If you ask most smart or successful people where they learned their craft, they will not talk to you about their time in school. It’s always a mentor, a particularly transformative job, or a period of experimentation or trial and error. Ryan Holiday
I was recently asked what the best investment was that I made this year.
And by a margin, I think it is taking people out to coffee.
After failing spectacularly for years, I thought it was time to move the needle of my life in all areas that have been frustrating me.
And what better way to do it than to approach people awkwardly who are kicking ass in life, and plainly ask them how they do things, and how they got there.
This year, I met with CEO’s, entrepreneurs, professors, professional painters, digital nomads, athletes, best-selling authors, and world-class psychologists. And all too often, it started with me asking people out to coffee.
My life’s mission right now is to dissect and investigate the routines, habits, and characteristics of successful and happy people to model my own behaviour after them.
Do not believe me? Nice! You shouldn’t! After all, who the fuck am I right?!
In the following passage, I am going to name a few successful people who had a mentor.
Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs served as a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg. The two developed a relationship when Facebook was still a baby. Mark often asked Steve for advice on business and management questions.
The famous talk show host Oprah Winfrey was mentored by poet and author Maya Angelou. When asked about her, Oprah said that Maya guided her through the most important years of her life.
Mentors are important, and I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship” – Oprah Winfrey
Even billionaire Richard Branson had a mentor in Sir Freddie Laker, who is a British airline entrepreneur. The idea of a beast like Richard being a Mentee is stunning to me. But it also shows that successful people are not made by themselves. Successful and happy people represent an entire network and ecosystem of amazing people behind the scenes that contributed to that person’s growth. Click here to read my book review of Richard’s autobiography Losing My Virginity, which is a must-read.
It’s always good to have a helping hand at the start. I wouldn’t have got anywhere in the airline industry without the mentorship of Sir Freddie Laker” Sir Richard Branson.
What Is A Mentor?
A mentor is a trusted advisor who is willing to spend their time in guiding the development of another person’s.
A mentor does not need to be famous. A mentor should be a person who is already at the stage that you are aiming for—somebody who has already figured out the way and is willing to show you the steps. A mentor can be a friend, a family member, or a world-class expert. If you want to be consulted on finances, for example, you should have somebody who already is at the financial level you aim to be at. Everybody has their pros and cons. A world-class expert, for example, might be extremely knowledgeable but is not available most of the time because they are so busy.
Why Do I Write About Mentorship?
A couple of months before, I was listening to my favourite podcast, and in it, I overheard a conversation between Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferris. Inside the interview, Ramit and Tim talked about How to find a great mentor.
You Do Not Know Who Tim Ferris Is?!
Tim Ferris is a best-selling American author, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed “human guinea pig “.
He is most famous for his self-help books. You might have heard of his book, “The 4- Hour Workweek, but what he is most famous for is his Podcast, The Tim Ferris Show, which has over 80 million downloads. In his podcast, Tim interviews world experts and masters in any field imaginable. Guests like Peter Diamandis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Fox, Dave Asprey, and other incredible high achievers.
Who The Fuck Is Ramit Sethi?!
Ramit Sethi is an American personal advisor and entrepreneur. Ramit is the author of the bestseller, “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”, which is also the name of his personal finance blog. I highly recommend his blog. I was first very sceptical towards his blog because of the scammy name, but https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIG-UhCRDGA, but his material is really good. Click here to check out his blog.
How To Find A Mentor! A Conversation Between Ramit Sethi And Tim Ferris
In the video below, you can listen to Ramit and Tim talk about what it takes to find a great mentor. I feel that this is share-worthy because both Tim and Ramit get approached daily by people who ask them to become their mentor. So, the two of them are brutally honest about do’s and do not’s on how to find a mentor, and how to approach a mentor. Also, both of them have been in the shoes of the mentee, and tell secrets of what they did to be mentored by elite performers such as Seth Godin. Watch the video below; it is gold.
Tim: What is the best $100 you spent in the last year?
Ramit: Back when I was first starting off, the best $100 that I ever spend was always taking people out to coffee. Always. Emailing a lot of people, that’s in fact how you (Tim) and I met.
You emailed me, and we went out to coffee, and it turned on into a very long friendship that was a thing, and I cannot encourage that enough. Just take people out for coffee; it is the best investment you can make.
Tim: What was your pitch? Because you and I have both commiserated about the lack of focus in most requests we get via email.
Most of them are like: “Heyyy, I know you are really busy would you like to come to a few hours of coffee where I can pick your brain, and maybe you become my free full-time mentor for the rest of my life?”
