By Parveen Chopra
The monk who sold his Ferrari made Robin Sharma famous. But his subsequent books have also been bestsellers. They all inspire and tell us in simple practical ways to create the best life each one of us is capable of creating.
I started reading Robin Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari when I had left Life Positive as an editor and was in the process of deciding what to do next. It was so inspiring that I also read two more of his books. His central message kept me from jumping into the first job that came along, and helped firm up my resolve to labor on to create the best life I can. The most inspiring, if daunting, bit of advice from Robin Sharma is to leave a legacy because ‘the deepest longing of the human heart is the need to live for a cause greater than oneself.’ Now, how can I leave a legacy working just at any odd job?
I interviewed Robin Sharma via email for this article. He comes across as a no-frills, well-meaning person dedicated to his mission, who himself is a living example of what he preaches. And though he acknowledges influences from western thinkers, India is in his genes and also at the core of his own life philosophy. Born to Kashmiri parents in Uganda, he was brought up in Toronto ‘on a heavy dose of Indian mythology and philosophy’.
I also noticed that most of his books, described as fables, are written in a loose fiction format. Each book is narrated by a person who is at the crossroads in life and fortuitously finds a coach. Dialogs between the coach and the student, and the ensuing transformation of the latter, form the contents of each book.
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari set the tone for his later books. It’s the story of Julian Mantle, a top-league lawyer whose life is otherwise out of kilter-the realization dawns on him painfully when one day he collapses in a crowded courtroom from a near-fatal heart attack. He chucks it all up, his red Ferrari and all, for a one-way ticket to India, where he finally ends up learning life’s lessons from the Sages of Sivana up in the mysterious Himalayas. Transformed into an energetic and youthful person, he reappears in his country, a robed monk with the mission to awaken others through the wisdom of his Indian mentors.
In the subsequent books in the Monk series, namely, Discover Your Destiny, Family Wisdom, and Leadership Wisdom, the narrator is blessed with the coaching of Julian Mantle. Who Will Cry When You Die is a compilation of life’s lessons learnt while writing the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. All these books have been published by HarperCollins Canada, and in India by Jaico. The Saint, The Surfer and the CEO is not in the Monk series and is published by Hay House. However, it’s also about coaching-the narrator this time is lucky enough to be coached by three people, a Christian father in Rome, a former advertising hotshot-turned-surfer in Hawaii and a woman CEO on Wall Street in New York.
A publishing success reminiscent of James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy, Robin Sharma, a former lawyer, had self-published The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari before former Harper Collins Canada president Ed Carson discovered him in a bookstore. A global blockbuster, the Monk has already been published in 25 countries in 15 languages. So far, Sharma’s seven titles have sold one million copies.
Meanwhile, the bestselling author has also assumed the role of Chief Visionary Officer of Sharma Leadership International (SLI), which boasts a client list including Microsoft, General Motors, IBM, FedEx, Panasonic and GlaxoSmithKline. SLI also offers a full range of elite speaking, coaching and consulting services specifically targeted at helping individuals show leadership at work and in their personal lives. Sharma has appeared in his own PBS special and on over 1,000 radio and television shows.
As a sought-after keynote speaker, he girds the globe, and has shared billing with top speakers and motivational gurus including Bill Clinton, Deepak Chopra, the late Christopher ‘Superman’ Reeve, Wayne Dyer, Dr. John Gray, Jack Welch, Mark Victor Hansen and Richard Carlson.
In the introduction to his 2003 book,The Saint, the Surfer and the CEO, Sharma has described the process of his own transformation. As a lawyer working for the government, he was climbing the ladder of success and accumulating material possessions, but ‘the man I saw in the bathroom mirror every morning was the same’. Becoming aware of an emptiness within his heart, he quit his chosen profession for good and embarked on serious soul searching, asking ‘why I was here on the planet and what my special mission was, wondering why my life wasn’t working and what deep changes needed to be made to get me on track’. He devoured books on self-help, personal leadership, philosophy and spirituality, and went into personal development, course after course. He changed his diet, his thinking, his behavior. Eventually, he writes, ‘the person I evolved into was someone more authentic, harmonious and wise than the person I once was’. But forever humble, he admits that he is still a beginner on this journey of self-discovery, because the top of one mountain is the bottom of another.
