Why it is Important to Have a Shifu in Life One of the most common mistakes beginner entrepreneurs make is succumbing to the trap of overconfidence

By Matthew Yao

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Isaac Newton once said, "If I had seen any further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Throughout history, countless movers and shakers of the world have had mentors guiding and moulding their lives. Aristotle had Plato, Arnold Schwarzenegger had Reg Park, Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs, and the list goes on.

Mentorship is nature's method of passing on instincts and valuable skills to the next generation; it is a vital component of one's success in business. In the same way how a lion cub learns to hunt for prey by following its mother, ancient societies such as those of the Greeks and Chinese placed heavy emphasis on the relationship between a teacher and disciple, a shifu and student.

One of the most common mistakes beginner entrepreneurs make is succumbing to the trap of overconfidence. They waste a fortune and the most precious years of their lives experimenting through costly trial and error.

Here are three principles you can apply to your life and business today to avoid making these painful mistakes.

Be humble enough to realize you need guidance

The first step to any kind of change is to realize that you don't know enough. Socrates said, "The only thing I know, is that I know nothing." Most entrepreneurs and business people go about trying to learn things through their own mistakes and experience, but the fact is, it is better to save yourself the trouble and learn from other people's experiences. The first thing I had to do to come out of where I was at age 15, arrested by police and kicked out of school, to get to where I am today at the age of 19, starting my own social media business and getting mentored by billionaires and CEOs, was to realize I needed to seek out help.

Your dreams of building a successful business will materialize much faster if you realize that you should not solely rely on your own ability. We have to swallow our pride and go seek out shadow and learn from mentors who are years ahead of us. That is the only way to shortcut the learning curve.

Ask and you shall receive

In an interview, Steve Jobs said that one of his formative experiences was at the age of 12 when he called up Bill Hewlett, the founder of HP, and asked him for help to build some electronics. He concludes that the thing that separates the people who "do things" and the people who only "dream about them", is the willingness to ask.

Psychologists refer to the foot in the door technique, where asking for a small piece of advice or favour, will tip the scales in your favour when you ask for a bigger one. Next time you see a successful entrepreneur or industry expert, ask for 5 minutes of their time or a "small favour". You don't know what that could lead to.

Have something to offer them in return

Everything in life operates in a reciprocal manner. This is the fundamental aspect of our market economy, to provide value in exchange for money. In the same way, in order to build relationships with mentors in life and business, we need to have something to give to them in return. In building relationships, a helpful acronym to remember is WIIFM. What's in it for me? Develop your empathetic intelligence and imagine yourself in the other person's shoes. What can you offer to give back to your potential mentor or adviser? What does that person need?

If you are starting out, Gary Vaynerchuk recommends offering to work for free. In some cases, the only thing you are able to offer is your time and sweat equity. In other cases, you may offer your special knowledge or expertise. Eventually, you should consider paying successful people for their time.

Matthew Yao

Entrepreneur, investor and social media influencer

Matthew Yao is a 19-year-old entrepreneur, investor and social media influencer who inspires young people to achieve greatness through continued education.  

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