I used to practice law but got tired of clients, so I quit and started tutoring online. Mostly for standardized tests: SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, and GMAT. A good amount of math as well. I was planning on just tutoring to make ends meet until I figured out what I wanted to do next, but it took off almost immediately and within a month I was making more than I ever did practicing law. The tutoring was mostly online, so I decided to start traveling. That's what I've been doing the last 4 years and I've visited 30+ countries in that time – all while tutoring online.

I've been bored with the tutoring for a while though, and at the end of 2020 decided to take 2021 to figure out what I really want to do. So I quit tutoring and planned out some things to try throughout the year. First up was harvesting cilantro with migrant field workers.

I wanted to do this first to get a sense of what "real work" is: work that is back breaking and tedious. I also wanted experience with work that I'm 100% certain is beneficial to society. When I was practicing law and tutoring I always struggled with a sense that it was work that didn't really matter. I was just helping shuffle money between corporations and helping students with the rat race of admissions – not truly teaching them anything. With harvesting cilantro I'm confident that I'm providing actual sustenance and flavor to society.

I started a Substack to document my journey if you'd like to follow along. In the meantime, I'd love to answer any questions you may have.

Comments: 1698 • Responses: 55  • Date: 

ThePizzaCook4558 karma

The privilege of choosing to work in the field just for the experience is mind-boggling as the son of two immigrants. I use help my parents as a kid in the same fields they worked on. One summer I workes for myself in order to have my own pocket change. There was 1 white guy in the whole field of migrant workers. Very chill dude and hard worker, very slow and poorly dressed for the work needed to be done.

Using me as an interpreter, we were able to help him out with tips to get better and have a easier time. Have you had the same experience? Migrant workers are usually very "collective" thinkers and always try to help. Even in individualistic work we try to be a "team" in some shape or form.

Also I'd suggest taking a hooded sweater or bandana protected you neck from the sun!

CatoTheFI1428 karma

I learned about the hoodie and bandana quick! The crew has been incredibly helpful. They were giving me all sorts of tips to speed me up and to make the work less painful. It took me three days to figure out what they were telling me about how to position the knee pads. Way less painful once I figured that out and adjusted them!

hi-nick64 karma

Suddenly I need a pic of how to properly wear knee pads...

CatoTheFI179 karma

If you’re kneeling all day you only want to use the strap below the knee. The one above the knee starts pinching and causes quite a bit of pain.

AnyDisaster941 karma

Where do you harvest cilantro? And how bad is the pay?

CatoTheFI106 karma

Central Coast of California. The pay isn't great. It's particularly bad for me because we're paid by box and I can't pack anywhere near as many boxes per hour as the migrant workers!

But something I learned recently is that the average immigrant in the United States earns four times as much as they would in their country of origin doing the same work.

fox4thepeople25 karma

I always plant cilantro in my herb garden in late spring/early summer in New York. It always bolts super fast and then dies.

Do you have any tips??

Edit: wow thanks for all the replies everyone. I will try planting earlier, and more than one crop!

CatoTheFI28 karma

Sorry, I was just a harvester. I’m not a farmer by any stretch of the imagination. Although they did keep the ground pretty wet even when we were harvesting.

IJP14 karma

Great story, thanks for sharing!Interested to know how you kicked off your tutoring gig? Did you use a specific website, or did you self promote/market?

CatoTheFI25 karma

I’ve never done any marketing. All word of mouth. I’ve used Square for all my scheduling and billing.

L0ui13 karma

As a college student disappointed with how heavily weighted ACT/SATs are, I have always struggled to find the motivation to persevere past how these numbers have defined my person. What did you say to your clients who were in the same boat to give them the boost to keep on chugging?

CatoTheFI17 karma

I regularly have the talk that about how it has nothing to with defining who a person is. I encourage people to think of it as a temporary job. Part of the job of going to college is spending some time for the test, taking it, doing the best you can on it, and then moving on.

dudainc12 karma

Why did you start tutoring? How many hours a day did you work? How many hours a day do you work currently? And to me, the most important question, how much did you charge your students to make 6 figures!?

CatoTheFI27 karma

My undergrad is in math with an emphasis in education, so I've always been interested in teaching. Work really varied, but I averaged 25 hours/week and charged about $135/hour.

Picking cilantro is way longer hours. We work from 7:30 until after sunset six days a week.

coryrenton3 karma

What technical/platform improvements would make you more likely to pick up tutoring again (for example if clients were pre-filtered to match certain criteria -- e.g. they are studying to go into medical field or some socially productive career)?

CatoTheFI7 karma

That’s a great question. There are definitely students I enjoy working with. I’d say the biggest factor is whether they’re there out of honest intellectual curiosity. Many are there because they’re forced or out of social pressure. Most are there to “hack” the tests and forget anything they “learned” as quickly as possible.

coryrenton4 karma

Would you be willing to tutor at a substantially reduced rate if the clients are pre-screened to be genuinely focused and self-motivated (or perhaps there is a sliding scale based on desirable characteristics in a client)?

