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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 on "Judo Technique: Turning “Failure Expectation” into domination"

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Daniela
Daniela
5 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
Ami
5 years 9 months ago

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.

Chris Horner
5 years 9 months ago

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.

Austin
5 years 9 months ago
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 /… Read more »
Anita
5 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
Dave Doolin
5 years 9 months ago

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.”

Teacher
Teacher
5 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
Dave
Dave
5 years 9 months ago

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.

Karina Junker
5 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
HighFiveRamit
5 years 9 months ago

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

Mike Stankavich
5 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »
Gerard
Gerard
5 years 9 months ago

Applying for a job in the USA as a foreigner (Dutch), so I can be with my girlfriend.

Jessica
Jessica
5 years 9 months ago
I started a new job in summer 2009, and when the annual review rolled around, I decided to ask for more of a raise than the average 2-3%. I expected that my boss might say no because I was so new, and in the event that happened, I decided in advance that I was going to ask to be able to work from home one day a week (very valuable to me in terms of flexibility and even some cost-savings). I was also going to ask for approval for 100% tuition reimbursement toward a master’s degree in my field. I… Read more »
Gal @ Equally Happy
5 years 9 months ago
I’ve been trying for years to convince one of my friends that a similar approach should be used with the dating game. He seems to dread the entire experience of approaching and talking to a woman. In fact, I think that would be my one “use case” in this comment, using this approach in social situations. The most important aspect being “NEVER do the committee’s job for you”. Why assume she’ll say no or “she out of my league”, go up there and try! In fact, I have a different friend who asked me to review his online dating profile.… Read more »
annon
annon
5 years 9 months ago

Ramit,
Do you have a top 5 for these inner game coaches?

Eric
Eric
5 years 9 months ago
This is some great advice. I wish I had read this when I was in high school. It probably would have changed where I would have applied. I did fall into a lot of those traps that you mention. My high school just didn’t offer any good advice on getting into college and the internet wasn’t as stocked with info as it is today. My mistake was never hitting a library and looking up stuff like this, which I’m sure was readily available back then. The only thing I don’t agree with fully is the part about money. The way… Read more »
kevin
kevin
5 years 9 months ago

I’ve tried signing up at earn1k.com about 15 times. I have never gotten a confirmation email. I have tried 3 different browsers and three different emails. What gives?

kevin
kevin
5 years 9 months ago

yes I’ve checked my spam folder 🙂

James
James
5 years 9 months ago
The failure expectation technique could be applied to starting a business. Instead of focusing solely on the individual success of that business, one could focus on networking and developing the contacts that will be useful for future businesses, trying out tons of different business models so that they can build experience as fast as possible, and paying attention to which employees do good work so that they can cultivate loyalty, make sure they’re well provided for, and thus potentially carry them into whatever the next business is, allowing them to start that business with the “creme of the crop” so… Read more »
Ladia
5 years 9 months ago

Hi Ramit, what I absolutly hate about your many times published info about an awesome email is the fact that I already signed for your emails quite long time ago and never have seen this email. Something is wrong and I hope that only with your list management.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
5 years 9 months ago

Well done, I am feelin the urgency to read that email. I had never heard of you before this morning when somehow I got linked to Earn1k.

Usama
5 years 9 months ago

Fascinating story. Your ability to try new things and do it right helped you
Thanks.

Timmy
Timmy
5 years 9 months ago

That was an inspiring article. I disagree with your view on luck. It wasn’t luck that got you admitted into Stanford, it was you. If someone from Stanford called you after seeing your in the phone book and liked the way it sounded, that would be luck. You put yourself in position to be admitted by applying.

Dave Doolin
5 years 9 months ago

Haha! I saved it. And I’m using your “Best $20 technique” next Friday.

Dave Doolin
5 years 9 months ago

As a result of “Best $20 technique” last Friday (Nov. 19), I’m using today’s (Nov 22) email from Ramit to actively plan for failure with respect to that opportunity.

