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He’s been changing the lives of people across the world with his powerful books. In an insightful interview to Complete Wellbeing, Robin Sharma shares his transformational ideas on life, leadership and living purposefully.
There is a certain aura that surrounds him. You cannot escape his piercing eyes, his glowing face, his energetic demeanour and his 1000 watt smile. His responses are spontaneous and unpretentious and yet there’s a charm about him that makes him endearing. Meet Robin Sharma, the man who lives on his own terms, and shows you how you too can do the same…
Manoj khatri: Let’s start with The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. What inspired you to write such a book? Just like the protagonist, you too were a practising lawyer. So it seems to be an autobiographical account… are you the monk?
Robin Sharma: Yes, a lot of Julian Mantle’s story is my story. So you’re right. I was a litigation lawyer by profession. The challenge I faced was that I was living someone else’s life. I was living the life that society had sold me on the true meaning of success. I was well educated, I had a lovely office, I had two law degrees… and yet when I’d wake up in the morning, I’d feel completely empty and frustrated and disconnected with my purpose and my true values. So yes, Julian Mantle is me in many ways. Thankfully, I didn’t have a heart attack. But I went on my own odyssey and started searching—I wanted to understand what are the tools and what a life well lived is all about. And I made a profound transformation with what I learnt… about rewiring your mindset, rewiring your values and rewiring your behaviours. That’s what inspired me to write The Monk…
And it started as nothing more than a dream, I was laughed at. I think if you’re not being laughed at a lot, you’re not doing very much. I had a vision, and all I had going for me was my instinct, my gut. And I knew that people will be inspired by this book, they will connect with it and it will help transform them and help them become what they want to be. So I just went out there, step-by-step, sharing the message of the book with one person at a time. Soon the book started travelling around the world through word-of-mouth and it became what it is now.
Manoj khatri: Where did you learn the ‘rewiring’ part?
Robin Sharma: Well, you can say that I’m the product of every book I’ve ever read, every conversation I’ve ever had and every place I’ve ever been to. So everything has been my teacher. Suffering has been my teacher. Success has been my teacher. My kids have been my teacher. The taxi driver in Mumbai who told me that guests are God and that’s why he treats every single person as the most important in the world… he has been my teacher. So for The Monk… I got my inspiration from books, experiences and conversations and a lot of time just spent in solitude, in self-reflection.
Manoj khatri: It’s evident that The Monk… came about as a result of a transformation within you. And so did all the success afterwards. What does success mean to you?
Robin Sharma: I think that as we go more out into the world, it becomes even more important to stay alone. So what I try to do is spend most of my time with my family, my close friends, my team, my books, my journal… and in nature with my thoughts. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I don’t spend a lot of my time in restaurants. This way I stay connected with my core values and my core mission so that it doesn’t get diluted by the world around me. I think once you’re successful, what you want to do is protect your vision, conserve your energy and safeguard your values.
Manoj khatri: You seem to be absolutely clear about your priorities in life. But that’s what most people struggle with. They know that it’s important for them to give time to their families, their friends, their health and yet they seem to always put these lower in the list of priorities… many fear that they may not be able to fulfil their role as a good parent/spouse and so on unless they work hard and long. What advice do you have for those who are faced with such a dilemma?
Robin Sharma: Well, I say this with great respect, but most people haven’t made the time to think about what they want. And let’s go to the neurobiology behind this. It’s because we have a neurobiological instinct to follow what everyone else is doing. So, hundreds of years ago, when there was a threat of leaving the herd and being eaten by a cheetah, that instinct served us. But now we’re in Mumbai, Calcutta, or Chennai and we haven’t taken the time to think of what’s most important to us. We don’t know our own priorities; we don’t know our own values; we don’t have a vision. A lot of people say to me, “I’m too busy to do my vision.” But actually their busyness is just an addiction to mask the fact that they are really bored. If you don’t know what’s important to you then you’re going to have to fill the hours with too much TV and too much busyness. So how do you to avoid that? Number one, you do something as simple as planning. Take the time to write a one-page plan and ask yourself [I talk about it in my books] what five things must happen between now and the end of this year for this to be the best year you’ve ever had in your life. I call it my ‘big five.’ Every morning you look at your big five priorities and then you commit to them.
