How to Make Anyone Your Mentor... Without Asking

By Nat Eliason in Mentorship

Published or Updated on Sep 15, 2014

I’m sure I didn’t invent this. In fact, I know other people are doing it, because Shane Snow mentioned it in Smartcuts which just came out last week. It’s a great book by the way.

When I tell people how I go about mentorship they say they haven’t heard of my method before. I take that as a sign that this more in-depth guide is justified.

All of the digital literature on mentorship is about how to provide value, how to cold call, how to network, etc. This won’t cover any of that. This is how to make anyone your mentor. Whether they want to or not. whether they’re alive or not.


That sounds weird. I know. The problem with the mentorship that most people think about is that you only have a few options:

1. Find someone who’s really eager to be a mentor. 99% of the time these people will have their hearts in the right place… but be mediocre at best at what they’re trying to teach. The people who are the best at it are out doing it.

2. Pursue the people at the absolute top of your field to try to land them as mentors. These are the top .01% of experts, the people you desperately want to take you under your wing. You could spend years working your way up the networking food chain just to get into an email exchange with them. That’s fine… but why wait months and take on risk when you can start now for no risk?

3. Or you find someone high-up in your target field, but not the absolute best, that you can convince into mentoring you. Although they’re not the absolute best resource they can still be useful.

I propose option 4: You say screw the traditional route and get the top .01% to mentor you today. That’s what we’re going to cover.

This is the mentor team I’ve built out using my system:

1. Tim Ferriss. 3x NYT best-selling author, entrepreneur, startup investor/advisor (Uber, Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, others, and ranked #6 Angel Investor 2014), author of the #1 self improvement blog, and speaker of 5 languages.

2. Lucius Anneus Seneca. Roman Stoic Philosopher. One of the most successful investment bankers in history. Advisor to emperor Nero. Playwright. Died ~65 C.E.

3. Joel Gascoigne. Founder/CEO of Buffer, one of the top social media scheduling platforms. Joel is startup-famous for the buffer culture of total transparency, doing things like creating a public dashboard and making their salaries available to the public, and his blog is an amazing resource for startup CEOs.

4. Kelly Starrett. NYT best-selling author of “Becoming a Supple Leopard.” Founder of SF Crossfit, one of the first 50 crossfit affiliates and now one of the top fitness centers in the world. Provides training to Olympic athletes, top-level military teams, Tour de France cyclists, and more

Here’s the kicker: Most of these people have no idea, or almost no idea, who I am. Of the seven, one is dead, two I’ve never reached out to,  one I’ve sent/received two very short emails from, one I’ve talked to the virtual assistant of, and the last I’ve talked to very casually on and off for ~4 months. I’ve never asked any of them for anything (except coffee, unsuccessfully so far) and I’m quite certain they have no idea they’re my mentors.

So what’s the method?

Do you ever finish your best friend’s sentences?

When we spend a lot of time with someone, we develop the ability to predict what they’re thinking. We know more about where they’re coming from, their experiences, their beliefs, and what they’ve said and argued for in the past. We develop the ability to think to ourselves “this is what [best friend] would do in this situation.”

The goal of mentorship is to develop that predictive ability. Having someone who has succeeded at the things you want to succeed at who you can lean on for advice and help when you need it trains you to start seeing situations through their eyes. The goal is not to have someone who spends 10 hours a week telling you what to do; they simply don’t have time for that. Not to mention that if you’re just following orders you’re not really learning.

For someone to be a mentor to you, you need to understand them so well that you can predict what advice they would give you in any relevant situation… which doesn’t require you ever talking to them. Instead, find the books, ideas, articles, movies, and more that shaped them which you can then be shaped by. Instead of trying to be where they are right now, figure out what built their foundation and try to develop into your own adaptation of them.

But how do I choose a mentor?

The simplest method is to start reading. Choose some skills you want to develop, fields you want to dominate, and start reading the top authors or bloggers in that field. Someone with one compelling article isn’t a good candidate, but someone where you can’t stop consuming what they write is perfect.

Another option is to find out who your existing mentors look up to. Maybe there’s someone a couple years ahead of you in life that you want to emulate. Who are they following? Or maybe you have existing mentors that you can leverage to find others. In my case, almost all of my mentors are friends with each other. I discovered Kelly through Tim’s blog and podcast, and though I discovered Ryan separately I later realized that he knew Tim as well, and that they both know James. Even the people at the “top” have peers that they look up to in different fields. They have the modesty to know they don’t know everything.

Making them a mentor.

If your target is a hermit, this step will be largely impossible. The only reason that we can have mentors like this is that so many successful people are now very public with their lives. They have blogs, books, they go on interviews, maybe they have biographies.

You need to consume all of it.

Dig until you know as much intimate detail about their life as possible. What was their childhood like? Where did they go to school? What did they study? Why did they study that? What were the big down-points of their life? What were the big successes? What do they wish they’d known when they were younger? What experiences really opened their eyes?

I’m not sure who I first heard this from (one of the people up there) but you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. If you don’t have people around you impressive enough to make that list, supplement it by learning about people better than you. Just by absorbing their writings, interviews, etc. you will start to be more like them. It’s the 5 people you spend the most time with… not necessarily the ones who spend the most time with you.

As you spend more time immersed in their life, you’ll find that they had certain highly formative experiences. Which of these can you emulate? Which can you test out yourself?

Tim Ferriss read the Chicago Study and talked to fitness experts, and then using their knowledge put on 34lbs of muscle in 28 days. I copied his method step for step my senior year of high school and managed ~15lbs (in retrospect, I didn’t eat nearly enough).

Sam Harriss (not listed above, but definitely close to the list) completely changed his outlook on life when he started meditating. I wasn’t able to really get into it until I found his guided meditations and blog posts on the experience.

As you have these live experiences you start to really understand what they’re talking about. You begin to share their epiphanies, just as an in-person mentor would want you to do.

And really, that’s all there is to it.


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