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Look what happens when you try to help the wrong people

I’ve written before about how I don’t try to help everyone. Sorry, but some people just can’t be helped. And I want to show you a GREAT example of this.

Ramit Sethi

Look what happens when you try to help the wrong people

I got a great email from an IWT reader that made me smile. I smiled because I sensed his inevitable doom, but I wanted to try to gently guide him away from making a mistake.

In the past, I’ve written about how I don’t try to help everyone. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but some people just can’t be helped. (And if they can, it will take a lot longer than I have time for.)

And today, I want to show you a GREAT example of this.

In this email exchange, you’ll learn about an “adverse-selection” problem.

Here’s an email I got out of the blue from IWT reader Scott:


This is a classic question I get from people who want to join my courses and send me an email saying “HEY, if your courses are so great, let me try it for free and if it works, I’ll pay you a percentage of my salary.” Coincidentally, they can never afford the course. I always reject them.

My response:


Scott replies:


And we went our separate ways. Until a month later…


Some people really just aren’t worth trying to help.

Have you ever tried to help the wrong people? Share your story in the comments below.

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  1. avatar
    Look what happens when you try to help the wrong people | Enjoying The Moment

    […] I got a great email from an IWT reader that made me smile. I smiled because I sensed his inevitable doom, but I wanted to try to gently guide him away from making a mistake. In the past, I’ve written … Continued […]

  2. avatar
    Ben Davidson

    Unfortunately, my most depressing experience came from trying to help my family members. After helping my brother apply some of the Earn1K material, he decided it was too much work for so little… despite his soul-crushing minimum wage job. Also tried to help my entire family with finances by showing them data and telling them to bail on BoA, failed miserably as they told me “this is how we’ve always done it”. They never left, and racked up hundreds in fees over the last few years.

    It feels pompous to think I know better, but it also seems like solid data should be enough to convince people. Does it just come down to fear? I try to analyze the invisible scripts people use, but it’s hard to know what they’re telling themselves sometimes.

  3. avatar

    Interesting insight. It’s kind of the same dilemma from that post about “how to win any contest” where the added barrier of payment acts as a qualifier for those who have the passion and drive needed to be the best fit. Never really stopped to consider it from the opposite point of view before, makes more sense to me now.

  4. avatar

    Yes and it became a wasteful, fruitless endeavor. Some people don’t want to be helped. Some folks just want someone they can complain to so they can get patted on the back and be told “It’s okay baby, I’m here for you.”

    I’m not talking about people who are having a hard time to help themselves, but are trying to help themselves and they have to vent some tears here and there (hey, we all do) obviously.

    I’m just referring to the whiners and quitters who are always looking for the easy way out.

    Help yourself.

  5. avatar


    I’ve noticed that whenever Ramit starts posting things about actually doing the work and getting into the nitty gritty, the amount of comments seem to scale back.

    Every new year when he introduces a brand new car, everybody jizzes themselves in excitement talking about how they are all going to have the car.

    However, when they realize they have to actually get the car and then drive to their final destination, they want to stick with the city bus.

    Also, nice new layout Ramit.

  6. avatar

    Ramit, the new site looks great.. like the more simplistic look and feel approach. Also I personally feel its easier to search couple of things now, than the old one was..

    Great work

  7. avatar
    Adam Hagerman

    When I first started in my full-time position as a financial coach for Government civilians, I wanted to help everyone. The service is free and we have a good flow of people coming through our door. However, it’s extremely hard to keep them here.

    As you’re well aware, a lot of them are just looking for that “magic bullet”. You know, “what’s the easiest way to get out of debt?” and “how can I save a ton of money while still spending way beyond my means?”. When I end up telling them that it’s not going to come easy, they bail. They never call or email me back.

    I’ve since lost the passion to help everyone. Who wouldn’t? Instead, I’ve decided to pour more energy into those that come to my office with a passion for changing their financial life. Needless to say, my job has become much more rewarding.

