Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You have nothing to lose but your chains

I was just chatting with a few others in the cbox yesterday when I was reminded of how important it is to recognise and acknowledge one's self limiting beliefs. Recognising and acknowledging that it's a problem is probably the first step towards doing something (as opposed to just talking) about the problem. After all, if you do not see that there is a problem, you won't spend an iota of brain power to solve it. In other words, after much talking, it's back to square one if you don't think that it's a problem.

I immediately thought of the times when I first started out as a full time private tutor. You cannot believe how many nay-sayers there are that told me I should be getting a proper job. My parents are also saying that I should be getting a full time job until they sort of gave up a few years ago. External factors aside, I think the most important thing about this whole episode is how I handle my self limiting beliefs that hinders my earning power. Here's a list of them and how I managed to break every one of them:

1. I cannot charge more than $22 per hour because some person whom I trusted told me that the going rate is $22/hr. I justified to myself that I'm paid this low because I was a 'newbie' and I wasn't experienced, even though I'm a graduate with a good class honors.

This anchoring effect took me several years to 'correct'. I realised that I was justifying my low pay not because I wasn't experienced or whatever, it's simply because I am not confident enough to charge a high rate. That is stopping me from getting a higher pay even though I was working a lot of hours. I remembered that I was trying to find out how many students I had to take in order to get 5k per month. At 22/hr, I needed  114 students, or 16 two-hour lessons per day, which is impossible. I back calculated to find out what's my maximum income (based on my many self imposed restrictions on working hours) - it's around 2.7k per month. Not exactly a very good amount these days.

This woke me up from the 'dream'. I immediately took action to correct this and never looked back since. With the higher per hour rate, I eliminated a lot of other problems (no payment of fees, disciplinary problems, very low motivation students, low referral rates...) that comes together with the low pay.

2. I cannot work during dinner time because students need to have dinner. I need to have dinner too, so I don't work during normal dinner time. I cannot work late at night because students need to sleep early to prepare for school the next day and I can't get public transport back to my home. Night is also 'rest' time for normal working people, so I don't work after dinner time. I don't work on weekends too because I needed a break.

SO MANY restrictions on myself, all SELF IMPOSED. Because of my need to eat dinner at the proper time and to have a weekend like a proper working adult, I was depriving myself of working hours. Coupled with the low pay, I wasn't basically just part timing this thing instead of doing it full time. What do I do during the non-working hours? Doing lessons plans and preparing for work - things that do not pay me but I deemed important in order to justify my tuition fees, however meager that amount is at that time. As mentioned, it took several years to correct that problem. I simply wasn't out to earn a living. It is like I'm trying to learn how to swim by trying to read a lot about swimming. In fact, I was doing anything BUT teaching. The moment I realised that these is a major problem and that these are just excuses, I leap frogged my earnings multiple times. It isn't that I'm selling my soul or passion for money - no! In a poor man's mind, it's either this or that. You can either have passion or you can have money, but not both. In a rich man's mind, you're always thinking how to be rich and passionate about your job. In fact, the more passionate about your job, the more money you can make AND the more money you get out of your job, the more passionate you are about it (up to a certain limit of course, but I wasn't anywhere near that limit back then).

3. I cannot take too many students because during exams period, when they needed help, I won't be able to spare the time needed to help them. 

In civil engineering, I learnt about queuing theory. In a queue, there is always someone waiting. If you're waiting for a bus, that's because the transport authorities think that it's more worthwhile for passengers to wait for a bus, instead of having many more buses waiting for passengers to arrive. If you're waiting in a long queue to buy a product, it's because the company thinks that it's more worthwhile for the consumers to wait to buy their products, rather than having more products in store waiting for consumers to come buy them. There's always someone waiting!

