Why successful people don’t want to mentor you

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Successful people are constantly sought out as mentors.

Sadly, most people do a terrible job of asking for mentoring. They come off as desperate, awkward, and irritating. But busy people LOVE helping others who take action, so there is good news: As in many other situations, the Craigslist Penis Effect(where most people are terrible and, if you’re simply slightly better than them, you can dominate) applies here.

For example, a few months ago, a Hacker News commenter asked why he was getting unfriendly responses from prospective mentors. Blogger Ravi Mohan gave a fascinatingly insightful answer:

I have some experience in this, so let me try to explain a couple of things that I learned in the “school of hard knocks”.

Once upon a time I was in a situation where I thought I could contribute to something one of the best programmers in the world was working on so I sent an email (I got the address from his webpage) and said something to the effect of ” you say on this webpage you need this code and I have been working on something similar in my spare time and I could write the rest for you over the next few months because I am interested in what you are doing” and I got a 2 line reply which said (paraphrased) ” A lot of people write to me saying they’ll do this , but I’ve never seen any code yet so I am a little skeptical. Don’t take it personally. Thanks. bye.”.

So in the next email (sent a minute after I received his reply) I sent him a zipped file of code with an explanation that “this is what I’ve done so far which is about 70% of what you want” and he immediately replied saying “Whoa you are serious. That is refreshing .. ‘ and opened up completely, giving me a lot of useful feedback and very specific advice. He is a (very valued) mentor to this day.

Here are the things you need to know about finding valuable mentors:

  • Stop being so damned lazy. When you write a busy person asking a general/broad question, they will ignore you. Why would they respond when you haven’t done the homework yourself? Similarly, if you are asking stupid questions like “How do you get the motivation to accomplish so much?” plan on being ignored. If you want someone to sing Kumbaya to you, find a vegan non-profit employee. If you want a mentor, DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
  • Here is the 1-2-3 Choice Technique: “Hi Ramit, I love your book on blah blah. I noticed you said I should XYZ in chapter 5, and so I tried it. I’m stuck due to XYZ. So I’ve come up with 3 possible routes:
    • blah blah1
    • blah blah2
    • blah blah3

Which do you think I should do?

This will get almost a 100% response rate, since you have actually done the work in your head…plus all I have to do is tell you which is best. GOOD JOB.

  • I, and many other busy people, use barriers to avoid kooky people. So if you can get through them, you will find people LOVE helping other ambitious people who take action.

If you’re interested, you can get a 40-minute video on finding mentors and writing effective e-mails

My buddy Ben Casnocha and I devoted most of an entire video to mentoring. We go into detail about what works, what pisses people off, and how to dominate by avoiding common mistakes.

You can get this video for free, instantly, by signing up below:

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  1. Hey Ramit, how do you get motivated to save money? Haha jk! Thanks for the reminder. I’m sure that all of us have been guilty of sending out foolish emails at one point or another.

  2. Thanks Ramit – great advice. I’m sure the worst is when someone asks a question and you’ve already answered it multiples times on your blog!! At that point, the question is whether you even bother to send them a link to your blog or if you just ignore the email.

  3. As my first boss used to say “I resolve doubts, not ignorance”

  4. Ramit, I love your advice. It’s so reasonable and practical—no gimmicks, just realistic ways to dominate by doing a halfway-decent job when most people don’t even bother.

    I totally bought E1K and am going through it and taking action. Even before I bought the course, your Briefcase Technique, the “practice what you’re going to say” technique, and a few well-phrased emails were enough to get me over $2000 worth of work. It won’t take me more than 50 hours to do everything, either, so that’s $40 an hour. Plus, since I’ve already upsold this client twice I know I can do it again.

    Thanks for motivating us to take action and stop being so lazy!

  5. Love it… I know I have these setup but I’m not super aware that I have them setup; I just do. It’s from having to deal with it over time I realize now that I’ve setup “barriers” to entry to talk to me. I used to take any free lunch way back in the day but now you’d better have one hell of a quick and catchy pitch for me to even consider it. Just a good post and I’m glad I didn’t write it – I’d come off too mean :)
    Thx man.

  6. Sometimes the best way to get better at getting in touch with people (and having it go somewhere) is to fail miserably.

    It’s the skinned-knee philosophy: If you fall off your bike and skin your knee, you’re more inclined to be more cautious next time.

    So, to all those people out there afraid to pull the trigger and send emails for fear that they won’t be perfect, just do it. There is more than one potential mentor out there for you. So what if a few never get back to you.

  7. This is helpful advice. I just watched a video interview where Charlie Hoehn discussed how he used a similar approach to get mentoring advice from you. Great tip. Thanks for sharing.

  8. You are very correct in your analogy why should somebody give you their time and expertise that may have taken years to accumulate through hard labor and lots of painful pitfalls and mistakes for nothing. As we know in the knowledge economy time is much more valuable than money.
    I suggest the people who want mentoring first work out exactly what they want to learn from their mentor and 99% of the time the knowledge required can be found online or in a book.

  9. great point man – and great reinforcement by James Nash Monet – i am nodding my head so hard after reading this post and then chain of 10 comments that my neck is hurting. not sure i’ve nodded this much even at a rock concert

  10. I recently contacted Manisha Thakor about the success of her career. She did respond back. I’ve followed her success and know what she’s about. When reaching out for guidance you should know more about the person and thank them for their time in advance. Busy people are truly busy. I should know. But no matter what, I will always thank people for their time.