    Although most people are truly searching for help, some of them are just looking for the wrong kind.

  8. avatar

    I was coaching someone through some very difficult financial problems. It seemed that this person ALWAYS made the wrong choice (not insuring a vechile, not paying self-employment tax, etc.) I sat down with him and put together an action plan that he was supposed to take. After 4 months of meeting, almost NONE of the action plan was done by him. Eventually, I told him he needed to seek the advice of a bankruptcy lawyer. He was so afraid of calling the laywer that it never happened. I ran into this person not long ago. It had been almost 6 months and NOTHING had changed for him. Still had not spoken with an attorney, still had not taken on extra work to bring in more income. I didn’t ask, but still probably had not taken care of his tax issues. It sucked the life out of me and made me strongly reconsider whether I wanted to do more coaching again.

  9. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    This was my experience, too. I wasn’t put on this earth to become an emotional therapist to people who don’t follow through. Kill me pls!

    On another note, I do feel for the guy. It’s not that he’s stupid or lazy. It sounds like there are much deeper issues surrounding his destructive behavior.

  10. avatar

    One clear exception to the “pay later” model is attorneys working on contingency fees. In that case, proceeds from lawsuits are paid to the attorney’s trust account first. Psychologically speaking, parting with money feels worse than getting money feels good, so if attorneys didn’t have a legal right to be the “middle man,” I doubt even this model would work. Clients just wouldn’t pay, even though the only reason they received any money at all was because of the lawyer. There is a perceived sense of entitlement (goes along with many people who pursue these types of lawsuits). It’s a fascinating phenomenon.

  11. avatar

    Sounds like the guy emailing you in caught somewhere between being a staff leasing business and a headhunter. He could start a temp agency.

  12. avatar
    Look what happens when you try to help the wrong people | What's Phil Reading?

    […] away from making a mistake. In the past, I’ve written about how I don’t try to help everyone. [ […]

  13. avatar

    I believe the phrase is “don’t cast your pearls before swine.”

    When I worked in b2b sales one of the key phrases I heard that instantly made me realize my product was not a good fit for someone was, “I’ll have to run this by my wife.” (Meant I was getting a call from an individual who had to get sign-off from his wife for day-to-day business operations, and not a business with enough scale for our product to make sense.)

    I would regularly tell such people that our product was not for them and they simply couldn’t believe that I switched modes to talking them out of buying our product. Bottom line though, saved both me and them from wasting our time.

  14. avatar

    It has happened to me when I was 19. I have met I guy that clearly needed help. He was leaving with his alchoolic mother in a little town out of no where, his dead father who was “rich” didn’t leave him anything because he didn’t wanted to study a certain feild. He just seemed to want to get out of there so bad… So after a couple of months knowing him, I’ve invited him to stay with my family in the capital. At that time, I had a part-time job in a bank and I was studying the rest of the time. When fall as come, I was sick and tired of my job because I’m to honest to work in a bank. Then that guy, who was now living in my parents house just treated me like garbage. My mom took pity of him so my dad and I couldn’t just kick him out. It took 8 months but then I heard a rumors that his dead dad wasn’t rich at all… he wasn’t even dead! When we finaly got proof, my mom ask for kicking him out.

    I did learned somethings for this:
    1. don’t help someone who play the victim.
    2. I got a superpower to know a bullshiter when I see one

  15. avatar

    My experience came from a past employer. (Actually it was around the same time I found your material and I was so relieved to have another source!) I was working full-time for a start-up teacher resource company. She had written a book (self-published, which is fine) and done a few unpaid speaking engagements. Her overall messaging was something teachers could connect with so it wasn’t by any means a terrible product.