AND I happen to be on the wrong side of the queue back then! I was waiting for students to come to me. I was at their beckon because I was having so much free time and not enough income, so once they gave me their timing for the lessons, I'll just say yes. That gives me low bargaining power. These days, I'm packed to the brim with students, so the tables are turned and the students are waiting for a free slot to meet me instead. Again, I'm surprised how many other seemingly non-related problems I eliminated by switching the queuing party. Once the students realised that I'm more busy, they started not to waste my time - they get more motivated to do whatever stuff and ask me the really important things during lessons (because they might not get to see me as and when they are free). People think that a busy tutor must be a good one (not a bad assumption but not necessarily true) and I get more referrals. Students quality gets better since I not only handle the really unmotivated students but I get highly motivated ones. I get more satisfaction from teaching motivated students and I get paid more. Everybody wins.

It's so surprising how a bottle neck problem, once identified and rectified, can solve several other problems downstream. Likewise, it's important to know that one or two major limiting beliefs are causing ALL your other problems. It can be stopping you from a breakthrough in your career, a happy marriage life, a good income and on and on. So, instead of spending energy coming up with one thousand and one reasons why you CANNOT make something happen, just think of ONE good way HOW to make something happen.  This is much more useful and practical since you're the only person who can dig yourself out of the shit hole that you've found yourself in.


Createwealth8888 said...

Apply it to our investing. No problem of making $1M from the stock market. LOL

Anonymous said...

Hi CW8888,/ BULLy the BEAR,
It's definitely true for some people.
For me i don't "bother". i never think of a target. i just want to carry on as long as possible. As long as i enjoy doing it, i will carry on.
Another way of looking at it, no target=one's lifetime investing.

PanzerGrenadier said...


A timely post to remind us that truly that it is our minds that limit our potential rather than our environment.

If you think you cannot, you cannot, if you think you can, you may or may not but at least the upside is there! :-)

I also had many limiting beliefs in my life and it stopped me from trying many things. I have since loosened many of the chains of my own self-limiting beliefs and now am working to remove the chains eventually.

Be well and prosper.

Anonymous said...

Its actually a good mindset to have but its real achievability may be difficult to compromise towards. Not trying to be a cold bucket here, just that many corporate companies have similar forms of process improvement exercises which what they call organisational excellence, 6 sigmas and so on. It basically entails removing legacy practices and mindsets like what you mentioned in the hope of achieving greater efficiency and success.

Unfortunately most of the time and I dare say well in excess of 50% the solutions are often superficial and non-beneficial. Most of the time practices are in place for a good reason, not to mention the lack of real commitment by the participants and those affected by the call, who are often participatory or obligatory for different reasons other than the right ones. Sad but it is near impossible to achieve such an ideal state given the conditions and premise the Exercises embark on in the first place.

Of course, in your case, you are forfeiting your time blanketed for your own personal space initially to sacrifice for more flexibilty and income. I am sure other than what you were initially told about the market rates and all you have other strong justifications for doing what you did. It gets worse if what you were trying to achieve is a state of emotion instead of something tangible which can be easily solved with concrete actions.


seeker said...

Very well-written and insightful. Indeed many a times we are a prisoner of what we believe. e.g. we grew up hearing our parents tell us we are stupid etc (thankfully my parents said i'm clever and handsome blablabla haha). A spoken or written word, if believed will bear fruit according to the seed sown.

la papillion said...

Hi bro8888,

I think if one sees that NOT making 1 million from the stock market is a problem, then he'll solve it. The key part is to own the problem, not merely stating a problem as defined by others.

Hi temperament,

If it works well for you, then just carry on with it! I realised I work best with a pre defined target in mind. Helps me to keep focus when my motivation is faltering.

Hi PG,

You should blog about that :) I think it'll make an interesting read. I like to read inspiring stories about how people do the seemingly impossible. I'll think to myself that if they can do their impossible, I can also do mine :)

la papillion said...

Hi Black jack,

I think the problem is that such organised programs to instill excellence does not come from oneself, hence whatever problems that the organisation identified is not something that is owned by the participants of the program. If you truly own the problem, you will do what is takes to solve it. The lack of commitment and motivation is thus eliminated.