  11. This post is very timely. I’m working through part of Ramit’s course. And I got stuck. I felt the answers should be easy to find but for some reason I was spending unnecessary time trying to find answers and when I saw this post, I asked myself, “If I was to ask Ramit for advice, what would I do prior to contacting him, based on what he wrote in this post?” I suspected I shouldn’t need help with my problem, and I was right.

    I am currently validating a freelance idea, and perhaps my real barrier was simply fear of talking to people, but I was really struggling finding direct email and phone numbers for the experts in my targeted industry. Since I used to work in the targeted industry, you would think I would already know these people, but I don’t. Finding the experts, and general company phone and email contacts wasn’t difficult, but after spending a couple of hours searching these people online, the best I could do was find websites that offered to provide direct email and phone numbers for a fee. I thought, “Should I pay for email and phone numbers?” And then I thought, “Should I just email the company’s general contact email, and hope my email gets by some administrative gatekeeper?” “Should I ask Ramit for tips on how to get past the gatekeepers?”

    And then the answer seemed obvious: Linkedin. My former boss invited me to join Linkedin a couple of years ago, and frankly I only joined because my boss invited me, and I wasn’t very active. I only have like 8 connections, some of them friends and family who aren’t even professionally connected to me. At first I though I would have to “friend” these people on Linkedin before I could even contact them, but then I saw that every public profile had a link that allowed me to contact the person. I also found out that of my 5 experts, all of them were on Linkedin, and since I used to work in the industry only 1 of them was out of my network, even with my measly 8 connections. I found out that Ramit also had a Linkedin profile (no I didn’t send him a Linkedin “friend” invitation), and decided it was safe to assumed Ramit at least somewhat believed in Linkedin.

    Long story short – I found my answer, and I didn’t have to email Ramit at all. All I did was ask myself, “What should I do before I contact Ramit?”

  12. Hey Ramit – just wanted to let you know that the Aweber form at the bottom of the page has a small issue. When you hit the “tab” key when typing in your information, instead of going to the next entry field it directs to the form at the top sidebar of your page.

    To fix, just use the raw HTML form. Link here for the quick fix: http://www.aweber.com/faq/questions/580/Why+Does+Hitting+Tab+Switch+Me+Between+Forms%3F

  13. Wouldn’t a kooky email mean that person is the one needing the most mentoring? Shouldn’t a successful person receiving a kooky email know that and be more willing to help?

    • Winners want to work with winners

    • Ramit… your response is deep and spot on.

      I’m considered successful by most people that go home and watch TV for 5 hours a night after work. I’m not considered successful at all by my own standards or the people that I look up to. I have my own goals and I do something towards them every single free hour of every day. To achieve them I keep trying to find the most optimal route to get there. Attaching extra weight on my back is not a solution and delays my successful outcome. Surrounding myself with people that push me to become better is a conscious decision… as is avoiding the dead weight. Kooky emails = dead weight.

  14. […] by the best, you’re going to have to be better than all the other chuckleheads at asking. Ramit Sethi has some advice for […]

  15. In case you guys needed more evidence that this works: I recently had someone approach me for academic mentorship. I told her I was full up and wasn’t taking on any more mentoring relationships, but that I could recommend her to someone else. “Well,” she said, “Here’s three reasons why you’re the best mentor for me. Here’s why I’ll be a great mentee for you and make you look good. And in case you didn’t believe me, here’s the prep work I did just for this meeting.” And she whips out a list of ten research questions that are relevant to both our interests, with some notes about how her skills would be an asset to answering them.

    I ended up saying yes, and she’s continued to be just that awesome.

    Of course, now I wonder if she reads this blog – or if she just channels Ramit all on her own!!

  16. Great article that reinforces the idea that entrepreneurs want to hear from those who take action but are also intelligent to understand the concept of efficiency of said actions. Nobody wants to speak to someone doing same thing day in day out and who is not capable of thinking of a way to improve productivity, profits or simply eliminating things that can be automated.
    And since entrepreneurs are results oriented folk, they tend to like those who achieve the result with minimum effort, and if you can grab their attention in a positive way, this is already a result that speaks in your favor.
    Time is indeed the most valuable resource those people have because it cannot be bought back or reimbursed.

  17. I think it boils down to successful people are just to busy to bother they have their own business to run, and their is not much in it for them to mentor someone.

  18. Amanda Salinas Link to this comment

    I loooooooooove your book!!!!!! I get these wierd looks from people when I laugh out loud while reading your book.I have NEVER been so anxious to go home to read a FINANCE book. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your book and your humor. Your personality shines all through this book!!!!

  19. Thanks ramit,… its nice article..
    it make sense by reading it… success people will mentor you if you know him… 😀 cmiiw

  20. Absolutely. I’ve spent so long in my first jobs with my head down, working very hard, sure that was the way to get people to notice and offer to mentor me! Think it comes from being a ‘good student’ in school where teachers swarm and make sure you’ve lots of opportunities. After a while it became apparent this is not how the actual world works 😀

    So I started trying other methods and hit on one in the last year that works better than anything else I’ve tried and your advice here is in line with that too (blatantly doing google searches to see what others are talking about in this topic! sheepish smile).

    I’m keen to get these messages out to teens, so they don’t have to rely on standard (read: out of date) career advice from school advisers and well meaning parents. In my work I’m defining a mentor-mentee relationship as, essentially, a friendship packed with mutual respect. This calls for the person who wants the relationship to step up and bring something real and I’m sharing the exact framework that’s worked best for me starting from scratch in a brand new field.

    Having mentors is so important, but it’s amazing how people make it so hard for others to help!

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