. It is like technical analysis in stock picking - if too many people know a particular secret, the utility of the secret will decrease to zero.

Anonymous said...

I'm really puzzled, 5 digit salary, 11 month salary bonus, shouldn't you get a car at least for convenience purposes? Nothing flashy but sometimes, especially during peak hours, public transport can get a little hectic. ( Nothing compared to Tokyo or Bombay of course )

Also I believe should be your self-actualization link :P The one you have right now is a little ambiguous for those that are in the dark.

But wow .. reading your blog gives me a sense of fulfillment. I was just studying about Maslow today :P

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Ah, Maslow.

Poor chap is often misunderstood. People think that his greatest contribution to mankind is his triangular hierarchy of needs.

Actually his greatest contribution was his attempt to study spiritual enlightenment within a proper academic framework.

Did they teach you that part of Maslow, in school?

Anonymous said...

Yep, ironically the education institution your site is advertising for , SIM :)

Anonymous said...


You hit the nail on the head. I think the ability to work with no fear of being fired helps you BE a better employee! I bet your boss loves you for not being a yes-man all the time! ;) That definitely resonates with the situation I was in a couple of years back before I decided to "take off and study". :)

Anonymous said...

2 of the most funny and wierd obsessions of a singaporean

Car - Pays 10-20k to buy a paper which gives him the right to buy a car and then pays 200% more than what the car costs in other countries to drive. Then pays thru the nose every month on charges to park his own car near his own house, ERP, insurance, road tax etc. We havent talked about the costs that he incurs when the car gets involved in an accident.

House - He pays 300k to buy a house and another 50k to spruce it up when he spends mon-fri at office, eats out, comes home only to sleep. Weekends are spent at food courts, shopping malls, expeditions, holidays, roaming on the roads. Then comes home to sleep again.

Funny creatures.

chwy said...

It is true. If the consequences for losing your job is such that you will default on your mortgage for your house, car and wife will run away, you will spend so much time and effort protecting your job such that you fail to do what you're hired for. You fail to develop yourself and when you get older you find yourself irrelevant, get retrenched, and find that you can't get re-hired and end up doing the honourable job of washing toilets.

Does this sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

I love this blog and the comments to it< unfortunately this is one blog I have difficulty to do posting because I always feel ascetic deep inside but my wife and friends always say I am lazy and I do not deny> I do think that one should not work too hard nor own too much> Did Maslow say rest and leisure are important to health?

choaniki said...

I'm sure many people aspire to earn as much as you. But with around 50%(?) or 60%(?) of Sporeans considered middle-income we are still very much trapped in this ratrace.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Self-actualisation does not mean not working hard.

On the contrary, it is more accurate to say that it means voluntarily working hard on the things you love, because you love them.

Anonymous said...

For the majority of the population in Singapore they hardly have the privilege to self actualisation> The only choice most have is to work hard> And if that is not enough< work harder> And still not enough< work till you drop even if one is over eighty in age!