15 Little Life Hacks

Judo Technique: Turning “Failure Expectation” into domination

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A month ago I sent out a blockbuster 4,355-word email on tactics I’ve used to write a New York Times bestseller, get hundreds of thousands of readers, and get into one of the top universities in the country. That email took me over 6 hours to write and, when I sent it out, I got thousands of emails back with questions and awesome feedback.

People said things like:

@ramit not to be a suck up, but I can’t believe you just sent this past earn1k email for free. best. advice. ever. thank you.

@ramit No bs. That was the single best email you have ever sent. Nobody can say Ramit doesn’t add value.

And so on.

Unfortunately, I’m not releasing the full email today. If you didn’t get it, sorry.

BUT I am going to share one of the lessons from that email today -– how I got into Stanford — and you can sign up here for more just like it, so you don’t miss out next time.

“How to “Failure Expectation” to land a dream job, get into a top university, or meet your biggest role model”

I have had the good fortune to do some pretty incredible things in the last few years. At 28 years old, I had the good fortune of writing a blog with 300,000 readers/month, writing an instant New York Times bestseller, and a few years ago, getting into Stanford and winning over $100,000 of undergraduate and graduate scholarships.

Today, I want to share some of the ways that I was able to accomplish these things, and hopefully you’ll be able to apply some of these techniques in your freelance business.

I’ll include specific techniques that allowed me to leapfrog some of my peers and do ridiculous things like getting invited to speak on persuasion in Japan, getting written up in the WSJ at age 22, or getting a highly paid college/summer internship with one phone call.

Below, you’ll see why this is directly relevant to you earning more money.

But what you’ll see may surprise you.

I am not the smartest person. My friends got way better GPAs than I did. I am terrible at math (in fact, I was the only person in my high-school AP math class to fail my AP test…yes, I got a 2). But I am pretty good a few things, which I want to share with you.

First, I don’t come from a wealthy family. My parents are immigrants and we’re very middle class. I say this up front because some people tend to dismiss others who achieve cool things by saying, “Oh, mommy and daddy just bought them [whatever].” Yes, that’s true sometimes (especially here in Manhattan), but the people who lob that insult usually use it as a crutch for not doing interesting things themselves. Get a life.

It’s possible to do amazing things no matter how old you are or how much money you have. But there are some unconventional approaches that can dramatically change how fast you achieve these things.

1. How to get into Stanford

(This isn’t just about getting into Stanford. It’s about getting into any exclusive organization/university/job/whatever).

Ok, so I went to a public high school in northern California. My friends and I joked that our class, the Class of 2000, was the most competitive..but also the least attractive. Seriously, all the hot people were one year above of us or one year below us.

Anyway, we had a lot of smart people in my class. So when it was time to apply for college, lots of people were set on top-tier schools like Stanford, Harvard, Yale, etc. But then an amazing thing happened.

When the first round of college admissions came in, and some people got in and others didn’t, many of the people who didn’t get in changed their attitudes overnight, saying, “Whatever…I didn’t really want to go there anyway.” I found this really surprising, since I had planned to get rejected from my dream school, Stanford, anyway. (Most of my friends had a higher GPA than I did).

Since I had already assumed that I was going to get rejected, I’d already made plans for what I’d do to get in, despite their rejection. I was going to send them recent updates to my coursework, a few recent press clippings I’d done, and some updates on the business/job I was doing in high school. In short, getting a “no” was only the first step.

When I got in, it was an extremely pleasant surprise. But it was also incredibly interesting to watch the attitudes of some of my classmates — classmates who’d dreamed about attending a particular school — change overnight since they’d been rejected. They really took it personally. For me, I knew that I was a number, and that when I got rejected, I’d simply need to convince them why I deserved to get in.

