I would not have gotten this far in life if not for the people who helped me out, in one way or another, along the way.
Friends, colleagues, family, seniors, and even strangers. Some I’ve known since childhood. Others were in my life for a short while, and then we went our separate ways. Folks from various walks of life and nationalities.
But there were also people who I have never met before and don’t know personally. People who live far away from me. Somehow, I stumbled on their works on the Internet and have followed them since.
They live lives that I respect and aspire to. Through their stories and teachings, I gained a wealth of knowledge. Knowledge that I can’t get from my immediate environment because no one I know has done what they’ve done.
When I implemented what I learned, my life changed. New possibilities bloomed all around me.
Here are five virtual mentors, all highly active for years and still living, who shaped me for the better:
James Altucher wears many hats. Podcaster, writer, investor, entrepreneur, chess master, etc.
I enjoy James’s writings best. He muses a lot on creativity, entrepreneurship, mental health, and other personal development topics. Anything that helps people navigate the ebbs and flows of a fast-changing world.
Many of James’s ideas have changed my perspectives. “Choose yourself” taught me to empower myself in many areas of life. “Be an idea machine” taught me that generating good ideas is a trainable skill. “Creativity is a muscle” inspired me to nurture creativity and turn it into a superpower.
So much of James’s thinking was shaped by his mistakes and personal failures. He’s lost all his money, got divorced, fell out with friends, and more. He shares all these in excruciating detail, plus the lessons we can learn from them. It is so rare to find an influential person who is as open as James.
I want to write as beautifully and sincerely as James does. I want my words to move people and help them too.
Christopher “Chris” Voss was an ex-FBI hostage negotiator for decades. Today, he teaches people around the world how to negotiate, based on his FBI experiences.
I first learned about Chris from a podcast he did with James Altucher. It was such a fascinating and enlightening podcast that I borrowed Chris’s book, “Never Split the Difference”, from the library. The book is chockfull of stories from the FBI hostage negotiation trenches and lessons that can be applied to many areas of life.
In a nutshell, this is how I’d describe Chris’s approach to negotiation:
Negotiation is not about outsmarting the other party, not about compromising, not even about seeking win-win.
Instead, negotiation is about recognising and solving problems together. “Every negotiation … is a series of small conflicts that, managed well, can rise to creative beauty.”
And if the other party insists on their way no matter what? Say “Sorry, it’s not possible for me to move forward at that rate” and walk away.
This perspective has not just changed the way I negotiate, but improved my communication skills as a whole.
I’m going to publish a blog post that will cover the best negotiation tips I’ve learned, including some gems from Chris. Stay tuned!
During some of the darkest periods of my life, I read a lot as a means to escape mentally. One of the blogs that I sought solace in was Jennifer “Jen” Dziura’s website, Get Bullish. Jen is an entrepreneur, educator, speaker, and writer, who shares plenty of “aggressive lady advice”.
Through Jen, I got my first exposure to a lot of concepts that I now live by:
The importance of having multiple streams of income.
The value of building a diverse skill set.
Being kind to my future self and setting her up for success.
Like James Altucher, Jen is not afraid to talk about her failures and what we can learn from them. She, too, has gone through some serious shit, such as bankruptcy. Yet, she overcame serious odds and bounced back stronger and wiser. That was tremendously inspiring and comforting for me.
Jen is still a busy lady today and her blog isn’t updated as often as before. But her old blog posts are timeless advice and once in a while, I pop in to re-read and refresh my knowledge.
Colin is an experienced copywriter, copy coach, and founder of “The Cult of Copy” Facebook group. I got to know about him thanks to a recommendation by my (not virtual) mentor Sam Choo.
Nearly everything I know about how to write strong copy, I learnt from Colin. Colin has a resource called The Cult of Copy Vault, which houses every copywriting training he has done. I bought lifetime access to the Vault and the lessons in there are GOLD. So many persuasion tips and tricks that I can apply to my marketing work and everyday life.
I also follow Colin because he is a deep yet entertaining writer. He writes on various subjects, from business to creativity to literature. Here’s Colin on how to overcome imposter syndrome:
“Everyone sucks. You can be a person who sucks and doesn’t even do anything. Or you can be a sucky person who at least makes something useful. That’s how I look at it.
Impostor syndrome doesn’t ever go away. In fact, it can INCREASE with more success. So just learn to tell it to go sit in the corner and shut up and then do the work anyway.”
Neil is my figure-drawing sensei.
He runs a Udemy course on figure drawing, which I am currently doing so that I can take my manga drawing to the next level.
Figure drawing is hard, let me tell you! So many details to remember, from anatomy to proportions to how the body looks at different angles. Neil insists that learners learn every key muscle and bone one at the time. “Draw along with me, then draw from reference, then draw from memory, until you get it right” he always says.
This can be such an agonisingly slow process. Anyone who is impatient or want quick results will drop out of this course sooner or later.
But the more I learn, the more I realise that mastery of all the little details is what sets the pros apart from amateurs. Consider these scenarios:
Which parts of the skin needs shading or highlights when light shines from behind?
How will the arm look when the hands are raised above the head?
If the character is skinny, which bones “pop” out more?
The pros have little trouble figuring these out without references, because they know how bodies work. That’s why they can draw such life-like figures.
Mastering the micro skills, patience, perseverance, and consistent practice. What Neil imbued in me over time was a strong technical foundation necessary for turning pro. Not just for drawing, but applicable to learning so many other things.
A final note about mentors in general
A good mentor (virtual or not) is a rare and valuable find. Appreciate them!
Don’t rely on your mentors too much. You may outgrow them over time. Or your mentors themselves change, and they become unable or unwilling to help as much as before.
That’s OK. It is serendipity that, out of the billions of people out there, your paths cross somehow. A spark was lit. With or without the mentor, it’s up to you to nurture that spark into a flame.
And maybe pay forward a bit of that light to someone else, further down the road.