Tim Ferris on how to find a Mentor

In a recent Tea Time with Tim, he got asked how to find a Mentor. I made some notes because his advice was the best I’ve encountered on this.

First, let’s re-frame the question

“The question is “How can I encourage people I aspire to be like, who are 10, 20, 30 years ahead of me to respect me and want me to succeed?” That’s a better question. “How do I get people say, 5, 10, 20 years ahead of me whose paths I might want to emulate? How do I get those people to respect me and want me to succeed?” If you do that, that’s a precursor to them helping you in ways that resemble those of a mentor. But the word “mentor” is probably a word that will never come up, even though in practice, that’s what they will be doing for you.”


Don’t rush, play the long-term game

Tim points out that you shouldn’t think of it like a short-time, transactional type of thing. What you should be looking for is to build a long-term, high-quality relationship.

Don’t ask someone to be your mentor, they are likely too busy

“So the first rule of thumb is that I would highly advise against ever asking someone directly to be a mentor and using those words. Because the people you generally will want as a mentor, unless they’re retired, are probably quite busy and will hear “mentor” as “unpaid part-time or full-time job forever.”


What you should do instead, is approaching it creatively. Think about how you could convince them to help you.

Do stuff, and mention it

The first thing that would show them you are serious is to mention what you have already tried. Do stuff, put in the effort so that they see you mean it.


“The way that I first connected with people who later became mentors in a sense, when I landed in Silicon Valley in 2000 was through volunteering. So I highly recommend volunteering.”


How to formulate your question

First, make sure your mentor can answer your question quickly. He probably won’t have time to write you a long e-mail.

“So it would generally be a question like: “The question I’d love to ask you is X. Here are the things I’ve already tried. My tentative plan is this. If you have any other thoughts, I would really appreciate them and if you’re too busy to respond, I totally understand.” So give them an out so that they feel comfortable not responding and completely unpressured. This is very important and perhaps counterintuitively, that’ll get you more answers. Because what many younger go-getters will do is they’ll send an email and they’ll finish it with, “Looking forward to your reply.” Or, “I have Tuesday at 2 p.m. and Thursday at 1 p.m. Central open. Which one works for you?”

It’s so presumptive and aggressive that no matter what the content of that email, the person receiving will be likely to think to themselves, “Well, shit. If I reward this person with a response to this email, I am encouraging them to send me 20 more of these emails. I don’t want to do that. So I’m not going to respond.” So that’s one approach. I would also encourage you to look for a South by Southwest talk that I gave…”