It’s a story Robin Sharma loves to tell, especially as it so neatly elucidates his own thinking: “When I was growing up my father took out a piece of paper and he translated a Sanskrit poem onto that piece of paper that I have never forgotten.
He took that piece of paper and he taped it to our refrigerator door so that my brother and I could read the words to that poem every day before we went off to school…It said simply: ‘Spring has passed. Summer has gone and winter is here. And the song that I meant to sing, remains unsung, because I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument.’”
The lesson that little boy learned from the poem is now one of the pillars that supports a multimillion dollar business. Robin’s beguiling philosophy claims fulfilment and joy for its practitioners by emphasising self-empowerment, living in the present, embracing risk and all the ‘poetic possibilities’ that life affords. Most memorably captured in the bestselling ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari,’ Robin has shared his brand of wisdom through 11 books and countless seminars. He has in the process won himself millions of admirers. In fact, a small mob of them are right here at the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo, jostling outside the room in which Robin is giving interviews after a four hour long, wildly successful seminar organised by CIMA’s Sri Lanka division and MAS Holdings.
|Robin Sharma in his signature black. Pic by Sanka Vidanagama|
Inside, the man himself is at a table dressed in his signature all-black wardrobe. His bald head gleams under the lights, but it’s his direct gaze that holds your attention. “It’s much more than a business for me, it’s my oxygen,” he says, “I love teaching these ideas, so I’m inspired by the overall vision and purpose to help people around the world shift from victimhood to leadership…and to make a difference.”
It’s been a heady journey for the self dubbed ‘small town boy’ from Port Hawkesbury in Nova Scotia, Canada. Born to Indian immigrants, Robin grew up in a town which boasted a mere 2,000 inhabitants. He chose to follow a career in law and was awarded a full scholarship to the Dalhousie Law School in Halifax. Though successful, he says “I was a very unhappy lawyer, living society’s life, living by external definitions.” His discontent fuelled his search for a transformative philosophy which he could apply to his own life.
“I started to read, I started interviewing elders. I started studying successful businesses and successful entrepreneurs. I put together a successful philosophy that has brought a profound change to my life and I wrote about it and now I share it.” It began when he self- published ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ in 1996. His mother edited it and his father helped him sell the first 2000 copies which he had had printed at the local Kinko outlet.
Only 23 people attended his first seminar – 21 of whom were family members. Robin now routinely addresses audiences of hundreds. He is so popular, at least in part, because he promises not only emotional contentment but material success as well – Julian Mantle, the protagonist of ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari,’ might have sold his car and moved to India in search of the meaning of life but Robin doesn’t ask this of his protégés.
Instead, his theory mixes contemplative ‘holy hours’ at 5 a.m., regular journal entries and daily exercise with long term goal setting and courageous lifestyle changes. He draws liberally from other sources, quoting thinkers as disparate as the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius and Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos. Still, he says, the result is something uniquely his own.
How does one live an inspired, passionate life? “The first thing I would say is every time you make an excuse and blame something or someone else, you’re giving away your power. The second thing I’d say is beneath every excuse lives a fear. Work on moving through that fear and release your excuses. Number three: work is one of the most important things in your life, so no matter what you do, work at a Picasso level.
It’s one of the greatest secrets of fulfilment and happiness. Fourth, I’d say the old model of leadership and fulfilment is broken, lead without a title. Start with yourself, you can’t find the time to lead and inspire other people if you’re de-inspired. Find the time to expose yourself to great food, great art, great conversations, great beauty so that you enjoy the process of life. Lastly, I believe a life without impact and contribution is a very empty life, so use your life to make the world better.”
Since the success of that book, Robin has produced another ten (many with equally catchy titles like ‘The Saint, The Surfer and The CEO’), most of which are intended specifically for the business world. His most recent, ‘The Leader Who Had No Title’, is also a fable in the vein of ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’. This October, Robin will publish ‘The Secret Letters of the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’, the fifth book to feature Julian Mantle in a fable.
Its release is timed to coincide with the 15th anniversary of ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’. In it, Mantle’s nephew embarks on a quest to recover Julian’s mementoes and correspondence, travelling from the Bosphorus River in Turkey to a remote fishing community in India to the catacombs of Paris. Woven into his adventures is Robin’s signature take on happiness, success and what it means to live a meaningful life.
Robin himself appears to be pleased to be practising what he preaches. Professionally, his company, Sharma Leadership International Inc. consults for the likes of Nike, Coca Cola, Microsoft and GE among many others and the author has often shared the stage with celebrities like Bill Clinton, Deepak Chopra, Jack Welch and Dr. Phil. He is also the founder of The Robin Sharma Foundation for Children.
Robin insists that success hasn’t changed him much. “Most of my friends have been my friends for over 20 years,” he says adding that he isn’t interested in splashing his wealth around. “My goal is not to make my life more complex, it’s to simplify my life,” he emphasises. With three years to go before he turns fifty, his personal goals include spending more time with his family (his son and daughter – both teenagers – continue to be his “greatest heroes”) and graduating to the position of a level 2 instructor in his favourite sport – skiing – even as he continues to try to liberate the world, book by book, seminar by seminar.
With his track record, it wouldn’t be in the least surprising if he achieves whatever he has set his mind to and that he will in the process inspire legions to follow in his footsteps. “There’s something magical about sticking to your dream, longer than anyone thinks you have a right to stick to that dream,” he said in one seminar. “I f I had listened to my critics I would not be on this stage today.” When his audience bursts into spontaneous applause in response, you know it’s not just him they’re cheering on, but the encouragement he gives them to dream big themselves.
Published in The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka on June 24, 2011. Words by Smriti Daniel. Pic by Sanka Vidanagama