    When I started the company was already in serious debt ($100,000). I didn’t think anything of it at the time, until a couple months went by and I realized what was happening. She was obsessed with tactics! (again so thankful I found your stuff around this time). One day I walked into the office to learn she was about to send a $10,000 mail out, because she “knew” this time she had the right messaging. I was utterly shocked and annoyed. She wasn’t interested in providing valuable content to her current readers and instead obsessed with “what was going to make her rich.” On top of everything she prescribed to the “law of attraction” mentality and started reprimanding me for my limited beliefs. Everytime a tactic would fail, she would ask if I was walking into work believing I would have a six figure income, and if I wasn’t that was the problem.

    I learned a valuable lesson from this experience. I stayed on far too long trying to help this woman and ended up being burned. I was forced to leave after being told I couldn’t cash my paycheck “until the numbers went up.”

    A nightmare never to be repeated!

  16. avatar

    I believe the right question to ask is ” whether we ever tried to persons who were uncoachable” there are lot of people who will simply can’t figure what is wrong with them.. the good thing is they never accept this fact..
    Ramit you are spot on this..

  17. avatar

    I think you nailed it and it is no surprise.

    Decisions are made on emotions. No amount of data will override this.

    Maybe if you piled up the $100s of dallars in a pile of cash in fron tof them and say – this is what you’ve given up – in exchange for NOTHING with BoA…..maybe that might generate enough emotion to switch. Use $1s for the greatest effect, good luck.

  18. avatar

    Yes, I certainly have. A friend of mine is in a habit of jumping around from job to job. He claims to wait to go back into his original target industry, but instead he’s working mainly in HR. I talked to him about Dream Job, and while it wasn’t open for enrollment at the time, he and I talked and I offered to guide him through some of the exercises. After an extensive talk back and forth that I used notes from DJ week 1 to make sure was accurate, I gave him his first “assignments.” And never saw any result from it. Instead he’s still bouncing job to job, asking almost daily on Facebook for people to share any offers of employment they here. He’s a good friend, but I have started filtering him because it gets old fast when you aren’t in a position to help. He bailed on the last job after trying for and not getting a promotion because he didn’t feel appreciated and said the job was sucking his will to live from him. He’s now scrambling for a new job because he has major bills that need to be paid. And not in his original industry – still in HR because that’s the only marketable skill set he has right now.

  19. avatar

    I don’t really get the mistake Scott made. He asked, got an answer, said thanks and wrote a follow up email. What’s wrong with that?

    I can’t figure out why “some people really are just bad” and it bothers me.

    … *time goes by thinking about it*…

    Is it maybe just that Scott is asking, gets an answer and then doesn’t listen to the advice given and tries it anyway?

  20. avatar

    I felt stupid until I realized I wasn’t the only one, but I’m confused too. What exactly was this Scott doing wrong?

  21. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    Scott did nothing wrong.

    It’s the people he was dealing with who were probably unhelpable — or it would be prohibitively difficult to help them. The key takeaway is don’t try to help everyone.

  22. avatar

    Over the years I have learned to stop helping the wrong people because you can’t out-crazy crazy. So I hold my ground and refuse to be manipulated by their stories of how great my life will be if I help them, and later, what a horrible and untalented person I am for not helping them.

    What I struggle with is how bad it still feels to have people insult, criticize, and complain about me. Logically, objectively, I know “haters gonna hate” and that I made the better choice in a lose-lose situation, but I still feel mopey and uncomfortable when it happens. Not building a business model around them is a good first step, but is there a way to really keep yourself from getting sucked in to “the wrong people’s” narrative?

  23. avatar
    Chris Johnson

    So when someone says “I’ll let you know in a week” if they want us to make their demo/trailer/whatever I usually say “eh, don’t bother.” If they don’t know they want us when they see the stuff we’ve made they are going to be a pain in the neck.

    And, when they feel like they can let us know…and we’ll just be there, ready, that means that they are trouble later.

    I probably make more than a lot of type I errors, but it’s better to eliminate people than it is to be in triage because an idiotic client feels like they could “let you know”.