As for how I got in myself, there were a few key things:

  • I tried lots of things (clubs, sports, etc) rapidly – found out what I liked, and went deeper into them
  • I realized that I couldn’t compete on just grades alone – since I’m not the smartest person, so I went horizontal and did a bunch of interesting things outside of class (and outside of school)
  • I crafted an incredibly good application. In my view, the way you construct your application is hugely important in getting into a top college, getting a great job, etc. Compare this to people who believe, “If I just do great work, they’ll realize it.” No.
  • My applications had a THEME. I was the guy who wanted to do online business, and hey Mr. Application Reader, here’s what I’ve done to show you that I’m serious about this
  • I ASKED A TON OF PEOPLE TO REVIEW MY APPLICATION. I can’t emphasize this enough. I told you how I was horrible at math in high school. Well, I was a pretty good writer. So it surprised me that more people didn’t ask me to review their applications, because I got TONS of outside help. Hey Mike, what do you think about this essay idea? Michelle, what’s more compelling? Etc. So many people lock themselves in their room and come up with an essay topic that’s trite, vapid, and boring. The simple action of asking someone if your idea is compelling forces you to say it out loud — which eliminates at least 25% of bad essay ideas.
  • By the way, I didn’t pay anybody to review my application. If I’d had more money, I would have, but I didn’t. What you realize is that most people will help you out for free.

Key mindset to get into Stanford:

The first “no” is where the discussion starts.

When aiming for a large goal — like a college application, new job, or new city — always visualize what would happen if you SUCCEED (e.g., get admitted) vs. what would happen if you FAIL (e.g., get rejected).

Do this before you get the results, which is an emotional time. I saw people throw away their dream school simply because they got rejected. Read that last sentence again.

Doesn’t it sound ridiculous? OF COURSE you give up when you get rejected.

Well, sometimes it’s true, and society certainly tells us to suck it up and move on. But when it’s some committee making a decision, you don’t have to let that fly. Plan ahead for what you’ll do if you succeed or fail — it will help you stay focused when times get tough.

Key techniques to get into Stanford:

  • First of all, be REALLY GOOD at what you do. If you want to get into a top college or job, you can’t just be average. Why would a very selective institution want you? Ask yourself that and then do remarkable things.
  • Huh? Ramit? WTF does that mean? Being remarkable doesn’t always mean getting the best grades (I certainly didn’t). It can mean being remarkable at volunteering, or starting a side business repairing cars…or whatever interests you. THIS is why being remarkable is so hard — because I can’t simply tell you what to do. You have to decide for yourself. This is why most people, by definition, are not remarkable. It’s hard
  • ASK AT LEAST 10 OTHER PEOPLE TO REVIEW YOUR APPLICATION. Ask them to be brutally honest. AND MEAN IT. If you ever get defensive about their feedback, I will personally find you and hit you on the head with a metal bat.
  • Write at least 5 versions of your essay. I did something like 42 versions. Are you prepared to work that hard?
  • Expose yourself to luck. I have no qualms admitting that a lot of the reason I got into Stanford was luck. It could be a total tossup, or maybe the committee was feeling good, or whatever. However, don’t just count on luck — cultivate it for yourself. Give yourself every advantage.
  • NEVER do the committee’s job for you. It is THEIR job to reject you, not yours. What the hell is wrong with people when they say, “Ehh…I’m not going to apply to [college/job]…I could never get in.” Guess what? You just proved yourself right. It’s not your job to reject/accept you, it’s someone else’s. Let them do their job.
  • Don’t let money get in the way. People are incredibly clueless about finances when it comes to college. First, people will delusionally say, “I’m not going to apply to [expensive college]…I could never afford it.” If you’re good enough to get in, they will take care of you. LET ME REPEAT THAT. Never let money decide where you going to apply.
  • STOP USING MONEY AS AN EXCUSE. A lot of people will say, “Ramit, what about the application fee? It can be really expensive. You’re out of touch with your (book/fancy website/NY & SF apartments/blah blah blah).” Hey whiner. When I was applying, I had no money. Some of the applications can be really expensive. You know what I did? I put a note in there that said, Look I can’t really afford this application fee. If you really need the $50 for the fee, just please let me know and I will find a way to send it. But if not, I hope you can waive the fee for me.” I never heard a peep from them.
  • Ask people who have GONE to your dream schools how they like it. Oh yeah, one more thing…ASK THEM HOW THEY GOT IN. They should be reviewing your application and offering you feedback every step of the way. And yes, you know people there…if you don’t, call the university admissions office and ask to get connected to some students. Everybody loves seniors in high schools who are applying to college because they are so weird/desperate/naive. Everybody helps them. Use this to your advantage.

[More examples and techniques in the original email]

So Now What?

