The Student and the Guru


written by oz chen

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When I was a young whippersnapper* learning how to date, I read a lot of books and blogs by dating coaches.

(Interestingly, one of them turned out to be Mark Manson, the author of the huge bestseller Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.)

In my long scrolls through Reddit and online forums, I stumbled across a story that I haven’t been able to find – nor attribute to.

So I’ll tell the story it in my own way, and share my own takeaways at the end.

A young man, let’s call him Tim, once sought the counsel of a dating guru. Let’s call him Mark ;)

More than anything, Tim wanted a romantic relationship.

He feels like he has no confidence, especially not around women.
So he spent countless hours reading books and online forums about dating.
He was jealous – and encouraged – reading stories of others’ success.

“Will you please help me find a girlfriend??”

After writing back and forth for months, Tim finally got Mark to agree to coach him.

I’ll coach you, but only if you abide by these rules:

  1. We meet once a month.
  2. One task will be given.
  3. If the task is not honored, the coaching will end.

Hopeful at a chance to get help from a famous dating coach, Tim agreed.

In the first meeting, Tim met Mark at the local park.

Tim started babbling “I want to learn the secrets of meeting wo—”

Mark held up a finger, shushing Tim:

I’m just going to give you one task:

You will do 50 pushups every day.

“How does this help me get a girlfriend?”

Do this every day like your life depends on it.
The next time we meet, tell me you did this challenge every day for the last 30 days.
And you’ll also prove it to me by doing 50 pushups in a row.

Come back and meet me here next month. Same place, same time.

Confused and disappointed, Tim relented. “Okay…I’ll do it.”

Great. See you in a month.

The two met at the same park exactly a month later.

Tim looked a bit stronger. Bigger arms. He was able to pull off the 50 pushups live, with ease.

I want you to continue doing at least 50 pushups every day.

Now, the next task:
Journal every day for at least 20 minutes.
Show me proof of your journal entries the next time we meet.

Tim, still confused by how this will get him laid, just agreed.

After all, Mark is The Guru.

Every time, Mark would give Tim some new task.
Cold showers every day. Meditate every day. Try a new hobby for 30 days.

6 months in, Tim snapped.
“Hey man, I’ve been seeing you for half a year and I still don’t have a girlfriend.”

I’ve tried everything under the sun and this is how I became successful.
If you don’t believe me, we’ll stop.
Or, you can trust me.

Tim obliged, thinking there’s some secret behind Mark’s system that he’s not seeing.

Meanwhile, Tim was impatient to get some results.

He paid a coach who promised him a secret system to getting attention from attractive girls.
Despite hating bars and clubs, he paid a for a “consultation” where the coach took him out and got him drunk.
He did end up making out with someone, but it was a blur…and ended up vomiting outside the club.

He felt dirty and off weird about the whole thing.

Tim decided to slow down and continue Mark’s challenges.

Months went by like this. Challenge after random challenge.

Over time, Tim stopped questioning Mark.
He found that even though he doesn’t have a girlfriend yet, his days are feeling a bit fuller.
He’s feeling less depressed and more energetic.

He’s gained some new skills and interests, and even some new friends.


Tim brought someone to the park. They were holding hands.

“Mark, I want you to meet my girlfriend. We just started dating!”

This was a different Tim. He looked strong, confident, and most important—happy.

His girlfriend asked “How did you two meet?”

“Mark’s uh… my fitness coach.”

The student and teacher exchanged a smile.

I’m happy for you two.



I love this story because it’s just as open-ended as The Guru’s random tasks. The reader is left to make their own interpretations of what Mark might have been doing, and what resulted in Tim’s eventual success.

As ambiguous as the story is, it’s universal. We’ve all been there. There is “ONE THING” we want so badly. The one thing that we feel like is the missing piece to our incomplete lives, whether it be a romantic partner, the perfect job or financial freedom.

Here are some of my takeaways:

Motivation over method: While Tim was looking for a silver bullet to his relationship woes, Mark recognized that he just needed direction and motivation in his life. The particular method didn’t matter, so long as Tim keeps trying.

Action clarifies: By having one specific action to do, Tim gets focus and feedback vs sitting on his ass reading forum posts. Doing just about anything for 30 days will give you some sort of result. It’s also useful to diversify your experiences.

Habits compound: one good habit is innocent enough on its own. When combined, good habits create a powerful lifestyle.

Everyone projects their values, so it’s worth cultivating your own. Tim starts off being obsessed with getting a girlfriend, and this is influenced by his obsessive reading of others’ stories. Mark helped him engage with his own life, and not make someone else the answer for his life.

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