  24. avatar

    +1, although maybe the people who can’t be helped are the folks Scott was targeting…

  25. avatar

    Yeah, I understood that Scott’s clients were the problem, not Scott himself. The problem was Scott not realizing that he was wasting his time with them after Ramit tried to steer him away from the type of model he was pitching.

  26. avatar

    I’ve tutored high school students for the PSAT for several years (thanks to ideas from your material, especially Earn1K), with a focus on achieving National Merit. Once I worked with a student that I could tell just wasn’t a right fit. I’m not the best judge of whether it was intelligence or just his academic history, but I just couldn’t get him to the level I was trying to attain. Eventually I just sent his mom (my point of contact) an email to say it wasn’t the right fit and he should look for help from someone else.

    Now I make sure only to take on the highest-performing students.

  27. avatar

    I’m confused about the Dream Job course. Where is it?? I signed up and have access to the private list. I’ve read most of the posts and have followed the emails I’ve been receiving over the last 2 weeks but they all seem to be a part of Earn1k. Can you label this more clearly? It sounds like there is paid or organized dream job content but all I can find is the list of 5 or so posts with videos that hint what will be provided in the course…

  28. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    Sign up here to get on the wait list, please:

  29. avatar

    Yes this had me confused as well … I think Cambra’s right though … Ramit meant the people Scott was trying to help? This post was written in a confusing way.

  30. avatar
    Fred Williams

    I don’t even waste my time anymore Ramit.

    I’ve tried to help people with many different problems whether it be relationships, starting a business, or even managing finances.

    One thing that experience has taught me from dealing with those situations is this, “People are going to do what people want to do”.

    You can talk to them and give me good sound advice until you are blue in the face, but they are still going to do what they want to do.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I do still give people advice when I’m asked for it.

    But I no longer let people’s questions become a project for me.

    I just give them the best answer that I can and then I more right along.

    And so far, my life has been pretty peaceful since I started following that philosophy.


  31. avatar

    Yes! A few years ago, friends of my husband and I (another couple) were having financial problems and asking for advice. At the time, I had just started doing some writing for one of the larger content mills (this was before I knew what a content mill was) and suggested that the husband in the couple could do the same, since he enjoyed writing. I specifically told him what the company was looking for and the type of sample article he should write (a basic how-to.) Even when I suggested it, I knew he was a bit bull-headed and egotistical, but I figured they were desperate enough that he’d listen just so he could get some income in.

    Instead of listening to my suggestions, he wrote a highly theoretical religious essay, completely opposite of what the company was looking for. When they rejected him, he told me he couldn’t understand why they accepted me, since he was clearly a better writer. Since then, I’ve gone onto several other writing jobs while he’s still whining that no one appreciates his writing and he can’t understand why no one will hire him.

  32. avatar
    Kate Punivai

    I have found the very same thing in trying to help people get healthier.

    People come to me and ask for a remedy for a problem, and when I start talking about how to change their diet and lifestyle…they quickly lose interest. I came to realize that the vast majority of people are not actually interested in changing, what they want is a quick fix/magic pill/cure-all that will fix their symptoms, so they can carry on just the same as before.

    This epiphany made me kind of depressed….until I realized 2 things:

    1. People won’t change until they’re ready to (and this is often not until some really intense experience that completely changes their perspective), and no matter how hard we try, we cannot force somebody else to change.

    Accept that everybody grows at their own pace and in their own way, and quit banging my head against the proverbial brick wall.

    2. While 95% of people aren’t ready or willing to change, those 5% who ARE, will go out and do awesome things, and turn their life around, and in turn reach others, and this knowledge will be so gratifying that you will know beyond a doubt that it’s all worthwhile….

  33. avatar

    I have similar experience with teaching yoga. People constantly not following through, going into class with a detached brain on their shoulders, very eager to practice often but will self sabotage themselves every step of the way.

  34. avatar

    Thanks for the feedback, Ramit Cambria et al. I understand the point of this now.

