Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fooled by randomness?

I've ever seen a student who is delusional. When he gets right, he'll claim that he's smart and clever. Especially if he didn't put in the effort compared to those 'muggers' who studied all day and night but scored worse than him. When he gets it wrong, he'll blame circumstances (oh he's sick, the paper is too hard, he's studying for another subject etc). What I think is that he didn't study at all, and it's just luck that got him good results, or luck that got him bad results. Basically, it's not consistent.

There are people like that when they participate in the stock market too. Except that they research deep into the company and bought it, and when the bullish market brings everything up, they mistook it for skill. These are the people whom you see screaming x% returns in y days. But when the market turns down, will they blame bad luck instead? People should read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Fooled by Randomness. It's a good thesis on how we are fooled by seemingly random events, taking those good events as your own achievements, label it as 'skill' while discarding those failures and call it 'bad luck'.

I think it's useless to think whether your method of participating in the stock market is successful if you didn't test it in at least one cycle of bull/bear. Even then, I can't be sure if the method is successful. It's always work in progress and earning in progress. What the market provides, it can just as easily take it away. Don't ever think that because you reaped so much from the stock market, you're a smart market participant. The market might be starting the next round of fighting while you're still celebrating your victory from the previous round.

It's not easy behaving with the carefulness and humbleness of a newbie when you're no longer one. That's the lesson we all have to learn, if we want to be a long term survivor.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The conversation between a caterpillar and a butterfly

Somtimes, the strangest tale comes from the inspiration of fellow bloggers. In this case, SMOL's post on butterflies got me thinking. I'll be the first to admit. This short story below is adapted from another book that I read.

Emile the butterfly floated down to the Francis the caterpillar, who is her friend. But Francis didn't seem to recognise who the butterfly is. I mean, how could anyone blame Francis? Emile looks so beautiful and was floating with the wind! Nothing could be more different than a hairy caterpillar!

"Follow what I do, Francis! You'll be free from your earthly bounds! Oh goodness, why can't Francis understand what I'm saying?!" Emily nearly screamed in exasperation.

Just a few days ago, Emile said goodbye to Francis because she's going on a personal journey.

"Where to?" Francis asked sadly. "Can I tag along please?"

"No, Francis," Emile replied firmly. "This is a personal journey. And I have to go alone. Sorry."

But Francis didn't let Emile go alone. He followed her quietly, and saw Emile crawling up a branch solemnly and started pulling white threads all around herself, until she was fully covered with this white silky tent. Francis was still faithfully waiting for Emile to emerge out from her strange retreat, believing that she just needed some time off for herself. He was there waiting, every single day. But one day, seemingly overnight, Francis noticed that there is an opening at Emile's silky tent. Cautiously, Francis crawled near to it to check if Emile is finally out of her retreat.

There's nobody around.

Except now there's a strange colourful winged creature near Emile’s empty tent. It's floating near to Francis, seemingly trying to tell him something. It landed near to the ground at Francis, and then floated to Emile's empty tent, then again to an empty spot on a branch. This creature repeated the same pattern again and again.


This is how I 'saw' the conversation between the caterpillar and the butterfly. How would the story end? Would the butterfly give up and join the rest of the butterfly? Would the caterpillar give up and grieve for his lost friend? Or would the caterpillar have an epiphany that he also had to follow the unknown and uncharted path that his friend Emile had hinted him?

Some things just cannot be taught - it had to be experienced. If you had not experienced the transformation, you wouldn't be able to speak the same language as those who had been metamorphosized. You can show others, but you cannot make them change. And yet everyone has the potential to be transformed, if you'll only want it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Saying 'I CAN'!