So what are you going to do now?

Are you going to feel inspired for the next 10 minutes and then forget all about it and go back to saving money on $3 lattes?

You can use this same lesson to achieve anything great, whether it’s landing your dream job, getting into a top university school, or even networking with your biggest role model.

If you want to ACTUALLY achieve something great, treat rejection as a normal step in the process. Expect it. Manage it. Take action and the next time you get shot down, remember that means you’re just getting started.

If turning your existing skills into side income would help you, then I recommend you check out my Earn1K course.

In the course, you don’t just learn how to earn more money. You learn deep psychological mindset changes about human behavior, marketing, pricing, and advanced communication techniques. You can apply these everywhere.

If you sign up and let me know you’re interested, I’ll send you lessons like the “Briefcase Technique” that I used to generate tens of thousands of dollars, along with other video lessons, advanced techniques, scripts, and tools to earn more money.

You can sign up here (free).

– Ramit

P.S. – Leave a comment and let me know ONE thing you can apply this “Failure Expectation” technique to. I want to hear your ideas.

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47 Comments

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  1. I’ve recently experienced something quite relatable – I was having a really hard time at work. My manager and I were not seeing eye to eye in so many things, and before she left for an extended medical leave she actually coached me out of the company… she actually said the words “I don’t think you are going to beable to survive alone”……. after the initial emotional shock I felt nothing but freedom. I was experiencing the very worst thing I thought I could experience at work… management had no expectations on me, and I found that when there are no expectations, there’s only freedom!!!!! long story short… not only did I make it… I made it BIG… I delivered the best results in years, on time and I also made 4 key interventions that basically changed the rules of the game as we know it…!!!! ……my manager’s face when she return said it all, but at that moment, that meant nothing to me… my results proved ME that I could do it. And only ni the face of failure is that I was able to understand it completely :) …GREAT POST

  2. You rocked that post Ramit. You almost make me want to apply to college again just to try out these techniques :) Great examples and specificity, very helpful advice for anyone applying for college, or really most undertakings.

    I have been living the ‘worst case scenario’ (job eliminated) for the last 2 years and I have been playing and learning so much. I’m hopeful that my active playtime will result in a job in a new field – but I will continue to read your tips for ideas and inspiration on developing a great second income stream.

  3. Interesting that you described getting into Stanford and writing a blog with wide readership as “good fortune”. I would simply call those things the result of working hard and working smart – as you go on to describe through the rest of the article. Too many people just don’t want to be bothered or want it handed to them out of the blue sky, but that’s just not going to cut it.

    Congrats on all of your success. It’s well deserved.

  4. Ramit, you are a baller and reading your stuff makes me want to slap a whiner across the face.

    Here’s what I’m going to apply this judo techiniuqe to:

    I’ve been thinking of expanding my freelance gig for months now, and have vacillated back and forth and come up with reasons why it wouldn’t work, and why it would be more trouble than it’s worth.

    Instead of priming myself for failure I will now: 1) contact people who can help manage the tedious parts of the business 2) contact my current clients for referrals, and 3) asked five friends / mentors what they think could improve my service.

    Expect an email from me inside of 24 hours confirming that I have in fact done these things, with thanks to your Judo technique.

    Once again, pure baller.

    Peace from Nassau

  5. I am, among other things, an actress, and I can see that these techniques would apply very well to auditioning. A career (or even a long-term hobby) in theater or film involves getting rejected over and over and over again. Many actors, especially beginners who won’t last very long, leave an audition complaining that the director wasn’t fair, that they’re clique-ish and only cast their friends, that the world doesn’t understand their talent, etc. Here’s how I think your techniques can help:

    • Be very good: It does matter whether you can act. A good actor is always learning, but just as important, a successful actor knows him or herself well. What’s your niche? What kind of roles are you best for? Keep studying, but also learn what you love most and how people see you. There are better trained and more experienced actresses in my area, and I don’t look like a fashion model, but when you need a quirky, comedic or spooky actress with lots of improv experience and some stage combat training, I’m just right for the job.

