I took great pleasure in saying NO

Ramit Sethi

A weird thing happened over the last 8 weeks. I started getting scattered messages from people who couldn’t subscribe to my email list, no matter how many times they tried.

After I got more than 10 emails, I decided it wasn’t PEBCAK (Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard), and I had an IWT analyst look into it.

We discovered a minor bug: If someone unsubscribes, then later tries to rejoin, they can’t.

Analyst: “Should we prioritize fixing this?”

If you’re curious how I responded, this email exchange should give you a taste:


My response, 9 minutes later:




LOVE IT!! PURE JUSTICE!! You unsubscribed, now you want back in? You can wait outside in the cold and I’ll let you back in when I’m good and ready.

I’m not being punitive (that’s a lie, that’s exactly what I’m doing…and I love it). But I also think there’s a deeper lesson here:

Could I fix this technical issue? Of course. But I told my tech team to prioritize this ABSOLUTELY LAST since these people are not my target market. They already demonstrated that my material isn’t a good fit for them. In other words, I can’t appeal to everyone, so I have to pick my battles.

You can’t please everyone.

Like I told you in Tuesday’s post, I had some interior decorator ask me if I really had any credentials to teach personal finance. Why do I care about defending myself to her? I have bigger fish to fry.

Underlying this is our tendency to be PEOPLE PLEASERS.

I could have launched into some grand old defense of why my material is different than other people, and how many millions of readers have benefited…but why?

People pleasing manifests in subtle ways. For example, how many times have you said, “Sure, I’ll do that…it can’t hurt.”

And two weeks later, you have to go to some dumb party/event you committed to, which you actually don’t want to go to, and you hate yourself. It can’t hurt. Actually, it can!! There’s nothing wrong with helping other people, but when you start saying “yes” to things that are distracting and drain you of energy, you can’t make the maximum impact on the world.

The path to unapologetic mastery is FILLED with these day-to-day choices.

For example, I get emails from people saying, “Ramit, what’s the best checking account to use?” I ignore them, because hey dude who claims he’s been reading me for 3 years, if you can’t pick up my $10 book where I literally list the best accounts, why would I reply to you? Then 2 weeks later I get an angry email cursing me out and saying, “It would only take you 3 seconds to reply.” Yes, it would. Times 600 email requests/day. Times my mental anguish of responding to people who make me want to shiv my eye with a chopstick.

Too many choices = puke

The question to ask is, who have you consciously decided you WON’T dignify with your limited attention?

We started off the year talking about Unapologetic Mastery. That sounds like a good tagline…but when it comes down to making the day-to-day choices to get there, it’s easy to get crippled by TOO MANY CHOICES.

But if you want big change, you have to tackle a small number of BIG WINS.

Yesterday, I got a TON of emails from people who said, “I really want to start this business, but I have a lot of student debt and my job doesn’t pay me enough at all.” The answer is, get a better job, get financially stable, THEN tackle the business idea!

You can’t change the world if you’re worried about your bills every month.

When you’re financially stable and growing, you can do nice things for others (and for yourself). In other words, once you have a Big Win — like becoming financially stable — you can let that success “bleed” into other areas of life.

For example. once you’re earning more, you can buy back your time — like I do with a chef and someone who cleans my apartment — or even buy results, like with a personal trainer.

To live a rich life this year, we’re not going to tackle everything. We’re going to tackle ONE BIG WIN at a time.

Learning how to crochet, or visiting another country, can be on your to-do list — but just like I de-prioritized that weirdo’s request above, you also have to say NO to doing everything at once. This year, mastery starts with doing one thing, and doing it extraordinarily well.

So I’m going to make it easy for you:

This year, what would make more of an impact: mastering closet organization…or finding a new job that makes you excited to wake up every day?

I want you to really dig deep about what goals are going to get your BIG WIN this year. A good framework is, “If I succeeded at this ONE thing, would my success ‘bleed’ into other areas?”

GOOD EXAMPLE: “If I lost 15lbs and was able to fit into my high-school jeans, I’d feel more attractive and have more energy to spend on time with my significant other.”

BAD EXAMPLE: “I want to learn to speak Spanish because…well it would be cool.”

Don’t be that guy setting goals that sound good, but are doomed for failure. (Btw, I was guilty of that as recently as last year. My misery is your salvation.)

Another good framework is to look ahead to December 31, 2014. If you could be sitting on a beach (that’s right, you earned enough to fly there with a SO, and if you don’t have one, just tell me and I’ll send someone attractive to hang with you), looking back, what would be your 1 BIG WIN?

That’s what we’re going to pursue.

But you can’t do this from the sidelines.