Pat
Pat
5 years 9 months ago
I am in college and I have this odd belief that I need to pull up my GPA some more before I even begin to think about having a good time–a good time meaning attempting to meet / build meaningful relationships with other people, joining and being active in extracurricular clubs/organizations, partying, etc. I need to just do it–but at the same time it needs to be more systematic than “just do it”. I need to prepare for people to feel awkward when I attempt to start a conversation, I need to realize that it’s okay to go to meetings… Read more »
jaime
jaime
5 years 9 months ago

just wanted to say that was a great article 🙂

Debbie
5 years 9 months ago
You know I never thought about it but how I got into my specialized program in college was very similar to the way you got into Stanford. With my program you only got one shot a year to just get interviewed to maybe get in. My first time I got the “thanks but no thanks” interview letter. I spent the next year adding up 1,000 hours of experience in the field I wanted to get into, talking and getting advice from a lot of the people in my wanted field for their advice on how to look good on paper,… Read more »
martin woodhead
5 years 9 months ago

Congrats in getting
I’m from the uk so here public school means expensive private school 🙂
just trying to dig myself out of a hole at the moment

Rajat
5 years 9 months ago

Hi Ramit,
1st, it is very well written and your command on language makes it easy to ready. 2nd, your examples give practical advice, unlike several writers who say work hard, be honest, differentiate yourselves etc. without telling how to. 3rd love the way you have perfected the story telling art and are able to abstract the winning strategies for all of us.

Justin
Justin
5 years 9 months ago
Starting my own company at age 21, I get rejected a lot. I am trying to get large institutions to make a change that would benefit them, but many of them are not interested off the bat. I will/have been applying this technique to help them in other ways. When they say no to implementing the program on a large scale, I take that no as an excuse to help them in some other way. I show them how they can improve in small, easy ways, and I am counting on the fact that these improvements will add up and… Read more »
Lan
5 years 9 months ago
I got into Stanford as a transfer student; the techniques were similar to Ramit’s but with a twist. Be REALLY GOOD at what you do: Had I applied straight from high school, I probably would’ve got rejected. Even though I got straight As, my SAT score was average, and I didn’t really stand out. After high school, I spent my freshman year at a public university and really shined in my intended major. I didn’t just get As–I got A pluses. Also, I got to know one of my instructors really well because I went to office hours religiously (it’s… Read more »
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[…] Success Last week, bestselling author and personal finance blogger Ramit Sethi published a post on achieving success by planning for failure. Specifically, Sethi outlines how he got into his dream school, Stanford University, by expecting […]

Steve
Steve
5 years 9 months ago
I recently went through 4 rounds of interviews, with 8 people total, only to find out I basically tied with someone else, and he ended up getting the position. My first reaction was anger because they wasted my time and incovenienced me for nothing (two of the rounds were 8 a.m. the morning after night football games I paid a fortune to go to, so I had to limit the beer and the screaming to preserve my voice, but I digress). Anyway, the day after I got the news, I got your email when you first sent it. I felt… Read more »
Ashlee
5 years 9 months ago

Ramit thank you so much for this! In the last few weeks I’ve been slacking on my business opportunities and my scholarship applications just because I’ve failed on a few little things and gotten zero scholarships from the two dozen or so applications I’ve done in the last 6 months. But this has inspired me to not give up so damned easily! Thanks again!

Joana Miranda
5 years 9 months ago
Thanks for a great post! I needed to be reminded of the wisdom in this comment, in particular: “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.” Life would be much simpler for all of us (and probably more peaceful), if we didn’t personalize things. I fall into that trap often, and have certainly beat myself up when faced with rejection. So I’m putting on my thicker skin and am headed back out into the trenches (in this case, building my business… Read more »
Socialkenny
5 years 9 months ago

Lmao,you’re a mentalist at this Ramit;the not having $50 for the app’ fee was genius.
Ppl have to understand that one can get over with a lot by just being straight up.

Phil W
Phil W
5 years 9 months ago
Pretty tangential here, but the posts I wanted to comment on(that this one refers to) are closed for comments. You mention the 80/20 principal, which in the corporate world most often refers to “80% of the people do 20% of the work, and 20% of the people do 80% of the work”, which I tend to believe. Well, I was curious as to how much more work the 20% really do, when compared to the slacker 80%ers. I calculated it and It turns out they do a LOT more than you would expect. If a factory is making widgets, the… Read more »
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[…] actually ANTICIPATE failure, and then turn it around to better ourselves (the article can be found here, but I will briefly describe it below for relevance). The best example he gives is such: you go in […]

KPennell
KPennell
5 years 8 months ago
This comment will probably get buried but oh well. I like a lot of the anecdotes on here, but I want to clarify what I think this post is trying to say: By expecting to fail numerous times and for the path to success to be arduous, you won’t get as slowed down or disheartened as you normally would if you expect success to come easy and all at once when it comes. This cognitive tool will give you endurance and allow you to fight through the pain in the ass leg work involved with getting success. Hugh Macloed phrases… Read more »
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