By the time he was 25, Robin Sharma was leading a life many would envy. A litigation lawyer at a swanky firm, he worked in a glass tower, wore expensive suits and drove the obligatory BMW. And yet, ‘I had become plastic,’ he says. ‘I would wake up and feel very empty.’
Some 30 years later, the flash suits have given way to T-shirts and the BMW to an 11-year-old Range Rover. He is also, as one profile recently labelled him, a ‘rock star leadership guru’.
You may not have heard of him, but he’s one of that select group of charismatic self-help authors — think Brene Brown and Tony Robbins — whose live events on self-improvement fill stadiums.
He’s sold more than 20 million copies of his books. Fans include Desmond Tutu, Richard Branson, Jon Bon Jovi and singer Taylor Swift who, after reading one of his books, remarked: ‘I have a lot more good days now.’
Robin Sharma, 57, (pictured) who has sold more than 20 million books, explained how his 15th tome helps people to find their heroism within
In addition, he advises clients such as Nasa and Microsoft — and even a member of the Royal Family is an admirer of his work (‘Someone from their team contacted someone from mine about 15 years ago,’ he says).
His books are known for their zingy titles and include The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari — a fable derived from his own experiences — and The 5am Club, about the power of an early-morning routine, which became an instant bestseller worldwide and catnip for celebrities and CEOs alike.
His latest tome, The Everyday Hero Manifesto, is his 15th and was written during the pandemic.
‘I’d say we live in a very messy world right now,’ he says when we meet on Zoom, ‘and a lot of people are overwhelmed and they’re scared.
‘I wrote the book as a handbook to help people come from an agency of power — in other words, to help them find their power and heroism within, versus allowing themselves to be frightened of the world outside of them.’
Don’t think you’re a hero? Robin says you don’t have to be a nurse or a firefighter — you can be a baker, a yoga instructor, anything. ‘They do their work of the highest quality and with great integrity and they try to make the world a brighter place in their own way.’
Quite the opposite of the intimidating flashness of Tony Robbins, or the enthusiastic over-sharing of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, Robin, 57 — slim, shorn of hair and with quiet, measured tones — seems more cool physics teacher than motivational guru.
Robin (pictured) advocates rising at 5am to spend 20 minutes exercising, 20 minutes planning goals or meditating, and 20 minutes educating oneself
He’s not even particularly fond of the term. ‘I don’t consider myself a motivational person,’ he insists. When asked to describe what he does, he plumps for: ‘I help people optimise themselves and live great lives. But,’ he grins, ‘I don’t know what you call that.’
His new book is replete with similarly aspirational jargon. Phrases such as ‘rare air’ and ‘world-class’ pepper the pages, as well as gems such as, ‘Action delayed is greatness betrayed’ and, ‘Don’t live your finest hours in the waiting room of life’. But if the language of self-help leaves you cold, don’t be put off. Despite the occasional platitude, Robin doesn’t shy away from the hard work that needs to be done if we’re to improve our daily lives.
‘We have two choices,’ he says simply. ‘We can operate like a victim or we can show up like a hero, understanding that, no matter what your condition is or what your past has been, you can make certain choices that will make your life better.’
HOW TO BE FIT FOR LIFE
Staying fit is a key tenet of Robin’s teachings, and he advises you do it via his holy trinity — exercise, nutrition and recovery.
- Exercise: Ideally done first thing in the morning, this should involve cardio, weights and stretching, and then a second workout that could be a simple bike ride or walk.
- Nutrition: A combination of staying well-hydrated, eating real (as opposed to processed) food, fasting and taking supplements.
- Recovery: This isn’t just sleeping or rest — it can be active, as long as it takes you away from work and de-stresses you. Robin is a fan of a mixture of massage, meditation, spending time in nature and having fun, whatever that may mean to you.
The book — all 400 pages of it — contains more than 100 bite-sized chapters which range from the instructional (The Free Money Model For Advanced Prosperity) to the whimsical (That Time I Met Muhammad Ali).
The most rigorous chapter — The Peak Productivity Strategies Pyramid — goes to the heart of how best we can improve our lives. It suggests honing in on the top five priorities in our life (in Robin’s case they include ‘personal mastery’, a dedicated family life and service to society) and lays out routines and exercises that will help us most productively achieve them.
Key among them is following the main tenet of his 5am Club teachings, which advocates rising at 5am to spend 20 minutes exercising, 20 minutes planning goals or meditating, and 20 minutes educating oneself — a practice he labels the Victory Hour.
It’s a practice which can defeat many by 5.03am. ‘A question I get a lot is: “I’m a shift worker — what do I do?” And my answer is always: “Sleep!” ’ says Robin. ‘But take the methodology and customise it for your life.’
He has two children, now aged 25 and 27, ‘but when my kids were two and four, I’d get up to do the Victory Hour, but not every day. I gave myself permission to be flexible, which is important. But once they were seven or eight, I could run all my routines as they weren’t getting up super early.’
His latest book also suggests that, in addition to a morning workout, we should try to incorporate a late afternoon or early evening routine called The Second Wind Workout. But where does one find the time?
‘It’ll give you more time,’ he insists. ‘If you finish work and you come home and you’re on the phone, checking social media, eating fast food, that isn’t going to give you much energy.
‘But let’s say you walk home — that’s your Second Wind Workout — and while you’re walking, instead of listening to music, maybe you listen to a podcast on productivity. When you get home, you’ll have more energy and be more present for others.’
Robin, who claims that he doesn’t offer medical advice, boasts about the benefits of fasting in a section of his book entitled The Trinity Of Radiant Vitality (file image)
Time, and the supposed lack thereof to implement his ideas, comes up quite often with his readers, but, he says, often the people you expect to be busiest have the most time — and we should examine why.
