Learn social skills and instant rapport from a NYT journalist

Ramit Sethi

Did I tell you how I ended up choosing a major in college that made people crinkle their nose and say, “You’re studying WHAT??”

Back in the day, like all high-school kids, I was delusional and dumb. I would brag to my friends that I wanted to study “computer science, but with no programming and no math.” I said that as a half-joke, but not really, since I suck at both of those things and was desperate to avoid them.

I ended up finding the perfect major: something called Science, Technology, and Society, an awesome major that let me study the psychology of persuasion, group dynamics, deception, history, and design.

The only problem was, NOBODY wanted me to take it. My college advisors said, “Pick computer science…you can get jobs.” My friends thought it was a major for athletes.

What happens when you’re making a huge decision…and nobody supports you? Worse, you have VERY FEW role models who’ve done what you’re about to do?

This isn’t deciding what sandwich to buy from Subway. Picking a major is potentially life-changing. Imagine sitting in your dorm room, endlessly turning the pages of your Course Catalog to decide what major to take. Contradictory advice. Nobody who really understands what you want to do. In fact, *I* didn’t even know what I wanted to do!

When we’re facing a decision that’s so uncertain, so risky, so scary…what do we do?

We start rationalizing taking the safe choice. And because we’re experts at smothering our own fears, we do it in very creative ways. We use creative “self-talk” like this:

  • “You know what, I should take the safe major. Yeah, I won’t get to study a lot of the cool things I want to…but it will open a lot of doors” (“open door” theory of more hypothetical options later)
  • “I can always study those things sometime down the road” (kicking the can)
  • “If that was such a good major, why aren’t more people taking it?” (search for social proof)

Attention weirdo IWT readers: This isn’t about picking a college major. This is about ANY major life decision you’ve faced where you were nervous, uncertain, and unclear about what to do.

I ended up developing a framework to make major decisions like this. It let me sort the “cobwebs” in my head:

Should I do this?

What if ____ happens?

How can I be sure I’m making the right choice?

WHAT MOST PEOPLE DO: They go “inward,” trying to think their way to clarity. They write lots of “Pro/Con” sheets of paper, hoping the answer will magically reveal itself like the Beautiful Mind movie with Russell Crowe.

WHAT MARGINALLY SMARTER PEOPLE DO: They realize that with uncertain matters, you can’t simply think your way to clarity. So they reach out to people around them and ask for advice. However, they often make a critical mistake: They only ask people just like them — people at the same level with the same level of knowledge and experience.

WHAT SMART PEOPLE DO: Not only do they ask people for advice, they ask people with different backgrounds and varied levels of expertise.

I went through all 3 levels. I first started by writing down every Pro/Con I could think of. Nothing helped. Then I asked my friends, who were all freshmen or sophomores. Not much help there.

FINALLY, I started reaching out to other people: advisors, graduates, business people, cold-emailing random people I admired…everyone! And I sorted through the feedback.

A lot of us are afraid to do this because, why would they even talk to me? What if they tell me something OPPOSITE of what I want to hear? It’s easy to hide in the dark and cover your ears. But true growth happens when you intentionally expose yourself to challenging feedback…then develop a system to sort through it.

I got better at doing this. Years later, I moved to NYC to think bigger and expose myself to different types of feedback. I realized that although I knew a lot of extremely smart people in Silicon Valley, I was only getting one-dimensional feedback.

Isn’t it weird? How many of us want to get extraordinary rewards — live the life, be able to buy drinks for our friends without worrying about cost, travel whenever we want, stay at amazing hotels, eat out at amazing restaurants — but we take the most conventional routes possible?

And when faced with tough decisions — decisions that could potentially SKYROCKET our careers and lives, or keep us stagnant in our psychological quicksand — we retreat into ourselves, and the same group of people we ALWAYS turn to, instead of reaching out to the very best people who could give us definitive answers?

There’s a better way.

We can reach out to the world-class masters who have world-class advice. Even one “tip” they give us could be potentially life-changing.

Now, you can spend years cultivating a network like this through adding massive value, cold calls, attending conferences, and on and on…

Or you can simply tap into my network.

I’m fortunate enough to have a personal network that extends into dozens of industries — fashion, tech, online business, modeling, journalism, venture capital.

And it’s my treat is being able to open that network up to you to give you access to the very best people in the world. All as a thank-you for being an I Will Teach You To Be Rich reader.

Introducing an interview with New York Times columnist Ron Lieber
I invited my friend Ron Lieber, who writes the New York Times money column, into my studio to ask him questions about being a top-tier journalist, building instant rapport with people, and how to be curious.

I also wanted to deconstruct the methods and mindset behind his way to mastery.

See, you can learn a lot from a journalist even if you don’t want to be one. For example, here’s just some of what we covered in our conversation:

  • How to strike up a conversation with anyone — and go deeper than the generic, “Hi, how are you?”
  • The fun “conversational game” you can play to rapidly build your personal-connection skills
  • The 3-minute way to add value to a VIP
  • How to balance being uber-specialized with a more multi-dimensional approach
  • Ron’s insider recommendations for pitching stories to the New York Times — or any media outlet
  • The proven system for becoming a well-known writer
  • How to become a “super-connector” in the middle of your social community
  • The most effective way to use Facebook or Twitter (Hint: it’s not to share vacation photos)

Watch the video excerpt here:

Want to know what every single top performer I’ve interviewed in Brain Trust (including CEOs, athletes, and best-selling authors) ALL have in common? Simple. It’s habits. Successful people don’t just catch a lucky break and coast — they systematically identify and integrate winning habits into their lives, day in and day out, for years.

Ramit’s Brain Trust is now closed indefinitely. But before we closed the program, we extracted all the juiciest success habits from our guests and packaged them into a 7-part Ultimate Guide to Habits that you can read anytime, anywhere — absolutely free.