But how to make someone own a problem? That is the ultimate question. After many years of tutoring, I still find it a hit-and-miss thing to motivate someone see their bad results as a problem. Some students just don't see that as a problem, no matter how much the parents see them as one.

Regarding your last paragraph, I disagree. Emotions spring from thoughts, so even emotions can be controlled. I think the limits of having a good mindset is actually one's own imagination.

Thanks for your sharing your thoughts at length regarding the post! :)

la papillion said...

Hi seeker,

Thanks seeker! A lot of things have repercussions...hence I was remind myself that once something is spoken, it's hard to take it back. It might be forgiven but not forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Hi thanks for sharing ur experience, i am a budding full time tutor as well .. can really identify with your experiences..been at it for 3 years now ..

a side qn.. i'm planning to get my own flat few yrs down the road, are banks willing to give loans to free lancers like us ?

AK71 said...

Hi LP,

I like this post. :)

Don't let our believes limit our potential. If we think we can do it, we should try to make it happen. This is something I have always followed.

The lowest I ever charged for tuition is $45 an hour although I have tutored for free before too. The highest I have ever charged is $100 an hour.

I am trying for $120 an hour these days and this probably partially explains why I have no students now. Hahaha...

Ao said...

Hey LP,

Your post reminded me of this poem:

If you think you are beaten, you are,
If you think you dare not, you don't.
If you like to win, but you think you can't,
It is almost certain you won't.

If you think you'll lose, you're lost,
For out in the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow's will.
It's all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are,
You've got to think high to rise,
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man.
But soon or late the man who wins,
Is the man who thinks he can.

~ C. W. Longenecker ~

Your situation seems similar to mine. Initially, I didn't want to give tuition for the fear that I can't teach well and end up risking a student grade. However, for some reason, one day I decided to give tuition as I wanted to earn money.

Currently, I am only teaching secondary students. Hopefully, one day I will start teaching JC students soon. I have some reservations about teaching JC students as I have to revise my JC notes. And the fear of not being able to answer/solve their questions. I still kept all my JC notes in the storeroom waiting for me to flip through them again.

In addition, I also didn't dare to increase my price from $25/hr to $30/hr for the fear that the parents may fire me and look for cheaper tutors. However, I reason myself that it is not worth my time if I don't increase the price.

After successfully increasing the price, I realized that there is something like an addiction effect. Eg: If a tutor teach well, at the end of the year when the tutor wants to increase the price. The parents will be more likely to accept the increase and the parents also fear that their kids may not be able to adapt to the teaching style of another tutor. Even though other tutors outside are charging cheaper. It may sound unethical for the tutor to exploit this to their advantage.

Singapore Man of Leisure said...

Oh bravo!

Standing up; hands clapping!

A great wake-up call to parents not put chains on their children with their "good intentions" or "expectations".

Let our children soar towards their passion!

You really want our children to follow in our footsteps? Really? A wage slave?

Createwealth8888 said...

One can keep trying; but also must be wise enough to stop trying anymore. No point banging your head against the wall when it will not crack.

la papillion said...

Hi anonymous,

I had a loan from CPF/HDB instead of commerical banks, so I might not be able to tell you if they are willing or not. But I did have problems getting credit cards (you might want to try applying for a few to see if they reject you based on the fact that you're a self employed person).

I realised that after I got heavily in debt to get the flat, I was able to get credit cards w/o them asking me for more clarifications on my income and more documents to support the fact that I'm actually working. Perhaps banks like to lend to people who are least able to pay the loans? haha

Hi AK,

Thanks! You're going into semi-retirement already, so don't need any jobs. Perhaps you can treat teaching as a hobby? haha

Hi Ao,

Thanks ao for the nice poem! I like it :) Hmm, but I don't tend to increase my fees once I take up the students, unless they switch from sec to A lvls. That's because my fees are the same for secondary school and slightly higher for A lvls. But you're right, once the parents and the kids are comfortable to you, they will tend to hire you for future terms :)

la papillion said...