Number two, you look at your goals. How many people set goals for each quarter of the year and then build a schedule around advancing these goals? It’s all about the execution. People say, “Well, these ideas in The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and The Leader Who Had No Title don’t work. But no idea works unless you do the work. So you’ve got to execute. Each day you’ve got to advance your priorities versus living the priorities of the world. You’ve got to turn off the TV or say no to every social engagement. You have to find a vision that burns inside you so much that you are willing to say NO to the entertainment, in order to manifest your vision. Study any great master and you’ll find that they didn’t spend the best hours of their days in distraction; instead they spent all their time pursuing their craft and their dream.
Manoj khatri: What is the biggest challenge to pursue your dream?
Robin Sharma: I think it is to leave the herd—it is one of the biggest challenges we face. We spend the best hours of our best days following the herd around us. And we think that just because most people spend their best hours watching TV, or sending text messages, we think this is how you live a life. And just because most people complain and give away their power, we think this is how you live. Yet, all masters and all leaders have one thing in common: they have the guts to leave the herd and live their life on their own terms—without any regard to what anyone else was doing.
Manoj khatri: Talking about leadership… how do you define it? And how can a leader strike a balance between her commercial goals and the human development aspect?
Robin Sharma: No matter what you do—run a company, make films or clean toilets—you can still show leadership. The number one way we give away our power is that we think we don’t have any. How many people say: I’m not the Managing Director or I’m not the boss so I can’t make a difference. I met a woman in South Africa, who washed people’s toilets and she thought hers was the most important job in the world. And she worked like Picasso painted. A job is only a job if we choose to see it as a job. All work has dignity, all work is noble. Whether you cook, you clean toilets, sweep streets, see it as a craft and see it as honourable. Make it better everyday. Inspire people by your mastery. So my message is: no matter what you do in your own work, see it as your craft and pursue mastering it everyday—because all work is a chance to express your creativity. All work is a chance for you to meet your fears and transcend them. All work is a chance for you to inspire other human beings. Therefore all work is chance for you to change the world.
Coming to your question… you asked how should leaders align the competing objectives business goals and the human responsibility. Well, I actually think they are not competing. The job of a leader is to grow more leaders. If you’re not inspiring the people around you and helping them do their best work, you’re not leading. But here’s my point. If you spend your days in inspiring and developing talent, encouraging the discouraged, helping them do what they never thought was possible… they are going to wow their customers, they’re going to be more productive, they’re going to meet their vision, they’re going to give their heart and soul to your business. What’s that going to do to the profitability?
Manoj khatri: I have not a single doubt that this is absolutely correct. But any transformation takes time—there is a lag between when you begin to do this and when it begins to show results. How does one develop faith?
Robin Sharma: Yeah, you’ve got to have the guts to believe in yourself when no one else believes in you. India is the land of the great Mahatma Gandhi. When he started the salt march, he was an army of one. All he had going for him was his conviction. And where does that come from? Sometimes you just don’t know. You just have to have a dream for your job, a dream for your life. And have the guts to connect with that. How do you stay true to that? Well, you write about it in your journal, which actually deepens your commitment. You get up early and you pray, meditate, visualise. Read great business books and autobiographies and stay inspired and block out negativity. When the critic says, “This will never work,” dismiss the critic. And if you get knocked down because you fail, you just get back up. And the more you do that, the stronger you get. And if you start advancing towards your vision everyday, you start to get some traction. You get some momentum. Like Gandhi… everybody who started following Gandhi empowered him and his vision. Right now, when I look at the global movement around The Monk… and The Leader… on social media, I get inspired to keep going. I could retire right now. So what’s keeping me going is that I’m starting to get more traction. More than ever before, people are saying to me they are making the transformation. So, step-by-step, when you start to get the results—which you eventually will, because success is a numbers game—you start to believe in your vision.
Manoj khatri: What are the five most important things you do to stay inspired and focused on your vision?