CatoTheFI7 karma

Yes, I think I would. I’ve tutored a handful of people for free based on their need and the desirability of working with them.

ladythanatos2 karma

Who gets tutoring for a standardized test out of "intellectual curiosity"? Wouldn't that be more appropriate for getting help with an actual class or subject matter, rather than a standardized test?

CatoTheFI2 karma

Yes, although I do tutor math, stats and physics as well. Every once in a while I get LSAT students who start geeking out on formal logic, which is always fun and feels less like a standardized test.

nwpuzzle3 karma

Awesome AMA and substack.

What's next for you? How long are you planning to do this, and any thoughts of what kind of work to do next?

CatoTheFI1 karma

Thank you! Driving Route 66 to my brother’s farm in Iowa. Going to get tutored online in Spanish for a couple hours a day. Not sure what’s next in terms of work yet.

IAmMySon2 karma

Being a lawyer and earning six figures from tutoring, we can assume you're hardworking. Was it hard to adjust to the new found freedom of traveling, not needing to deal with clients, etc? Or was it easy to slip into a more relaxed life?

CatoTheFI6 karma

It was relatively easy for me to slip in. But something I’m quickly realizing in 2021 that I have this constant need to feel like I’m being productive and doing something. That’s something I’m trying to work on this year.

IAmMySon2 karma

Makes sense. Paradoxically, its that drive that earns you the freedom.

How do you plan to tackle your constant need to be productive? Are you going to try and live with it or use it as fuel for new projects?

CatoTheFI5 karma

Being self employed the last number of years I’ve always been “on call.” I think that’s the root of it. I’m working on learning to separate work from the rest of my life.

wesinatl2 karma

What do you think about standardized tests in general? Good or bad? What about potential bias in the test? One thing that stands out to me is that they are biased toward the wealthy because what poor person can afford the tutor? And why don’t high schools offer these courses to all their students?

CatoTheFI3 karma

Private expensive high school DO offer classes for the tests, so it’s a big problem all around. I personally don’t see an alternative to the tests as the education system is currently structured since the caliber of high schools vary so much.

Marmik_D_Thakore2 karma

What are the countries you have been to? Is India one of them? If so then please tell your thoughts on India.

CatoTheFI2 karma

No, but I can’t wait to go! Most of Central America, Peru, Ecuador, Japan, most of South East Asia, most of Western Europe, Morocco.

CatoTheFI1 karma

No, but I can’t wait to go! Most of Central America, Peru, Ecuador, Japan, most of South East Asia, most of Western Europe, Morocco.

kyoshiqueen1 karma

Hello! This is a really inspiring story! I have a few questions for you. I know there’s a few but please only answer what you feel comfortable sharing.

What kind of law did you practice and for long how had you been practicing before you decided to start tutoring? How did you establish a decent client list while online? What was your daily routine like, if you had a tutoring session scheduled? How has picking cilantro changed your perspective of “work” thus far? Finally, is this lifestyle do-able by the average individual who could tutor in basic subjects and enjoys travel? (Has a decent savings, knows they want to travel but with no specific plan.)

Thanks for your thoughts and sharing your story!

CatoTheFI5 karma

I mostly practiced commercial litigation – mostly land and business disputes. I found it really intellectually stimulating, but couldn't stand the clients. I practiced for three years.

I had coached high school sports for several years, which was my entry point for tutoring. I quickly found that if you do a good job the word will spread quickly.

Picking cilantro has affected my thinking about work in all sorts of ways. I've written more extensively about hard work, efficiency, and dignity on my Substack. But here are two things that come to mind.

The field workers never complain or slack off and actually ran between tasks despite the work being long and exhausting. I think a major reason for this is that they are paid per box instead of hourly. It kind of makes them partners in the work rather than just employees. I think it's actually quite humanizing. They receive the direct fruits of their labor and efficiency and see a direct benefit from their hard work.

Second, it's made me see a different kind of busyness. There's always more work to be done in the field, so you're always busy. But it isn't the office work kind of busy where you feel pulled in a hundred different directions and end up distracted and feeling frazzled. This is a more peaceful kind of busyness that's actually quite enjoyable.

As for how doable the traveling and tutoring is, it's definitely doable if you keep your costs/expenditures under control. But tutoring is a bit tricky. There are certain niches that pay well, that bring return customers, and where word spreads quickly. You have to find one of those. For example, if you tutoring Chemistry you'll have to rebuild your clientele each year because most people don't take more than one year of Chemistry. That isn't true for math.

dog_superiority0 karma

I'm going to get downvoted to hell... but...

Have you considered that people who pick cilantro aren't paid a lot because not many people need that service? That if as many people needed and as few provided that as tutoring and legal services, then they would be paid as much?

CatoTheFI1 karma

No argument here. There’s a movement to open up provision of some legal services to non attorneys. All the attorneys come out with high minded arguments against it that sound a whole lot like protectionism to me.

tecratour-7 karma

What is the most nutritious micro green to supplement a very basic diet (ie- rice and beans)?

CatoTheFI3 karma

Sorry, I’m not a nutritionist (or a farmer)!