Why successful people don’t want to mentor you

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 as to why you’re not getting mentored:

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.

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