Robin Sharma: The first thing is just an idea: I’m not a victim. I show leadership. I don’t play victim and I own the results of my life. I take absolute responsibility. I’m not a cat or a dog. Victims make excuses. Leaders deliver results. If you look for excuses you’ll find them.
If you say, “I read The monk… but I can’t do it because I’m too busy paying my mortgage,” you will get to live out that excuse for the rest of your life. So it’s an idea but the more you think about it, the more it becomes a belief. Do not be a victim, show leadership and get big things done.
Second thing I do: I live in a bubble. I don’t want to live in a real world and I don’t live in a real world. Who wants to live in a real world? Because there, most people are victims, most people are negative. In the real world, most people gossip, and spend their best hours SMSing… I live in a bubble, a pristine bubble of absolute focus around positivity and getting my dreams done. What does that mean in practice? It means that I don’t really watch the NEWS. If someone’s negative, I walk away politely; my friends are positive; my home is inspiring; I love great books; I don’t read cheesy magazines; I don’t pollute my mind with toxic thoughts or influences because those will affect my inspiration, my ideas, my focus and my results.
Number three: Ideas without execution are a delusion. I plan, I schedule every morning. I’m meticulous about where my hours go. This is not just inspiration, this is tactical. I have a one-year plan and I have a five-year plan; I look at my plan every morning and I set a weekly plan. In that way, I execute, nearly flawlessly, all my goals for every quarter. Like a great business is all about strategic plans and execution, I have dreams but dreams without plans and sequencing don’t get done. So, become a master of planning, sequencing, execution and time management. The hours that ordinary people waste, excellent performers use. People say, I’m too busy.” Well, how many hours do you spend on SMS or on your smart phone?
Number four: I learn. The world belongs to learners. You look at Picasso, Jack Welch, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga… these people are students of their crafts. So if you look at any genius, they have one thing in common: they know more about their craft more than anyone in their field in the history of the world. I spend a lot of time listening to audio books, watching videos, reading, learning.
Number five: I love to journal. Journaling is when I reconnect with my vision, my values. I record the highlights of my day, so I pour gratitude via dopamine into my brain so I feel better. How do I stay inspired? Being inspired isn’t lucky. You ‘make’ inspired. You don’t discover success, you create success. My journal allows me to record my awareness so I stay very clear on what’s important. My journal allows me to notice the miracles of my day and allows me to learn and download the benefits and miracles that each day presents.
Manoj khatri: So what’s your typical day like?
Robin Sharma: The most consistent thing that I do is that I get up at 5am and I journal. That is the most consistent thing ever. I love having a cup of coffee… you know that its nature’s number one antioxidant and it boosts brain function? And with coffee, I write. I write about my victories, my gratitude, reconnect with my goals and how I’m feeling. And I always exercise first thing in the morning to kick-start my day. And then sometimes I do some meditation, but not consistently. The only consistent thing is the journaling, the exercising, and the reading.
Manoj khatri: Finally, what is your idea about the purpose of life?
Robin Sharma: I think on the last hour of our last day, when we look back and survey our life, what would have defined our life will not be the watch on our wrist, our social standing, the title on our business card and our net worth.
I suggest only two things will matter.
Number one: Who did you become? Were you fearless? Did you achieve a level of self mastery? Did you think great thoughts? Were you positive? Did you have excellent, strong character?
Number two: How many people did you help? How many lives did you touch? What value did you create through your creativity and productivity? In other words, did you leave the world better than you found it? My dad used to recite the words of the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. He said to me, “Son, when you were born you cried while the world rejoiced. Well Robin, live your life in such a way that when you die, the world cries while you rejoice.”
So purpose is about remembering that before you know it, it will all be dust. It’s time to step up and do great work that will change the world. It’s time to use your life not just for your own selfish needs but to inspire other people and to create value for other people and to build A FANTASTIC WORLD. And just because other people don’t think like this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, if you want to become the Picasso of your life.
Manoj khatri: That’s a beautiful thought. Thank you so much Robin, for sharing your inspiring ideas with us.
Robin Sharma: Thanks for the opportunity, Manoj.
This was first published in the April 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing
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