Ignite your inner SPARK — An interview with Azim Jamal

Manoj Khatri interviews best-selling author and speaker Azim Jamal about his new book "SPARK: Journey from Success to Significance"

Azim Jamal posing with his new book SPARK and his other books

I have known Azim Jamal for over 15 years now and I am privileged to call him my friend and mentor. Azim is an incredibly inspiring gentleman, author of several best-selling books, a highly sought-after speaker, and the founder of Corporate Sufi Worldwide, an organization that helps individuals and businesses achieve balance and meaning. He has twice been a #1 Amazon bestselling author; and in 2005 topped Harry Potter. He has also been a #1 bestseller with Barnes & Noble. Azim is the epitome of someone who walks the talk. His enthusiasm for helping others to succeed rubs off on you; his kindness touches your heart; his words never fail to inspire. I met up with Azim on his recent visit to India and picked his brains on issues such as pursuing your inner calling, overcoming self-doubt, developing the spirit of giving and so on. We also discussed his new book SPARK: Journey from Success to Significance. Below are the excerpts of our interaction.

On his new book SPARK…

Manoj Khatri: Your new book SPARK is in the bookstores now. What is it about and who would benefit from it?
Azim Jamal: The book is for those who are looking for success blended with meaning and significance. And that is possible only when your inner spark is ignited. Someone who embodies the “SPARK” has a spring in their step, a twinkle in their eye, an echo in their voice. Their heart is open and they are glowing with positive energy.

The SPARK has five key ingredients, which are encompassed in the acronym SPARK. S stands for Service, P for Purpose, A for Attraction, R for Resilience, and K for Knowing.

In the book, these principles are illustrated through a fable of a protagonist named Steve Harmon. This story is something that many successful people would relate to, especially those who have realized that their chase for outward and material success has not led to deeper fulfillment. The book will also resonate with those who are still striving for success, by helping them redefine what success really means to them.

Each chapter of the fable is followed by a lesson about the five key principles of SPARK. These principles are modeled by the story and can also be put into the context of the reader’s own life.

There are also reflection questions included after each chapter, which allow you to reflect on your own life. When you ask yourself these questions, you open yourself up to unleash your inner SPARK.

Finally, I end the book with my own story, which parallels the protagonist’s narrative, and illustrates how I personally unleashed my inner SPARK.

Success without significance is empty

Manoj Khatri: Sounds interesting. What inspired you to write such a book?
Azim Jamal: I have been doing this work for 25 years; I have worked with, and coached, successful entrepreneurs and businessmen around the world. In working with them, I have learned that they still struggle to find purpose, fulfillment, inner happiness and balance.

That’s how I realized that it is not success that these people are really after — it is significance. You see, success is an individualistic desire — you could earn wealth, have achievements, fame, and so on. However, significance is a spiritual desire. Success with significance implies that you are making genuine impact on others, you are pursuing your life’s purpose, you are in sync with the universe, you can weather whatever life throws at you, and you have a deep sense of conviction and faith. This is the inner SPARK that we all have the potential to achieve.

Overcoming self-doubt

Manoj Khatri: You mention that, just like the protagonist of SPARK, Steve Harmon, you too went through a big shift that led you to move away from the mindless pursuit of success to pursuing success with significance. Tell us about the doubts you experienced during that phase of your life and how you dealt with them…
Azim Jamal: This is a powerful question. Let me begin by saying that from a reasonably young age I had a passion to do something for my community. But I did it as a hobby; I never thought of it as my full-time occupation. But when I went to Pakistan to work with the Afghan refugees, I was terribly shaken by the poverty I witnessed; their plight made me cry like a baby and I had many sleepless nights. It made me question myself. I asked myself: Should I continue living my normal, comfortable life with an accounting degree doing a little voluntary service here and there? Or should I make a huge shift, give up everything and dedicate myself totally to the service to others? That experience had such an impact on me that I knew that I had to step out of my comfort zone and do something for people beyond my immediate circle—my family, friends and associates.

Azim jamal with Manoj Khatri and others with his new book SPARK
Azim jamal with Manoj Khatri and others with his new book SPARK

Many people may face a crossroad like this one, and often people decide not to take the risk. I’ve heard from my friends and clients that they will focus on giving back to their communities after they retire, that they don’t have the luxury to follow their purpose now, that they have too many other responsibilities right now.

I, too, had responsibilities — we owned two accounting practices, my daughter was eight years old and my son was only three, and we lived with my ageing parents. However, I felt an inner sense of conviction that this is what I was meant to do and this was the direction towards which the universe was guiding me.

There were certainly ups and downs throughout this journey — I share the full story in the book as well as in my latest TEDx Talk. Here, I must mention that my wife ensured that I didn’t go about this huge shift in a reckless manner. She managed the accounting business with my partner Kend to provide the foundation for my career shift.

» Buy SPARK by Azim Jamal on Amazon (Available in Kindle, Paperback and Hardcover)

Dealing with failure and setbacks

Manoj Khatri: How do you get over failures and disappointments in your life?
Azim Jamal: The only way to tap into your intrinsic power is through obstacles. Unless you face setbacks, your power remains dormant. Failures, hurdles, and challenges are stepping stones to success. My friend, Dr. John Demartini, has a beautiful perspective on obstacles. He says, “Obstacles are not in the way, they are on the way.”