That type of undirected email very seldom gets a response. So, what were the emails that you sent, or in retrospect, a good way to have coffee with people and what folks should you actually aim for?
Ramit: Great question! Both of us had to go to the fire to learn this. If you are trying to meet President Obama or some famous NFL star that is not going to happen. If you are trying to meet someone who was profiled a couple of months ago in a fast company, or an author, or a blogger you admire, that is eminently achievable. What it takes is being direct and making it clear what you want.
The classic mistake people are making is they say: “Hi, I make this short….”. And 18 pages later they say, “well I guess that was long hmm bye!”. And I’m like uh ok, and I click on delete.
Or they are very transactional: “Ramit, I buy you lunch, and you get me advice about A, B, C, D, E “.
I can buy my own lunch dude!
What Are The Things The Best People Do?
They introduce themselves, they find some sort of commonality, and then they are making it clear what they are asking for. So, it might go something like this: Hi Tim, my name is Ramit Sethi, I am a student I just graduated from Nyu, and I have been following you for the past 6 years. And the best thing you ever wrote that made a huge difference in my life was the article on going from geek to freak. Here is my before and after photo, and I did that all because I followed your protocol. I am going to be in town for 6 days. I am looking to decide between x and y jobs, and know you worked at x. I would love to get your feedback. If you have the time, I can come to you wherever you are, even if it is for 10 minutes (even skype or phone), and I promise you that I will take your advice and follow-through, and I will follow up on what I decided.
You have a chance with an email like that, and I even wrote an eBook about this: 50 Proven Email Scripts. Click here to read the eBook.
And, I think that the ability to write a good email is a huge advantage and a huge differentiator.
Tim: Definitely, I would add two things to that. The first thing is that I genuinely feel that you will get a higher response rate from people if you do these two things:
- The first is, do not go after people who are currently in the limelight. They do not have much time, and they get approached by too many other people. Find somebody who was in the limelight some time ago but is still very good at what they do. Maybe that is not a public figure at all. Do not aim for Michael Phelps if you are trying to get better at swimming. Find someone who was a bronze medallist at the Olympics a couple of years ago. Guess what, they are still very good at what they do, and they are probably a lot better than you are. So, if you do not aim for the very top, your response rate will improve.
- Give people an easy out. For example, If I would want to approach Arnold Schwarzenegger directly, I would not write at the end of the email, “looking forward to your favourable response, Tim Ferris” That shit drives people nuts! Do not assume anything other than they are busier, more important, and more successful than you are. A better way to end it would be to say: “I understand that you have tremendous hands on your time, and if you do not have time to respond; no problem. If you do, an answer will mean a lot to me. This would demonstrate a level of empathy, and that you understand that their inbox is more of a war zone than your inbox.
Ramit: Let’s dig into this. When I used to email Seth Godin, I used to write him long, beautiful emails. And he wrote me back a very short response often only 1 line. And I thought “Hey that’s kinda rude”.
In retrospect, I get about 1,500 emails a day, knowing that he even gave me a response I’m actually humbled that he even gave me a response. Tim, what you are talking about is knowing the power dynamic. If somebody emails me for a meeting and tells me, “I’m free at this or that time” I’m like, “What?! If you are meeting with someone who is busier than you, you have to work around their schedule, not the other way around”. You have to meet where they are, at the time they are free.
So, you have to know your power dynamic.
Secondly, there is something we call the Close the Loop Technique. Once you meet someone, so many people disappear forever. If somebody has taken the time to meet with you, they are invested in your success. So, follow up with them two weeks later, after you met with them. Tell them: “Hey, I took your advice, and I just wanted to thank you; I will keep you updated on how the job is going”.
Tim: I think one of the common mistakes is that after you met with someone you reply with a lot of following requests. Ideally, wait a day or two and follow up as you described. Don’t hump they leg for a while. Don’t keep in touch just to keep in touch! Those people are too busy for that. You don’t have to write just, so they don’t forget who you are. If I had a good experience with you, I will remember you. Just following up for the sake of it repels people in my opinion because you are growing their inbox with zero substance emails. If you follow up 12 times even though my assistant told you that I can’t respond, I assume you are a dick, and I won’t continue the relationship.
A good example here is something I had with Jack Canefield, Co-Creator of Chicken Soup For The Soul. I invited him to be on the show, and I volunteered at an organisation called Silicon Valley Association of Start-up Entrepreneurs and invited him as a speaker for an event. Through this, I developed a relationship with him. Over the years, once in a while when I had a legitimate problem, I would write him a philosophical question via mail. I would write the mail, shortly reintroduce myself, then tell him the problem and the options I was thinking about and my thinking, ask him for advice, and that even a short reply would mean a lot to me. And then he responded in a very short way, very Seth Godin like. And every once in a blue moon, I would ask him a life question. He later introduced me to the person who later turned out to be my book agent, who helped me to sell The 4-Hour Workweek, after it got rejected 28 times.