I follow a bunch of fitness people and at the beginning of the year, when they posted “30-day challenges,” they were getting hundreds of comments per post. Now, just 9 days later, the number of comments has dropped to a trickle. Most people can’t even follow through for 9 days.

But if you want to make unapologetic mastery a WINNABLE RESULT, not just a tagline, join my free email list and I’ll send you material that will challenge, confound, and enlighten you.

The choice is yours.

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  1. I took great pleasure in saying NO | Enjoying The Moment

    […] I took great pleasure in saying NO is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich. […]

  2. Jean-Michel

    December 31st;
    My co-author and I have published our book, and are selling the interactive version on iBooks.

    Additionally, I’ve mastered a backflip. Not bad for a 34 year old guy!

    • Caroline C.

      Mastered a backflip? Dayym, rock on!

  3. Hannah

    I’m glad you got a kick out of this, but email addresses aren’t exactly social security numbers or anything. Can people really not figure out using or using a second email address?

    • Ramit Sethi

      Of course they can. But they rarely do. It’s human nature that if you put up an intentional barrier in front of people, most will stop right there.

    • David Hunter

      I was thinking the same thing. Most people are stupid and can’t even figure out their right hand from their left. Oh well.

  4. Kyle

    My “Big Win” for 2014 will be to launch the web version of my goal tracking app so we can all sync our trackers to any device!

    This would definitely be a success that would help other areas of my life, and I would (will) take great pride in accomplishing it.

    Thanks for the push!

  5. Ryan

    Wow, this one really threw me for a loop. This person actually bought one of your products. I suspect your percentage of readers who become paying customers is in the single digits. But the percentage of customers who become repeat customers is much higher.

    Thus, a previous customer is exactly the kind of audience you want. (Unless your stuff is so bad that customers tend walk away and never come back.)

    I suspect you’re applying some ninja psychological kungfooery here and not being honest about it. Perhaps you’ve elevated your prestige in this person’s eyes by seeming like a yogi who’s hard to access.

    And maybe this will be good for that person. It will push them to try harder, to figure out some other way to access your material and then they will cherish the material even more because they had to work to get.

    Only these types of approaches don’t work if the student knows that’s what you’re doing. And that’s why you didn’t tell us?

    • Ramit Sethi

      That is a pretty good analysis, but it’s not that simple. There are a few key differences:

      For most companies, they make a huge percentage of profit from repeat customers. We’re the same. But most companies try to get everyone in the door. We do not. I’ve previously written about how I turn down over $2mm/year by prohibiting certain people from joining my email list. I’m not solely motivated by money, or I would let them all in. I want a highly curated IWT community, like the one you see here.

      Also, he bought a course I taught on another site, not here.

      Finally, I’m not telling him no. But I’m certainly not changing my priorities for anyone who unsubscribed from my material in the past and wants to get back on. They can take a backseat to the people who’ve been loyal subscribers, and sometimes customers, for months or even years.

  6. Tim

    Cant’s wait Ramit. Is this separate from your insiders list? I’m already on that.

    • Ramit Sethi

      You are good

  7. Will

    Hi Ramit,

    After reading yesterday’s post and some of your material on systems/processes before I identified four key areas I wanted to focus on for 2014. I then worked out the system/process/stakes I would use to try and achieve them and identified a goal/measurement for each one that I would judge my success by come December 31st. All the sort of stuff I have heard from you and Tim Ferriss etc before. However, reading today’s post has made me think again – is four key areas too many, should I be focusing on one at a time even if I have identified time to work/make progress on each one as well as monthly checkpoints and habits to form on my way? I’d be interested to know how important you think it is to stick to one at a time even if you have built in systems to tackle them all.

  8. Joel Greenwood

    Actually, I might be in the same boat – but I never unsubscribed. I haven’t received any more IWTYTBR emails since I took one of your courses. I tried signing up for a newsletter again, noticed I didn’t get it. Tried to use another email, which worked.

    I paid for a course, did about half of it before I went on vacation (in July). Took a while to get back into it. Finished watching. Still no more emails.

    Does that mean I got bumped off as well? Or do you have a more serious bug on your hands?

    • Ramit Sethi

      We’re looking into this now.

    • Sam

      I’m in the same boat as Joel. Bought a course and stopped getting emails.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Sam, we’ll contact you as soon as we figure out what’s going on, too.

      (Note that we intentionally stop sending certain emails once you join a premium IWT course.)

  9. Joel Greenwood

    Fat fingers on my smartphone apparently. Sorry.