Interestingly, my parents are self employed. They've been doing all sorts of job ranging from contractor to so small home business. I wonder why they don't like the idea of self employed actually, haha

Hi bro8888,

Agreed. There's a time to persist and a time to give up. Actually it depends on your judgement on whether the end result is good. If the end result is good, and you persisted to the end, it's called perseverance. If the end result is bad and you persisted to the end, it's called stubborn. The wisdom lies in knowing which to give up and which to persist.

la papillion said...


Interestingly, my parents are self employed. They've been doing all sorts of job ranging from contractor to so small home business. I wonder why they don't like the idea of self employed actually, haha

Hi bro8888,

Agreed. There's a time to persist and a time to give up. Actually it depends on your judgement on whether the end result is good. If the end result is good, and you persisted to the end, it's called perseverance. If the end result is bad and you persisted to the end, it's called stubborn. The wisdom lies in knowing which to give up and which to persist.

Just a mum said...

wahahahahahahahhaha... so its me again la... Anyway give a long thought about it.. I decide to hop to another lilypad if another lilypad comes close. No point for me staying in the same lilypad because i really do not see the management going to do anything even if i voiced out. So good luck to me. Give me a bit of time before i decide to join u over at the dark side. (I will consider going full time after my housing loan is fully paid up, if all according to plan, another 8yrs!!! wahahahahahahahaha)


Anonymous said...

hi thanks for your reply, my credit card app to UOB was approved, just got the card today :), rejected by OCBC and Citibank though .. quite pissed with OCBC, i have an account with them for years ...
Is CPF/HDB biased against self employed?
Glad that i discovered your blog, quite happy to see many freelance tutors sharing their views and experience

Createwealth8888 said...

It is commonsense that employees have "forced" saving through CPF so they are deem to be safer to lend.

Createwealth8888 said...

Some taxi drivers keep telling me their life is tough. No medical benefits, no paid sick leaves and annual leaves. No work no money. Employees get paid to drink coffee. :-)

Bolt said...

Is this so call "jiang Hu"?

la papillion said...

Hi Kappo,

As mentioned before, your life - your decisions, hence you do not have to justify to anybody but yourself. Others can only advice :)

Good luck!

Hi anonymous,

Perhaps you can leave your name behind so that I know the name of the full time tutor I'm talking to right now? haha :)

Please do drop by again if you like reading the nonsensical articles that comes from my heart :)

Hi bro8888,

Perhaps. I realised that it doesn't matter if one has got huge amt of money in the bank accounts or not when applying credit. Perhaps they compared the savings differently from cpf because the former can be spent anytime but the latter cannot be taken out easily.

There are good points and bad points about being a self employed. That's another time another post :)

Hi bolt,

Jiang hu? Glue ah? hahaa

Zhanrui said...

I am anonymous, you are too humble, your posts are good :)


Anonymous said...

Hi LP,
"Perhaps. I realised that it doesn't matter if one has got huge amt of money in the bank accounts or not when applying credit. Perhaps they compared the savings differently from cpf because the former can be spent anytime but the latter cannot be taken out easily".

You are quite right.
My wife's late uncle(a retiree) who had more than a $million in the bank and a free-hold corner terrace house to boot, therefore with some land, was not able to get a credit card from the Banks.
Besides the Banks think if you are employed, your income from your employer is so many times safer than the assets you have. Unless you pledge your assets to the Banks, you will not succeed in getting a credit card.

So all my credit cards are subsidiary cards from my wife, as i am a retiree.
i wonder what will happen when my wife stop working?
Which will be soon.
All opinions are welcome.
Thank you.

la papillion said...

Hi Zhanrui,

Thanks thanks!

Hi temperament,

Well, I think the credit cards will still be yours. But you might have problem applying for new cards. So, do your duty and make sure they don't cut you off, cos I think you'll have problems getting new ones. But I don't think you'll need new more, am I right? haha

hanzst said...

Very well said!

At the end of the day, its always US who sets the limits

See you at the top,


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