Today is International Women’s Day, and in recognition of women’s contribution to the family, economy, social, culture and politics, it’s an important day to celebrate the achievements of women around the globe. This year’s theme is Pledge for Parity, a phrase that wholeheartedly resonates with my career, as well as many women out there who are climbing the corporate ladder in a male-dominated industry.
On this special day, I’d like to share my personal working experience and some tips on how to become a successful working mother.
Leveraging Your Strengths
When I started working as a female engineer at the age of 23, I faced many roadblocks. I was on the verge of giving up completely until my manager at that time said to me, “Build your professional network, embrace what you don’t know, learn and figure out how to contribute in ways that play to your strengths.”
His words stuck with me till now. I leveraged my strengths and used them as a unique opportunity to position myself as the youngest female engineer in my department. I continued to upgrade myself in the emerging technologies, and slowly built-up my professional network.
Looking back at where I started 15 years ago, I feel a sense of accomplishment now. It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I didn’t give up to become who I am today.
Knowing Your Values
My values have shaped me into the person I am today.
Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. They determine your priorities, and steer your life in the direction that you want it to be. When the things that you do match your values, life is usually good – you’re happy and content. But when things don’t align with your personal values, that’s when you feel wrong and unhappy.
That is why making a conscious effort to identify your values is so important. For me, they have always been happiness, simplicity, positivity and commitment. After I have a family, work-life balance is what I value more.
Well, being a working mother isn’t so hard – if you know how to keep your domestic and professional chaos at bay. For me, the golden rule is to juggle strategically but don’t do it all by yourself. If you can afford it, outsource as much of the household chores as possible. Focus on your children, your spouse, and activities that relax and enrich your life outside of work.
At work, prioritizing daily tasks is key to successful time management. Learning to say “no” is important too. If you say “yes” to every request, you will be busy 24-7. The second thing which I’m adamant about is work should NOT be brought home. Replying to urgent work emails is often unavoidable but we should keep it to a minimum.
Have Your Own Me-Time and Don’t Feel Guilty About It
Working mothers deal with various types of guilt – the guilt of choosing to work, the guilt of taking time-off for themselves, and everything in between. During my eight years of motherhood, I’ve learnt to throw away many things in my ‘guilt sack’.
Remember – taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of everyone else. I rank happiness and health the two most important things in my life. When I’m happy and healthy, my family will be happy and healthy too. Therefore, I often take some time-off for myself, maybe not daily but once in a week or month, to do something that I truly enjoy.
Start Thinking About Your Retirement Early
I grew up with the belief that every woman needs to have her retirement savings whether she’s working or not. This belief is mainly due to my family background and our Asian culture which expects kids to support their parents financially when they are in their old age.
I saw this on my family. My father worked long, hard hours to support our family of seven (including my two grandmothers). As a matter of fact, I remember that Chinese New Year was the only time of the year when he did not have to work. Other than that, he rarely missed a day of work, even when he was sick.
Now that my own parents have retired, my brother and I chip in to support them. It isn’t easy for us as we both have our own families to feed and other financial commitments. The problem is – both my grandparents and parents don’t have any retirement plans other than relying on their kids.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t help them. In our Asian society where filial piety is strongly valued, we should support our parents in their old age. However, if they have retirement plans, they could enjoy their retirement with minimal dependence on their kids – which is of course helpful to their kids too!
Therefore, I told myself that I must have a solid retirement plan. I want financial independence without having to rely on my son for financial support, as well as a worry-free retirement. This is also the reason why I choose to be a working mother.
In fact, I recently enrolled in the CPF Retirement Sum Topping up (RSTU) scheme which allows me to build my retirement savings by topping up with cash or CPF savings so that I can get higher CPF LIFE payouts when I reach my golden age.
Always Plan for Rainy Days Ahead
With this in mind, I’m truly grateful that we have CPF in place for us. CPF contribution makes us save 20% of our salary (lower if we are older) every month, and it actually serves a dual-purpose. It ensures that we save at least a portion of our salary for housing payments and prepares ourselves for anything that life might throw our way.
Three years ago, I was diagnosed with a medical condition that required surgery and treatment. It landed me with hefty hospitalisation bills as I did not have a medical insurance at that time. Since then, I’ve learnt to protect my loved ones and myself with ample insurance coverage by getting Integrated Shield Plans. After all, being a mother, one of my biggest worries is the health and well-being of my family.
The first component in the Integrated Shield Plan is MediShield Life run by the CPF Board. The second component is an additional private insurance coverage run by private insurers, typically to cover Class A/B1 wards in public hospitals or private hospitals.
MediShield Life premiums will be paid with our savings in Medisave Account. So, we don’t need to fork out any cash at all. We can also use the savings in our Medisave Account to fully pay the MediShield Life premiums for our dependants that include our spouse, children, parents and grandparents.
I visited the CPF Facebook Page and CPF Website and found that there are many useful financial tips that are definitely useful for everyone. For your convenience, you can also download the CPF Starter Mobile App.
Last but not least, I hope to inspire women early in their careers and working mothers to have a desire to learn and change the world, as well as to plan for their retirement early. Happy International Women’s Day!