Meanwhile, he self-published his first book, Mega Living, to lukewarm response. The next, the Monk…, changed his fortunes. It’s clear why. The story format with people and dialogs is more engaging and reader-friendly than a cut-and-dried self-help book. The mega success of books like The Celestine Prophecy, and Tuesdays with Morrie had proved the point earlier. But the Monk book makes its intentions clear with an action summary and self-help tips appended after each chapter.
Speaking and seminar assignments, coaching individuals and companies was a natural progression after that for Sharma. Even in his books, the coaches set up experiences to help the student with what he needs to make learning fun, with memorable and moving. Learning in a seminar/coaching setting that engages you at an emotional level is more powerful and sustaining than learning from books, he feels.
Significantly, the last few years have seen the emergence of a new profession called life coach in the western world. The coach may help the client work towards personal effectiveness, professional success, leadership, career shift, or life management. This is how the CEO in Sharma’s book, The Saint… describes her own coach: ‘An enthusiastic cheerleader who celebrates your successes but also a strict taskmaster of sorts, holding me true to my word and making certain that I do what I say I’ll do, when I said I’ll do it.’
As a coach, Sharma has worked with billionaires, top CEOs and celebrity entrepreneurs.
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari is now being turned into a major motion picture, for which Sharma has joined hands with WSG Pictures. He will also act in the movie which is scheduled for a release in the year 2005-6.
Robin Sharma’s personal belief system is a blend of eastern and western wisdom traditions as well as the self-help/success/positive thinking school pioneered by the likes of James Allen and Norman Winston Peale.
o All people have greatness within them-they only need to remember and reclaim it
o Our lives aren’t run by good or bad luck, but by an intelligent process designed to help us evolve into our best selves
o Getting to your highest self and biggest life is the main purpose of life You can change your life by accepting APR: Absolute Personal Responsibility. If you don’t like the way your life looks, make higher choices to change it
o Money is only a byproduct of adding value and doing good to others
o The secret of happiness is simple: find out what you truly love to do and then direct all of your energy towards doing it.
o When you nourish your own mind and spirit, you are really feeding the Soul of the Universe. When you are improving yourself, you are improving the lives of those around you. And when you have the courage to advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, you begin to draw upon the power of the Universe.
Sharma doesn’t disappoint when it comes to suggesting practical steps and exercises to transform your life. In fact, his readers feel that every book of his is packed with them. Though transformation demands hard and sustained work, Sharma’s unique contribution is that he makes it sound achievable-start by making small, incremental changes, which will eventually transform your life in unbelievable ways. Here is more:
o Link your pay cheque to your purpose. Find what you love to do and then find a way to get paid for it
o Consciously surround yourself with great and interesting people
o Get an early start to the day
o Begin each day with a personal planning session-praying/meditating, journaling, reading
o Develop joyful thoughts
o Eat live foods (created through the natural interaction of the sun, air, soil and water) such as fresh fruits, vegetables and grains
o Display a standard of care, compassion and character beyond what anyone could ever imagine from you
o Devote yourself to being the most loving person you know; thinking, feeling and acting as though you are one of the greatest people currently on the planet (because you are).
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When I was doing research for The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, I came across the story of an Indian maharaja who would engage in a bizarre morning ritual: every day, immediately after waking up, he would celebrate his own funeral, complete with music and flowers. All the while, he would chant, ‘I have lived fully, I have lived fully, I have lived fully.’
When I first read this, I could not understand the purpose of this man’s ritual. So I asked my father for some guidance. His reply was this: ‘Son, what this maharaja is doing is connecting to his mortality every day of his life so he will live each day as if it were his last. His ritual is a very wise one and reminds him of the fact that time slips through our hands like grains of sand and the time to live life greatly is not tomorrow but today.’
One’s sense of mortality is a great source of wisdom.
While on his deathbed, Plato was asked by a friend to summarise his great life’s work, The Dialogues. After much reflection, he replied in only two words: ‘Practise dying.’ The ancient thinkers had a saying that captured the point Plato made in other terms: ‘Death ought to be right there before the eyes of those who are young just as much as before the eyes of those who are very old. Every day, therefore, should be regulated as if it were the one that brings up the rear, the one that rounds out and completes our lives.’ Having a living funeral will reconnect you to the fact that time is a priceless commodity and the best time to live a richer, wiser and more fulfilling life is now.
(Extract from Who Will Cry When You Die? By Robin Sharma)