Everyone experiences failures and disappointments, even very successful people like Steve Jobs, for instance, faced major setbacks. Try looking at disappointments and failures as a blessing instead of a burden. Instead of asking “Why me?”, ask yourself “Why not me?”

You are born a genius and the best way to tap into your genius is to be tested. Rumi, the great Sufi poet, used to cite the analogy of a chickpea to describe the human condition — he used to say that just like the chickpea, unless we’re boiled, we remain uncooked. Trials and tribulations cook us up, so that we are ready to serve.

Marry your passion with reason

Manoj Khatri: Indeed, struggles and challenges are necessary to bring forth our intrinsic potential. But many people feel stuck in their circumstances — they may have responsibilities, mortgage, student loans, and so on. They find it difficult to conceive of a life doing what they love in the service of others. What advice do you have for such individuals?
Azim Jamal: It is daunting, no doubt. That is why it is important for you to marry your passion with reason. Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, “Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.” So, both passion and reason are needed to navigate the sea of life.

Think of your ideal long-term job or profession and then, every day, do something that prepares you for your long-term goal. If you are worried about money and survival, start by sparing just an hour daily to pursue your passion, while continuing your present job. Of course, it is also important that you believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

Another piece of advice I have for those who are looking to make a difference is to tap into the power of collaboration. In other words, don’t try to do it all by yourself. Find your tribe. Collaborate with like-minded individuals.

Generosity beyond money

Manoj Khatri: That is sound advice, indeed. Moving on, you emphasize on generosity of spirit in your books and programs. Could you share a few non-monetary ways that readers can put generosity of spirit into practice?
Azim Jamal: Give what you can — smile, offer a prayer, perform an act of love. Nobody is deprived of giving—it the most powerful thing you have. Generosity is often misconstrued to be only financial in nature but that’s a myth. There are so many wonderful ways you can give that don’t involve money. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Donate your time, your positive energy, your guidance
  • Catch people doing things right
  • Listen intently
  • Give people the benefit of doubt
  • Send prayers and love to one and all

You know, being kind doesn’t cost money but it benefits everybody. Kindness not only blesses the receiver, but also the giver. It improves the functioning of the immune system and stimulates the production of serotonin. And what’s more, even the observers of kindness experience similar benefits!

Remember, you can’t receive with a closed fist… you need to open your fist and give, in order to receive.

How meditation helps unlock your superpower

Manoj Khatri: Thank you so much for that inspiring response. I, too, am a great believer in the power of giving and your perspectives have reinforced my conviction. Before we wind up, could you share what your typical day looks like? And what is it that you never miss doing each day, no matter how demanding your schedule?
Azim Jamal: I start my day with a goal to make each day the happiest and most impactful day of my life. My ideal day looks like this:

  • Wake up at 3.30 am
  • Meditate from 4 – 5 am
  • Pray 5 am – 5.30 am
  • Exercise 5.30 – 6 am
  • Read something uplifting 6 – 6.30 am
  • Finish breakfast
  • Attend to the top three personal goals followed by the top three business goals

Usually, the above is done before noon. Afternoons are flexible. My evenings are dedicated to family. I try to go to bed by 9.30pm.

Now, coming to the second part of your question. My success is largely due to my meditation practice, and that is why I try not to skip my daily meditation. Let me share a story with you to help you understand why I say this:

When I was young, I wasn’t particularly bright. I did poorly in academics and I didn’t have much scope for pursuing higher studies. But I was good at sports and I was a strong leader. I was also heavily involved in voluntary work. That helped me find a college seat to pursue Accounting, and I did very well in it and completed my CPA and my accounting career took off. I attribute this success to the moment I started meditating when I was 18 years old. That changed me and, as a result, I became calmer and much more peaceful, disciplined. That was the secret of my success in higher education and accounting career; it was also what subsequently empowered me to change my career to writing, speaking, and coaching 25 years ago. My meditation practice continues to help me reflect and grow even today.

Manoj Khatri: That is a wonderful story. Thank you so much for your wonderful insights. My very best for the success of SPARK. I am sure readers across the world will find it immensely useful as a practical guide to create a life beyond just empty success to success with significance.
Azim Jamal: Thank you for your good wishes and for the opportunity to share my thoughts, it’s been a pleasure.

Spark: Journey from Success to Significance

SPARK by Azim Jamal — Front coverMeet Steve, a hotshot lawyer fighting to climb the corporate ladder, in this inspiring fable. His life transforms seemingly overnight as he is sent to India for a task he considers pointless. But things quickly fall apart. Steve, forced to reconsider his path, realizes that the curve ball life has thrown at him is an opportunity to find his true purpose. This spiritual odyssey is about to transform him beyond his wildest dreams.

A powerful lesson follows each chapter, making up the SPARK that transforms Steve’s life: SELFLESSNESS, PURPOSE, ATTRACTION, RESILIENCE AND KNOWING.

This SPARK is hidden within you too. It may be dormant now, but awakening to it will catapult you from the “Present You” to the “Best You.” It’s time to light up your SPARK today.

Buy SPARK by Azim Jamal on Amazon US (Available in Kindle, Paperback and Hardcover)

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri has spent the last two decades learning, teaching and writing about wellbeing and mindful living. He has contributed over 1500 articles for several newspapers and magazines including The Times of India, The Economic Times, The Statesman, Mid-Day, Bombay Times, Femina, and more. He is a counseling therapist and the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed best-selling book on self-transformation. An award-winning editor, Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".


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