This is a very sensitive subject to me because so many people feel like:
- Keeping in touch just for the sake of keeping in touch is the right way because crowding their inbox is the right way to endear yourself to them. It is not!
- And secondly, they think that if someone says no, you should ping them another 30 times. And, you need to recognise that because your pitch is not right when someone says no because the timing is not right. I think it is very important to discern those things, right? For example, I have lime disease right now, and many people just spam my inbox because they think it shows persistence. But what it really shows is a lack of empathy. If you want to listen to the entire episode, click here.
4 Tips On How To Find A Mentor
1. Do Not Go After People Who Are In The Limelight
Tim made a terrific point that your mentor does not need to be the number one in the world. If you want to have Obama as your personal mentor, that is a great thought, but that is probably not going to happen. Tim made the example that if you want to get better swimming, for example, rather than approaching Michael Phelps, you should approach someone who won a bronze medal three Olympics ago. They are still amazing at what they do, and they are far better than you are. Mentors like that are far more available.
2. Know The Power Dynamic
Ramit made a brilliant point, he said that it is key to know the power dynamic. The other person is probably much busier and much more important than you, so you should go wherever they are and work around their schedule, and not the other way around. A great way to show your motivation is to tell them that you will come wherever they are at whatever time they are free.
Do not waste the time of your mentor! Do not send them more emails than is necessary; do not crowd their inbox with zero substance emails. These people are too busy for such shenanigans!
3. Close The Loop Technique
Here, Ramit and Tim do not share the same opinion. Ramit believes that the other person actually wants you to follow up. Tim, on the other hand, believes that it is futile that you spam the other person and fill their inbox with unimportant stuff. I believe that Ramit is closer to the truth. If somebody takes the time and mentors you, they are invested in your success, and they want to see the results at the end. So, following up is very important. I believe that good mentor-mentee relationships should at least have the possibility of becoming a friendship. When you do not follow up, you respect the time of the other person, yes, but you also miss out on someone amazing, and even the most successful people in the world cannot have enough friends.
4. Work For Free
Work for free?! Yes, that sounds crazy, but to learn from the best is actually much more valuable than money. If you, for example, want to have an internship and you offer to work for knowledge, you are actually far better off than getting a low salary. Also, you show your mentor that you are motivated and serious about getting better, and winners love to help other winners. As you can see with Charlie Hoehn, you can even get a mentor like Tim Ferris if you have a strong pitch, provide some value, and show that you are willing to learn.
I still remember the goosebumps that I had when I talked to Stanford Professor Bj Fogg, who is the world-leading expert in habit formation if I could work for him for free to learn more about behavioural psychology. This to me, was the equivalent of asking Tiger Woods for golf lessons.
5. Do Not Forget To Look To Your Right And Left
Yes, having a famous mentor would be amazing, but before you start looking for strangers, look around you. Who is already is amazing around you? Do you know a friend who has a friend who is a total badass?
I bet you have!
It is always easier to reconnect with people than to approach someone out of the blue.
For example, one of my teammates from my basketball team, Matt Van Hove, is totally kicking ass in life and is selling aeroplanes worth hundreds of millions of euros for Airbus. Besides him being a close friend and teammate, he became somewhat of a mentor to me. To this day, I reach out to him if I need advice on negotiation, leadership, or networking.
What Would A Good Approach Look Like?
Charlie Hoehn was a former reader of Tim Ferris, and he reached out to him to have a mentorship/internship with him. Ten years later, Charlie and Tim are friends, and Charlie is working for him. So how did he do it? In the following passage, you can see the original email exchange between Tim and Charlie.3
Example From Tim Ferris On How To Find A Mentor Via Mail!
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Charlie Hoehn
Date: Wed, Jul 30, 2008 at 11:25 PM
Subject: Re: Response requested
To: Ramit Sethi
Below is the email I wrote up for Tim Ferriss. Thanks again so much for your insight on how to approach this, and for your willingness to pass it along. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Also, I’d be willing to help you out in any of the ways I outlined below.
After visiting your site countless times since May ’07, I’ve come up with a few suggestions that could improve your readers’ experience. Here are two of the things I think you need…
- A network for your followers: Right now, you have a lot of passionate and devoted readers who comment on your blog. These are people who are likely to spread your ideas. You need a place where your loyal readers can interact with each other more freely, and share their stories about how your book has inspired them.