  10. Patrycja

    “who have you consciously decided you WON’T dignify with your limited attention?”
    Today I’ve talk with friends about every-client-counts mindset and I think they really should read this. They believe in pleasing people because that’s what you should do. Simply be everything for everyone!
    My Big Win 2014- to change job and go to Rome to see the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

  11. Micro

    I could see why this would be a low priority fix for a software issue. The amount of people who unsubscribe and want to return is going to vastly dwarf the new users coming in. Plus there is a pretty simple fix, just create a new e-mail address, subscribe with that one. You can even have it auto forward the e-mails so you can still read everything with the old e-mail address. That would be my thought over waiting 3 years for a fix.

  12. ian@buyingbrain

    Interesting post. I think that learning to choose my battles more carefully is one thing I should really look to do in 2014. Not everyone is going to like what I do, after all (even though they, frankly, should)

  13. Tora

    I’ve started a new job in October and with it, I’ve got the chance to get my career going where I want it to (higher and higher of course, by my success criteria, which don’t include money).

    So my big win for 2014: make a success out of this opportunity and progress my career to where I want it to be.

    (which includes lots of exciting scientific research and publishing scientific papers, etc.)

  14. Jennifer

    There aren’t many open and honest bloggers around. Many people don’t understand how important it is to see the big picture. If you are running a business you know that you cannot please anyone. Once I was running a hotel where we served dinner, bad and breakfast for $25 pppn (if you stay 4 nights). One gentleman complained about the choices in the dinner menu. I was upset considering we were working hard to offer a real value. That night in the bar same gentleman was complaining that his sandwich for lunch cost him $20. I took great pleasure in telling him off. You cannot have it both ways. Good things costs a lot of money and you have to appreciate if you see a good deal. I agree with you totally. We cannot please everyone.

  15. Ashley

    I think I understand your point of view, but it don’t agree.

    I signed up for your emails recently. Read a lot of info on this site, watched a couple videos, listened to a podcast and I enjoyed a lot of it and found it really helpful content. I think I have a great business idea that has the potential to be really successful. However, I’m the primary caregiver of my three kids, all under 5 years old. I really thought about what you wrote regarding what will be your focus for the year and realized that his is not the year for starting a business for me. There will be a time, but this is not it.

    Like most people, I get far too many emails and if I’m not going to use your advice right now or in the near future, why shouldn’t I unsubscribe? And when that time comes when I can use the advice and would like to resubscribe you’re saying you don’t want me back in?

    I fully understand why it isn’t a priority for your tech people, but to say you just don’t want those people back at all is a bit much, methinks.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Totally legit reason. Unfortunately, you are one in a million. Most people who unsubscribe will never return.

      And note, I’m not telling him to go away forever. I’m telling him to come back later and if he does (which is a strategy I outline here), I’ll let him back in.

  16. Oneisha Freeman

    Thinking about my big WIN(s) for 2014. I would like to get on a routine/schedule with myself and my son. Work/school on time, dinners planned and a cleaning schedule. And making these things habitual. Personally this would be a big win for me as a single mom. Another big win is identifying at least one additional income stream and seeing additional money come from that. My goal is $1500 per month. I WISH I could be a part of earn1k but until then I will patiently read the blog post, watch the videos, be on Ramit’s tweets like white on rice until my turn comes. I can honestly visualize myself in a different place in 30 days, that’s how focused I am and I feel good about so much I’ve been learning through what I do have access to.

  17. How To Make Dreams Come True | Proteinmilkshakebar

    […] I follow a bunch of fitness people and at the beginning of the year, when they posted 30-day challenges, they were getting hundreds of comments per post.Now, just 9 days later, the number of comments has dropped to a trickle. Most people can’t even follow through for 9 days. -Ramit Sethi […]

  18. Michelle

    On New Year’s Eve 2014 I will be looking back at a year that I devoted my time to mastering the material needed for my economics degree. I will have prioritized my time so that I was able to allocate enough time to truly MASTER the material. I’m seeing it already in this term. I’m spending a lot of time practicing questions and w/ models, not just reading and taking notes and my comprehension and ability to apply my knowledge is skyrocketing. With 6 more classes to go after this term, at a pace of 2 classes per quarter, I will hold an Economics degree in my hand, and will be magna cum laude or higher around December 14th. (Magna or higher is just because I missed it by a hair my first time around and knew it was out of laziness. Not doing that again.) I’ll feel great because I’ll have the basic qualification I need to pursue my Dream Job with the Fed, and I’ll be well positioned to start exploring graduate school for my next-level Dream Job as a fully-fledged economist.

  19. Scholar Strategy

    Would you do that when you didn’t have enough people on your list as well? I just started my coaching service – and started building client list. I had to say NO to few students who wanted better pricing and I’m not sure if I should just accept everyone in the beginning and compromise a little on price at times.

    • Charlotte

      According to anything I have read of Ramit’s, you are on the right track by turning away clients who aren’t a good fit (because of price or other issues). If you want this to be a success and not a short-term mediocre project, you are better off starting with a few of the right customers.