  35. avatar
    Kendra Jewell

    Interesting, well written article. I’ve read it about four times and each time it makes more sense. It’s interesting as we are all told to help others, but not warned that sometimes it can be draining, or worst, backfire. I’m sure the guy genuinely wants to help other find a job, and it’s great to test drive all options available since it is a business for him not a game.

  36. avatar

    This post made me laugh because of the results of Scott’s experiment. I never thought that there exists in this world a group of people that can’t be helped.

  37. avatar
    Scott Balster

    First, I would like to extend an enormous thank you to Ramit for his timely and insightful advice. Also, I appreciate that he would share my experiment with the outstanding IWT readers.

    Furthermore, I wanted to provide more background regarding my experiments. I was actually integrating many of the lessons and information that Ramit has shared through the years on his terrific blog and courses. The breakdown looks like this:

    A.) Emailing Important and Busy People

    I set out to test to see if I could create an email and pose questions that were interesting enough to get a response. I did my research. I was aware of Ramit’s Dream Job course and also his history with psychological experiments. Based on this, I was very confident that he would respond.

    Next, after his response I then set out to email 10 other business leaders and pose my questions to them. I was able to get responses from 7 out of the 10.

    I used another Ramit tactic in contacting the other business leaders. In my emails to them, I used a credibility marker and let them know what advice Ramit had given me. This helped me get more responses and then also almost challenged the other business leaders to chime in with further advice.

    B.) If you can test something cheap or with little time, always to that before assuming anything.

    This is a tidbit of advice that I received from both James Altucher and Michael Lazerow (Buddy Media/Salesforce).

    That is when I made a conscious decision to blow through Ramit’s advice and test this anyway. Plus, I looked forward to reporting my results back to Ramit and the other leaders that I had emailed.

    C.) Implementing the “Closing the Loop” Technique.

    Here again, I used one of Ramit’s strategies. After I received the results I knew Ramit would be curious to see that he was correct in his hypothesis. I then shared my findings with my contact list to deepen the value that I could potentially bring to them.

    I plan to expand further (in a blog post) on a macro level regarding the lessons from my experiment with these job seekers and the steps that we have made since if anyone is interested in following along or paralleling their stories.

  38. avatar

    I work in the music business and many of my colleagues often complain about how difficult it is to find jobs in our field. I’ve frequently referred them to music schools so that they can start teaching private lessons to supplement their performance income, only to see them quit these teaching jobs 3-6 months later.

    Then they spent all their time playing gigs that barely paid, had to go back to temping, babysitting, and bartending, and complained all the more about how musicians are underpaid and poor.

    I got a new circle of colleagues and stopped recommending those kinds of people to employers. I don’t want to waste my time by hanging around people who have so many self-destructive habits and such a negative view of the music business. Music is tough, but you can make your own way and have a nice, comfortable life just like anyone else.

  39. avatar

    This is exactly why I got out of psychology. Everyone just want to sit and complain, but they took no action. They think just showing up and asking you to give them advice is all the effort they need to put into anything. They ignore action steps and solid advice. I do understand venting is important, but at a certain point you have to stop venting, come to terms with what has happened, and look to what needs to be done now to change that.

    Just looking back on past clients makes me drained. I’d much rather help those that are determined, positive, and look to the future. 🙂

  40. avatar

    I help people for free if I feel I really want to help them without expecting anything in exchange. But when that’s not the case, I learned that is better to say No, I’m sorry but I can’t afford to help you. Your first responsibility is making your own business profitable, and that means you have to charge for your services or products unless you see another benefit you are interested in. So when someone has a business or project in mind that I think it doesn’t have potential to grow or that I know there is so much to do in order to see a great income, and asked me: would you work on a commission basis? or, would you consider if we pay you with shares instead of cash (when the company is 1 year or more far from making any money), my answer is NO.

  41. avatar

    I once wrote a three star review for “Will It Fly” on Amazon. Boy, did that bomb …

  42. avatar

    Man, I don’t want to be either of these guys. The insight from the perspective of the mentor helps.