Okay, I've almost got all my email inboxes almost empty now.
I get a ton of mail. I hired an assistant and automated some of it, and I still get a ton of mail. More than I can answer normally.
I'm gradually building more systems, both technology, decisionmaking, and people to process all of this, because I have opportunities worth a lot of cash, a lot of cool stuff, and a lot of ability to connect with interesting people sitting in my inbox. At any given time, there's probably 3-4 very interesting things buried in the dozens of mails I get.
And I also get a kick out of helping people. I like getting and answering questions when I can.
But then I realized, one particular type of questioning makes me cringe, and I dont want to write back to people that write like that.
It's people who come across as helpless.
When the a first version of this blog post in my head it was going to be something more aggressive, maybe a little funny. Like, "Don't Write To People Sounding Like A Loser" -- I laughed, and it gave me a little catharsis.
I don't say that in a mean way. Hear me out.
I actually want to reply to all my mail. I know how hard it is to put yourself on the line and ask for advice, and especially if a person is having a tough time, I want to help. But you know, I'm into numbers and metrics, and a while back I went through and looked at emails I replied to two years ago from people inquiring.
The followup / implementation / success rates of people who write in totally helplessly are abysmal.
Just statistically speaking, an email that reads like this:
"Sebastian, I read your blog. But I feel totally useless and worthless, and I don't know how I could possibly accomplish anything. What should I do?"
I actually want to reply. I know someone is reaching out for help, and maybe that took a lot of the limited shards of willpower they've got left during a down time. I've certainly had down times in my life, and random acts of kindness and goodwill from strangers can help a lot when things look bleak.
So I want to help. It actually kills me to get mail like that, because I really want to reply and help out, even just listening and taking someone seriously can be helping a little.
But at the same time, I have a ton of opportunities I don't followup on all the time, because too much is going on. So I kind of cringe, I'm like, "Well, I always tell people to write to me, and I'd rather not just blow off this guy or gal having a hard time, but god damn, there's no way this is the best use of my time from any perspective -- from a purely self-interested perspective, from a fun perspective [it's not at all fun to interact with people acting helpless], or from an impact-on-the-world perspective [as already mentioned, usually nothing comes of this]."
Thankfully, there seems to be a solution to this --
Stop acting helpless when you write to people.
Even if you're feeling helpless, do your best to not dump that emotion on someone else. Yes, you should get some support and get someone to hear you. No, I'm not sure where you ought to get that if you don't already have a good support structure and don't have a lot of resources. But I'm pretty damn sure I'm the wrong guy to reach out to like that, because I can see where I'm trending -- I'm eventually just going to start archiving mails like those without replying, because my volume keeps going up faster than I can process it.
But you know, it's okay to feel helpless. It happens. Just fake like you're not helpless. Something like this:
"Dear XXX, I wanted to say thanks for YYY. I read your perspective on it, implemented it, and got ZZZ cool result. I wanted to write to say thanks, to mention XYZ cool thing to you that you'd like, and also I have a question -- ABC? Would love your perspective. Thanks, Me"
That has an infinitely higher reply rate. If you want to drop me a line, go for it -- I welcome it. But think through something you implemented. I've written a lot on here, millions of words easily. Some of them quite detailed about what I recommend in business, personal habits, travel, books to read, things to try, etc. Just pick any one of them and do it.
Just do anything. Any minor small piece of action, and mention that. Don't go on about problems and barriers, go on about the action you've taken and want to keep taking forwards. People love helping people who are helping themselves. The more action you're taking, the more people want to help you. If you don't feel strong right now, fake it. At least with people that don't know you well. It'll make your life better, and you might just snap out of helpless mode in the process.
I haven't had any emails from readers yet because my blog is only a couple weeks old, but I used to have a lot of depressed people in my life so I can relate. I'm an upbeat, cheerful person so I tried to help them at first, but eventually it began to feel like they almost wanted to be depressed and try to suck my positive energy away from me. They'd ask for advice, and I'd give it to them, but they never took my advice or any other action.
So, I had no choice but to drop them from my life. My advice to anyone feeling depressed, or helpless is that it's ok to mention your struggles as long as you also mention that you've began taking action to improve your life and are looking for further actions to take.
Question from a reader -
Hi Sebastian, a question. I'd like to know how you came to be so... gracious. I've noticed that not only do you preach for others to spread gratitude, but you really do go over-the-top with it. It's a bit unbelieveable at times. But I have a good friend who is always very glad to see me (and everyone else). We aren't close anymore, but I always feel we are. I get the feeling you're similarly genuine. How did that come to be? Have you always been that way? I've been trying to be more thankful, but I don't want it to come off as meaningless as a forced plastic smile.
Well, first, that email totally made my day. Thank you.
Before I answer, I've got to pose a hypothetical question to you. Trust me, it's relevant:
Do you think it's more virtuous to do $5,000 worth of good for someone and get $0 in return, or to do $10,000 worth of good for someone and get $2,000 in return?
I know that a lot of people's favorite posts are the self improvement ones. They're the most gratifying to write, and also to read the comments on.
I'd write more of them, but I hate writing them unless I feel like I'm really exemplifying the topic. Otherwise it's disingenuous. My worst nightmare would be for this site to turn into one of those other "personal development" blogs, 99% of which are written by people whose lives are not particularly outstanding, that churn out productivity porn every day.
"Ten new ways to organize your todo list!"