– a written interview with Gail Wong, ex-investment banker, life & wealth coach, Co-founder of Ladies Investment Club
Glamorization of the high life in the financial world might have romanticized the pursuit of money and a career in finance. Measuring success by the accumulation of wealth is not only commonly accepted but widely celebrated as it is undeniable that money can buy a lot of things and make life much more comfortable.
From a decade of sky-high ambitions in corporate and banking works, to dedicating another decade doing the groundwork enlightening other women to improve their relationships with money and realize their dreams in life, Gail has come a long way in her journey to discover true gold.
A Singaporean mother of two, who spent 8 years in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and London, with Wall Street experience in corporate finance advisory and investing, from seed to blue-chip.Let us find out how her journey began.
ReSET: Starting with Wall Street, what were your dreams and aspirations and how have they changed?
Gail: With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that my dreams and aspirations have always been rooted in serving others by being my best self. What has changed is that I went from not knowing this about myself at all, to consciously defining everything I pursue today in those terms. What/ who am I serving, and is it worth giving my life for?
I inherited the “work hard, do well” ethos from my parents – pioneer generation first-borns to immigrants, and first amongst many siblings to attend university. As a student and a Wall Street employee, it never occurred to me to question the well-trodden progression. Earning the admiration of peers and parents alike kept me on the conventional path of excellence much longer than I should have. The dream/ aspiration I had in this period of life revolved around what’s next: the plum project, promotion, relocation, career switch. Only after a decade of giving all of myself to fulfilling the idea/ appearance of excellence (as defined by others) while fighting a gnawing unease, did I honestly face my internal dilemma: what is all this for? Who am I serving?
My dreams have gone from “someday, when I have enough money/ power, I will do X to change the world” to “who/ how will I impact today?” I used to aspire to accomplishing things on my own (“I did that!”), whereas I now draw the greatest fulfilment from creating an intimate and powerful conversation with a human being – who discovers new perspective, solutions, courage, freedom. If someone tells me I inspired them, it is not my ego that celebrates, but their victory/ insight that makes me smile broadly inside.
ReSET: Tell us more about the evolution of your personal relationship with money? What triggered it?
Gail: I grew up being keenly aware that “money doesn’t grow on trees”. Although comfortable and with certain luxuries, my scarcity syndrome meant I was a great saver, tight-fisted spender, consummate hoarder, and so risk-averse an investor, I practically did nothing for years. Being surrounded by immense wealth in the tech boom-bust as a banker (think Crazy Rich Asians) only reinforced that relationship with money.
I started to observe that I had a fixed way of being with money. I had realised all its benefits in the past and now finding myself increasingly limited by these strategies. Worse, I knew it was a dead-end: it was simply not enough to just save cash and control outflow. Uninvested, my future survival (and my childrens’) was at stake, and the quality of my marriage constantly threatened by this financial insecurity. In reality, my instincts prevented me from executing a theory I knew well (and built a successful advisory career on, ironically!). It took a death in the family and seeing the toll the stress my husband shouldered that I become determined to banish those limitations.
The first step was articulating my hidden fears and anxieties. By then, I was fortunate to lean on my coaching proficiency and self-regulation skills to navigate this entirely on my own – though I would not wish this on my worst enemies! Coming to terms with the source of my fears, and challenging those deeply imprinted beliefs I’ve had about money was the most confronting aspect of my evolution. It helped to remind myself that everybody, whatever their circumstance, is learning. You’d be surprised at what’s possible from just taking small steps – one at a time – even in a brief period of time.
It wasn’t too long ago that I took charge of managing my family’s portfolio. I still manage expenditure but buy only what we really want, and allow ourselves to fully enjoy them. I take joy in being generous with others, and am clear-headed in market volatility and higher-risk circumstances – both my husband and I run our own businesses now. What used to be a difficult conversational topic with clients, with family members is something I’m navigating with lightness and grace.
Personal evolution and making hard choices to ground oneself in life is not easy. Extending beyond personal evolution and dedicating one’s life to reach out and help others is another ball-game altogether.
ReSET: What motivated you to want to help others as well?
Gail: This instinct has been a big part of me from young. My parents are great servant leader role models I admire. Perhaps I should also thank my childhood bullies for reinforcing that we don’t kick someone when they are down! All the episodes of difficulty I have traversed ground a deep belief that no human being ever needs to feel alone, regardless of what they are going through.
I notice that I am especially observant and sensitized to the inner world of human beings. If someone’s having a bad day, I’d not only pick it up but get impacted too, sometimes. Since learning to self-manage and self-nurture, I discovered that instead of being a weakness, this might just be my superpower: the ability to receive and acknowledge someone’s energy and mental state, and use my intuition to guide them to a place of hope and renewal.
And I think once we’ve seen what’s possible in walking with a person, we’d never go back. We can do big things as an individual, and great things as a collective. I see the desire to connect with one another as the most regenerative aspect of human nature – so it is less of helping because I am better/ have all the answers and availability, but serving, knowing that makes me better.
ReSET: What are some of the practical challenges and difficulties in doing what you do now?
Gail: There are so many people I know I could make a difference to. It was frustrating to discover that all of my efforts, credentials, experience are moot if someone isn’t ready for change. The concept of coaching could use clarification. The most common misperceptions are: (1) coaching is for those with problems who need fixing, and (2) equating it with giving advice. I am trained to help people discover the hidden answers that lie within – you’d be surprised how many people overlook their most precious inner asset and look for answers out there. Lastly, the work I do with people can be so transformative and deeply personal that they sometimes struggle to express its full power.
Transforming one’s personal relationship with money is an interesting concept. It is the legend of Midas coming to life and more, where even the most ordinary person is capable of working some magic to turn all that glitters into gold.
“It’s not our knowledge or actions around money but our relationship to it, that determines our financial success.”
ReSET: What do you think is the key magical ingredient to the Midas Touch? What is the foundation of the relationship with money?
Gail: The willingness to look inside for answers. We can be very driven in acquiring skills and knowledge, but nothing can replace the gold/ wisdom you’d mine from mastering your Self. We often see ourselves as a walking mass of inadequacies that are written off as worthless black dirt. The magic comes from the unsexy process of picking up a nugget, getting close to it, examining it from other angles, perhaps seeing a glint and uncovering deeper. In traditional mining, not every nugget turns out to be precious; but I have found that those who work with themselves, under the right guidance, always reap rewards.
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