When I first started working as a full time tutor 10 years ago, I had many self limiting beliefs. Looking back now, it seems rather ridiculous that I had those beliefs, but I remembered that these beliefs were very real and very limiting to me at that point in time. Let me list down some of them:

1. No working during standard meal times

I thought that I'm normal and I should have a normal working hours. I assume that students will also have fixed meal times, so I didn't want to schedule my lessons around 12 to 130 pm and 6-8 pm. It was such a limiting idea, because it restricts the number of lessons, and hence working hours, that I can do. It took me about 2 years to fix this limiting belief. After that, I'm all set. I can have my dinner at 1030 pm, which is what happened yesterday night after my lessons. Or I can eat my lunch at 1030 am. Makes no difference to me, though I try not to eat my dinner late at night because it'll disrupt my sleep routine.

2. No work during public holidays and on weekends

Again, when I first started, I thought I should have a normal working hours with normal social life. This is one of the first self limiting belief that I discovered I had, and the first one to go. It just wouldn't do if I can't work on weekends and public holidays, as I know I wouldn't be able to clock enough hours to make a reasonable pay working as a full time tutor. These days, public holidays and weekends are my busiest, as it should be.

3. I can't teach what I didn't know

I used to reject assignments that I deemed are beyond me. I started teaching secondary school Emaths. Then someone asked me to teach them Amaths, so I was very reluctant to do so because I'm not confident. But confidence comes from preparation, and the fact that I can work harder and longer and do more than my tutee. It's a mind blowing principle. If you're not confident to teach, prepare harder than your students. They cannot know more than you do, otherwise you're not doing your job. So one thing leads to another, I'm soon teaching the entire spectrum of secondary school subjects, jumped to Primary school subjects, next to A'lvl, then IB, and after that it's poly engineering modules, followed by business statistics modules and then to university's statistics and financial modules.

If I had listened to my inner voice not to step outside my comfort zone, to only teach what I know, then I wouldn't have expanded the repertoire of what I can teach. I wouldn't be able to learn independently what I needed to do to teach someone.

4. I'm not worth the fees

I'm constantly upgrading my self worth. Funny isn't it? Sometimes I still think that people shouldn't pay me so much for tuition. I think my tuition fees is as high as my own self worth with regards to my career. I started off with $22/hr, and every other year I'll have to reason to myself whether I added value to others before I can increase it. There's a mental block inside me to ask for higher fees. And I realised not every tutor has this mental block. It's a confidence issue, I believe. Some undergraduate fresh from A'lvl charges even higher than what I charge as an experienced full time tutor. They can do it, but I can't. This is something that is still work in progress.

The very first step to remove self limiting beliefs is to identify them. It can be so pervasive and ingrained that you do not even think of it as a self limiting belief. It's the ability to hide among your consciousness that causes these beliefs to become your reality. Let's say you want to save money. Perhaps these are the self limiting beliefs that you have:

1. I don't earn enough money like the rest, so how do I save?

2. I'm not like the rest - I've a family and a lot more commitments, how can I compare with them?

3. I need my car (or coffee, or bags, or gadgets, or whatever other material things). Life's not worth living without it. What's the point of suffering so much to save?

4. YOLO (you only live once), might as well enjoy while we can.

Everyone of these is a self limiting beliefs. If you believe it enough, they will become a reality. If you don't question your basic assumptions about how you live your life, then how can you change it? Start by taking charge of your life. Be open to changes and just say YES first. There's enough naysayers around you who do a very good job of saying NO, so be the first to say YES to yourself. Give it a go...what's the worst that can happen?

At most just F.A.I.L. That's just a First Attempt In Learning.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

You see what you want to believe

This picture is too important not to share it. A friend posted on facebook a long time ago and I was immediately struck by it. Once I recovered, I've saved it and kept it until I saw it recently again. The message behind the picture is as true now as before.

I think I shouldn't spoil the reflection part for you. Different people will see touch different parts of the elephant.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

As strong as the obstacles we're facing

When I was in army, I got a silver for IPPT, so I thought I'm very strong. Until I tried to do a pull up 15 years later and realised I couldn't even do one. And so I trained hard for the past few months and now I managed to do 6 perfect form pull ups, then I know that I am strong.