Ultimate Guide to Habits
Includes HD videos, action plans, and lessons from the world’s leading experts on behavioral change.


Imagine 30 days from today, jumping out of bed early with tons of energy. You actually LOOK FORWARD to the day — no more feeling frazzled — because of the new “peak performance” tools you’re using now.

Maybe you want to start eating healthier, or cook a meal once a week. Maybe you want to start a business, or even just read one book a month.

No problem. Start small. Pick 1 or 2 things to use these powerful techniques on, and watch what happens.

Just sign up below and I’ll send you a free copy of the Ultimate Guide to Habits right away.

Get my free Ultimate Guide to Habits

100% privacy. No games, no B.S., no spam. When you sign up, we'll keep you posted with a few emails per week.


  1. Timothy Moser

    Great insights. I actually chose to study something in college that I had no plans to make a career of. Sometimes I still find myself almost apologizing for my major when I tell people what my degree is in, but I’ve truly never had any regrets about what I did. I studied one subject in college, I freelance in a completely different area, I have a day job that has nothing to do with either one, and now I study and blog about yet another completely different field. This, of course, not only allows me, but actually requires me, to surround myself with people coming from many different perspectives.
    As far as I’m concerned, if I am the average of the 5 people I associate with most, it’s not enough for me that those 5 people are high-quality, experienced mentors; I also want them to be as different from each other as possible.

  2. Vincent

    Interesting excerpt! Wish I could watch the full. Anyway, I’m still on the road to finding what I want to do career wise. I’m doing tons of things outside of college and I’m not convinced I even need a degree, but I’m forced to by my family anyway so might as well have fun while doing it.

    I think I’m the only one in my life that is okay with my lack of security in my degree choice. I’m okay with it because I know that a degree isn’t the defining factor in your life. So many alternatives are out there and it takes a bit of a less traditional approach to tackling the future.

  3. Mariana

    Awesome! I can tell by experience than even if these skills seem difficult to learn, it is much easy than most people think… And posts like this prove it! Great job on showing in such a simple way that anyone can learn how to outperform by asking the right people. I would love to watch the rest of it.

  4. Michael @ The Student Loan Sherpa

    I think effort is a huge factor here. If you are willing to work at making a good decision you will start going through the necessary steps to get there.

  5. Pramit

    It’s very thoughtful how you went about researching and selecting your major. Before starting college, I remember consulting Cal Newport via email, a sophomore at a different school, and a senior with a different major. Admittedly, I asked horrible questions which provided little insight. But despite my relatively proactive approach, my college experience turned out to be a total mess. Yeah, I went to Cal.

  6. AJ Banks

    You make a good point to “reach out” to people that are outside our social circle in order to learn and achieve things at a higher level than what we are accustomed to.

  7. Micheal

    How can I be sure I’m making the right choice?
    For this my answer is consulting with my friend get an idea. reading the lot more related news about and take a few day to take any right choice to go forward.. but author thought quiet interesting.,

  8. syd

    I love the idea of a brain trust. Related to this, I’ve always been fascinated by who inspires people who inspire me. For example, I like Abraham Lincoln, and so I’ve studied which people and which books inspired him (Henry Clay, Aesop’s Fables, etc.). I love to see which greats influence the great.

  9. Sonia M.

    Awesome post!

    Absolutely *loved* the Lieber interview! He described the craziness of newspaper deadlines to a T! Having someone who shares my workplace reality talk about it and so many other things so vividly made the interview that much more valuable to me. Unless you work for a paper, don’t tell me what you know how it is to have my kind of deadlines.

    What I love about this specific post is that it reminded me of a major decision I made this week that most people in my life are calling crazy.

    Was informed of new translation job openings. I am a translator and have been doing it for 20 years, I totally rock at it, I’d be insane to pass that up, right? (the salary is awesome, by the way)


    While I am qualified for the job, it no longer reflects my DJ. I need a change, and so far, things are looking good as far as securing a new job that reflect that.

    I reached out to a few people by email, so far, no answers. However, I had talked to a friend weeks earlier about her own career changes, and she followed my thinking.

    What really made me feel confident about my own decision NOT to apply is a long-standing Internet issue that started in December, but only got fixed this week. I moved in December, and my Internet and phone were connected on December 24th by a guy who absolutely did not want to be at work installing my Internet. On top of that, the installation itself was quite complex and tricky.

    After having intermittent issues since then, my Internet provider finally discovered this week that the technician did not install to connectors properly. It took many visits from other technicians to figure that out.

    The kind soul who installed my Internet and phone did not want to be there, and in turn, he messed up, and made my life miserable for months… Did I mention I have a home office? Losing Internet access for days on end is rough. I’m sure that his job pays well, but he obviously did not like his scheduling options.

    As the latest technician stood in my doorway to explain to me the source of all my frustration over the past 7 months, it donned on me… If I apply for that translation job, I will become *exactly* like that technician who showed up at my door on December 24th. I will be miserable and mess up, no matter how much experience I have and how great I really am. I need a change. No amount of extra money can make that go away.

    In a very weird sort of way, you validated my decision. So thanks for that Ramit!

  10. JL


    I love your videos and posts about the importance of social skills, presentation and public speaking. Could you make more of these? How do you do it so well? I know you have said that it takes a lot practice and a systematic approach. Could you show us more?

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  13. Teaching Smart Children

    You are already very successful, so studies don’t really equate to money to success. Cert is just a piece of paper when you don’t know how to leverage it. Well spoken.

  14. Adam @ LMS Login

    I agree, its amazing how quickly people can open up if you just say the right words. there is so much you can learn from them as everyone has a story and a lesson with it every time.

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