    • Work hard and get help: Auditions usually require a prepared monologue, and always require great skills in acting while reading from a script. Actors need to work and work, and ask other people for feedback (since, even when videotaping yourself, it’s impossible to see how others really see you). Hiring acting coaches and teachers can help, but if you don’t have the money (or if you’re smart enough to get even more feedback), working with other actors helps, too. Tell them what you see in their work, and they’ll be happy to return the favor.

    • Don’t give up, and don’t make excuses: It’s true that directors tend to cast people they know–just like everyone else who wants to hire someone they can depend on. They’ll get to know you by seeing you at audition after audition. The audition you don’t get cast at is a place to meet that director, learn about that theater or studio, and meet lots of other actors. And you definitely won’t get cast if you don’t put yourself out there.

    • Anita, I think they are cliquish, and it isn’t fair… but coming to grips with that is incredibly important, and in the end, liberating.

      Once of the best sayings I’ve heard lately is “It’s not fair, and don’t be late.”

  6. Thanks for this post. I work in education (teacher) and I’ve always wanted to work in curriculum, but there isn’t a position open and I don’t know if there will be a position open in the near future. I was going to work hard at school and hopefully a position would open and I would apply for it – but now I think I will make proposals for the position to be opened and why it is so important to the school – as well as solving some problems (like you mentioned in another post) instead of focusing on the smaller stuff. And make plans for when my proposal gets rejected (it will) and try, try again. It’s better than sitting on my hands and hoping. Thanks.

    • “And make plans for when my proposal gets rejected (it will) and try, try again. It’s better than sitting on my hands and hoping.”

      Perfect. This is exactly the result I wanted from writing this.

  7. Landing an internship outside of my field of study. Essentially I had NO experience in the area where my internship was at, but I talked to the employer and had a couple of interesting (and slightly related) experiences.But the point being they were INTERESTING enough (creating a mini-documentary for a grant proposal, planning and launching a skateboard video premier, outsourcing my job search etc.) to land me the job. Perhaps it wasn’t the most competitive position, but obviously I wasn’t the only applying for it.

  8. Acting.

    Why? Because you get rejected. All the time.

    How do I handle it? Life has kicked my ass and I’ve learned how to cope by being creative with what I have:

    A) I am an immigrant. I came to the US when I was seven, not knowing any English. I was an outsider. I was a little wetback. And I was rejected. Which leads to…

    B) I made sure I learned English well. I perfected it. And I perfected my Spanish too. I wanted to cover all my bases. Now it helps me book voice over work in both languages.

    C) I did my graduate studies at Columbia University while my mother was in a coma. I was only 23 years old. I got a partial scholarship because I decided to go to the dean’s office with a letter from the hospital stating my mother’s condition. This was by far the biggest lesson I learned about LIFE not working out the way you want. I ended up graduating Magna Cum Laude with an MA in Clinical Psychology. My mother was still in a coma. And two years had passed by.

    MENTAL TENACITY is the # 1 thing in my book. And believing in yourself, regardless of what other people think or regardless of your situation. You just have to take the bull by the horns and keep on moving forward.

    Un abrazo.

  9. For what it is worth, “NO is better than a MAYBE. At least you can learn from a NO.”

  10. Hi Ramit, great stuff, and by chance great timing for me. This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve been kicking the tires on going back to school for a masters, but had been shying away from applying where I really want to go. Yes, the usual excuses, I won’t get in, it will cost too much, blah blah blah.

    The other day I called bullshit on myself. If I’m going to invest time in a masters, to hell with second rate options. MIT baby! Let them tell me why I can’t do it. Then just like you say, follow up and overcome the objections.

    It occurs to me that I already have an improbable success story under my belt. Most people find that it’s nearly impossible to get a job in a developing country for a US level salary. A while back I decided that’s what I wanted to do, so I invested in a pro resume writer (highly recommended), brushed up my LinkedIn, and started applying. I got interviews from about 1/3 of the jobs I applied for and offers from two (!!) of them.

    After some good hardball negotiation (thanks to some past IWTBR articles for great negotiation strategies) I negotiated a salary that’s more than 10% higher than my US salary from a company in Manila, Philippines. Two months later I’m loving life in the Philippines. I’ve structured things so that I can live on only half of my take home salary so that I can retire all outstanding debt in less than a year and then save up to either pay for MIT, launch a business, or both.

    Bottom line, be careful what you wish for – you might actually get it!

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