Until I tried to do a dumb-bell lift for 10 kg, and realised that I couldn't do it properly and effortlessly. And so I trained every other day, lifting progressively heavier and heavier weights from 8 kg until I can do 10 kg effortlessly without feeling my muscles screaming. Then, I know that I am strong.

Until I tried to do 3 sets of 10 push ups yesterday, and realised that I couldn't lift myself off my bed this morning. My whole arm is like lead. And so I know what I will be doing in the next couple of months to get stronger.

You'll be surprised how similar other aspects of your life is with regards to what I've described earlier. In life, it's important to be progressively defeated by bigger and bigger challenges. Being good in one thing doesn't mean that you'll be good in another. There's domain specific knowledge that's not really transferable to another domain, so it's important to stay humble and keep improving.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The inattentive one

She walked into the classroom and the class quietened down. She immediately went to the whiteboard, and scribbled down the homework for the day and tasked the children to do them right away.

Except that he didn't. He was just looking everywhere except at the textbook. She can see his eyes roaming around the classroom. Sometimes they will settle on his classmates, sometimes the interior of the classroom but often they are looking out of the window. His eyes also seemed to follow where she went, like she's the jailor of the prison he's incarcerated in. Once a while, he'll flip the pages of his textbook. But the boring texts always manages to push him away into the welcoming arms of the distracting world.

With fists clenched, she called his name out. She scolded him in front of everyone. She insisted he stay back after her lesson so that he can properly impound onto him the seriousness of his transgressions.

Bell rang and school ended. Everyone packed up their school bags to leave this high noon showdown. The ceiling fan whirled in grave anticipation. Even the chirping of the birds came to a halt outside the window.

He walked up to her and stood there, deathly still. She scolded him and threatened to call his parents. But still, he stood there, not defending himself for his actions.

"How dare he challenge me with this passive aggressive attitude! Still no remorse! ", she thought. She can feel her heart pounding heavily.

"Sorry teacher...", that's all he managed to say.

This is all quite strange for this troublesome kid. Going to the discipline master's office for counselling is a common occurrence for him. Why is he so placid today?

Still not satisfied with him, he punished him by asking him to stay back for another 3 hours for detention, so that he can reflect on his mistakes. With that, she dismissed him and he began to walk out of the classroom without a word.

Is he so hardened that he didn't even bother to reply? Why is he not doing his work? Partly to start a new round of scoldings and partly out of curiosity, she demanded his replies just before he is about to disappear behind the classroom doors.

"I don't wish to upset you, ma'am, " he answered softly.

"I saw people passing the answers of the homework on pieces of paper around the class and was deciding if I want to tell you or join them."

"I saw one of the fluorescent lights in the classroom is of a different shade of colour than the rest. It's a bit more whitish compared to the rest. They must have used a different wattage. The lights cast strange overlapping shadows on the floor, sometimes growing in length and sometimes shortening and I was fascinated by it"

"I followed the smell of rain on grass through the windows and I was so excited because there's a rainbow arcing across the fields! The birds are chirping as if to beckon everyone to look at it but everyone seems too busy to notice it,"

".. and ma'am, I don't want to upset you because since the beginning of this week, you're not wearing the ring that you've been wearing since you've been teaching us here. "

She cried.

Her tears are not for herself alone - the teacher who only pays attention to the wrong done by the boy and nothing else. It's also for the inattentive boy in class who pays attention to everything else.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

To create a masterpiece

Michelangelo is a great sculptor. His great masterpiece is David, a sculpture of a person which is so lifelike that it amazes anyone who had glanced upon it.

One day, he was asked about his great masterpiece and how he had managed to carve a lifeless rock into something that is so lifelike.

He said this, "It's easy. All you have to do is to chip away everything that didn't look like David."

And so that is the way to create life's masterpieces. How to find the meaning of life? Simply remove the parts that is not meaningful to you. How to create a great blog post? Remove the parts that are not great.

Sounds like a stupid obvious statement, isn't it? But I think if you sit on it and mull over it, there's much wisdom in those few simple words.