What it would take: A micro-network. You could frame it as “a crusade against the 9-5 workday”.
- How I could help: While I was interning for Seth Godin, I learned how to create micro-social networks for very specific niches. I could easily set this up for you, making it a more exclusive “invite-only”, if you wish.
- What the benefits are to you: Allowing your most devoted readers to share their lifestyle design stories will provide you with even more case studies for blog posts (or for a follow-up book). It will also serve as a spot for your readers to get to know one another, and they’ll appreciate that you’ve given them that opportunity.
- A more dynamic “About” page: Currently, this page starts off with a quote about you from Albert Pope, followed by three thumbnail pictures of your face and a great deal of text outlining your achievements. While your credentials are impressive, this page doesn’t really capture your personality or the lifestyle you’ve designed for yourself.
- What it would take: You need a video, between 2 and 5 minutes, that captures the excitement that comes with lifestyle design. The video would showcase exciting things you’ve done (skydiving, tango, motorcycling, etc.), and would be a great way to show your readers that you are the real deal.
- How I could help: I can make this video for you for free. I’ve been editing video for more than four years and started a business in creating movies for special events. All I would need to make your video are great pictures and videos of you. The more they show the human side of you, the better.
- What the benefits are to you: Reading something is fine, but an image is far more powerful. This video will establish an even deeper credibility with your new (and old) readers. Even if you end up deciding that it’s not right for your site, you’ll still be getting a great video about you that would normally cost several hundred dollars. If you like my work, we can discuss other ways to implement videos into your site (including higher quality and more exciting videos for your blog).
- In exchange for these things, I hope that you’d consider taking me on as an intern (real-world or virtual). I would love to help you out on future projects. Let me know what you think, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Charlie Hoehn http://www.charliehoehn.com/
- MY RESPONSE:
“Charlie! Thanks very much for the suggestions. I currently have the forum and other Ning sites, so I’d be eager to hear how what you propose is different, as I’m always interested in fostering connections between my readers. Last but not least, can you please elaborate on what you mean by “intern”? Would you expect this to paid or unpaid? How many hours per week, etc.? What do you hope the pay-off to be for you during or after the experience? Thanks for letting me know, and for writing. -Tim”
- HIS RESPONSE:
Tim- Thanks so much for your response. Here are my answers to your questions:
What I suggest that’s different – I’ve looked at your message boards and Ning sites (I don’t know if you started any of the Ning ones or moderate them). They’re pretty good, but they are just places where your readers connect and idly discuss your ideas. The boards and Ning don’t have any call-to-action, really. They aren’t places for your troops to rally for an assignment, so to speak – that’s mostly what you’ve used your blog for. I think you need an exclusive network that has some hurdle to get in (e.g. invite-only).
This could be a group reserved for the people who have actually used and implemented your ideas to create unconventional and extreme lifestyles.
With these people, you compile their stories together and sell it as an ebook (all money going to “Room to Read” or some other good cause). Or you could create a video of the top 3-5 unique lifestyles, following them around and filming them to get a feel for their daily life. This is much more ambitious but something that could turn out really cool. I’d definitely be willing to help you execute these ideas if you’re interested.
What I mean by “intern” – Non-paid virtual internship for two months, then possibly discussing a real-world internship at the end of the year. For a virtual internship, you could delegate tasks to me, or I could help you with executing ideas you have.
Paid or unpaid – For virtual, unpaid. For the real world, I’d work for cheap.
How many hours per week – Varies, depending on how busy you are. Five (5) or more for a virtual internship.
What’s the pay-off for me – I would learn firsthand about your methods for extreme productivity and efficiency. Reading has given me a solid level of understanding, but actually seeing it would help me comprehend it more fully. Second, you’ve already done what I want to become: an entrepreneur who travels a lot. Working with you would allow me to really mentally shift gears and help move me towards my goals faster.
That being said, I have a great deal of respect for you and the things you’ve done. I think it’d be brilliant to work with you in some way, but if it doesn’t work out, no hard feelings. Thanks for your time, Tim, and I hope to talk with you again soon.
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Call to Action
- Find 3 Famous People you would gladly change your position with.
- Write down three areas in which you think you need a mentor.
- Exercise: Imagine you already have your dream mentor: What email would you write to them? What questions do you have in your mind/heart that you need guidance with? Write down ten questions that, in your opinion, if answered, will change your life dramatically.
- Write down three mentors you already have, and ask one of them a question about life. Often, we already have mentors in our life, but we call them friends, teachers, bosses, parents, or grandparents.
- Reach out to three persons that are 10x more successful than you in your field and ask them out for coffee!