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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.