Dr Richard Teo Keng Seng had everything that most Singaporeans could aspire to by the time he was in his 30s — wealth measured in millions of dollars, a thriving aesthetics practice, and sports cars, including a Ferrari 430.
“I’m a typical product of today’s society,” said Dr Teo in a speech in November 2011.
“From young, I’ve always been under the influence and impression that to be happy is to be successful. And to be successful, is to be wealthy. So I led my life according to this motto.”
Despite being born into a poor family, Dr Teo excelled in his studies and was accepted in medical school.
In medical school, he chose the quick way to big bucks — by switching from opthalmology to aesthetics.
The move paid handsomely for him, and in the first year, his cosmetic surgery clinic ‘was raking in millions’.
Dr Teo’s newly-made wealth opened the door to high-society life. He loved dinning at Michelin-rated restaurants and rubbing shoulders with celebrities.
Dr Teo also loved life in the fast lane and, at the pinnacle of his life, owned sports cars like the Honda S2000, Subaru WRX, Nissan GTR and a Ferrari 430
On how he would spend his weekends, Dr Teo said, “Typically, I’d have car club gatherings. I’d take out my track car and go up to Sepang in Malaysia for car racing. It was my life.”
Dr Teo’s cars became symbols of his success, but in the end, after he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, they meant nothing to him.
“Chinese new year… I would drive my Ferrari, show off to my relatives, show off to my friends, do my rounds, and then you thought that was true joy?” reflected Dr Teo during a talk to dental students.
“In truth, what you have done is just to elicit envy, jealous and even hatred. In my death bed, I found my joy whatsoever in whatever objects I had — my Ferrari, thinking of the land I was going to buy to build my bungalow, having a successful business.”
It was towards the end of his life that Dr Teo found the meaning of true joy.
“What really brought me joy in the last ten months was interaction with people, my loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care about me, they laugh and cry with me, and they are able to identify the pain and suffering I was going through. That brought joy to me, happiness,” he said, in a speech given to an undergraduate medical class before passing away in October 2012.
Dr Teo’s speech can be watched in the Youtube link below.
Dr Richard Teo’s story was featured in the 28 October 2012 edition of The New Paper. His story serves as a great warning against wholeheartedly pursuing after wordly wealth.