‘The interesting thing about a lot of industry-type people is they have a lot of free time. It’s because they get up early, they schedule their weeks, they’re very careful.’
And he is passionate about the time-wasting dangers of ‘digital escapism’.
‘When people say they don’t have time, where does the time go? There are a lot of people who are busy, but they don’t step out of themselves and say, “Well, I’m on my phone six hours a day, chasing shiny toys, and I come home and play video games and watch TV.” ’
FIVE MOST COMMON REGRETS
These are the most common regrets noted by carers who nurse people during their final hours:
1. They wish they had kept greater perspective. Human beings spend too much time worrying about things that will never happen. And when bad things do happen, they forget that hardship always ends.
2. They wish they hadn’t worried so much about what other people thought. We fail to take so many chances because we don’t wish to be rejected, dislike being embarrassed and want to look cool. But really, embracing the dreams that matter most to us is all that counts.
3. They wish they hadn’t wasted so much time. It’s so common to wish we had more time, yet completely squander the time we have. Use those precious hours responsibly.
4. They wish they had enjoyed the pilgrimage of life more. Having fun is highly productive. I know our society persuades us to think otherwise, that the journey must be hard and gruelling, but taking pleasure in life is essential.
5. They wish they had been more kind and loving. It’s very common for people to mistreat the humans they love most, but being unkind to others makes our world a darker, more miserable place.
Practicality might also be an issue for some. In one section, rather splendidly entitled The Trinity Of Radiant Vitality, he emphasises the need for good nutrition and recommends the benefits of fasting, which he does for 20 hours, not eating from 9pm one evening to 5pm the next day.
Is that entirely practical — or safe — with a busy work and family schedule? ‘Well, I want to make clear I’m not giving any medical advice,’ says Robin. ‘But my mum had a busy family life [she was a teacher; his father, a family doctor] and she would fast every Monday until 6pm and have a few almonds through the day.’
Incredibly, Robin fasts up to five days a week, ‘and I feel phenomenal. Fasting produces BDNF [brain-derived neurotrophic factor] which increases your cognition, and I feel tremendous energy when I fast.’
Also, he adds, ‘I save on grocery bills! And imagine how much time I save not having to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. That’s a lot of time eating.’
The section also deals with rest and recovery and the benefits of massage (Robin’s big on massage). But if you don’t have the income for regular treatments or personal trainers, especially with people living in more straitened circumstances owing to the pandemic, then what?
‘That’s a fair question,’ he says, ‘and sometimes I suggest people barter, such as: “If you give me a massage every week, I’ll clean your home.” Or follow The Forced Optimisation Strategy, where instead of a trainer, maybe it’s your friend and they show up at your house twice a week and you go to theirs twice a week and you push each other to exercise.’
As humans, he explains, we’re good at making excuses, ‘and if someone has a closed mind and restricted moves, they’re never going to see the opportunities to get these things done.’
His partner Elle is understanding of his occasional need to disappear for a few weeks to a hotel to focus on work and ‘get away from my usual responsibilities and the operational administrivia that never serves me in generating my best results’.
And while his zeal, productivity and self-help speak may be exhausting to the more slothful among us — chapter 41, incidentally, is entitled Don’t Be A Sloth — it clearly works for some.
He champions hard work, perseverance, fitness and focus — everything to help us reach our potential — but then so do a lot of leadership gurus in an already-saturated self-help market. So how has Robin managed to hit such a nerve with his audience?
‘Because my material creates results,’ he says. ‘This isn’t only an inspirational book, it has neuroscience, stories, methodologies that work for many people.’
Robin (pictured) said in a world that looks increasingly unstable, people are looking to be ‘the heroes of their own live’
Certainly, they’ve worked for Robin. Growing up in the tiny town of Port Hawkesbury in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia (his South Asian parents had emigrated from Uganda in the 1960s), he showed such little promise at school that teachers predicted he would end up ‘a drifter or a vagrant’.
Despite achieving success as a lawyer, ‘I lost myself in the process’, and he embarked on an intense three-year period of studying, meditating and attending self-help conferences.
His marriage eventually collapsed (‘it was an arranged marriage and it was two good people who weren’t the right fit’) and the release of his first self-published book, Megaliving! turned into a disaster when the book’s type came out too small.
THE SIX ROUTINES FOR SUCCESS
1. The Victory Hour: Rise at 5am and spend 20 minutes exercising, 20 minutes goal-planning or meditating and 20 minutes learning.
2. The Second Wind Workout: Exercise in the afternoon, ideally a walk in nature, to set you up for the latter part of the day.
3. The Three Good Things exercise: Spend ten minutes writing down three small wins or uplifting experiences in a gratitude journal each evening, ‘to crowd out the brain’s negativity bias’.
4. The 90/90/1 Rule: For the next 90 days, create an ironclad and uninterruptible ritual that allows you to spend the first 90 minutes of your work morning focused on the thing that is most important to you. This helps block the distractions we face each morning.
5. The 60-Minute Student Regime: Dedicate an hour during the day to immerse yourself in study.
6. The Weekly Design System: Maintain a balanced life by planning your week. Schedule everything, from meetings to workouts and family meals to meditation.
Undeterred, his second book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, became a breakaway hit. Even then, ‘people made fun of me, saying: “What does a lawyer know about personal development? You’re just relentless.” ’.
That relentlessness has translated not only to a personal awakening for Robin, but also to considerable wealth. His net worth, which he’ll neither confirm nor deny, has been estimated at around $12 million (£8.7 million), and while we’re Zooming, he asks if he can pause the interview to switch rooms, ‘as my pool cleaner just showed up’.
An annual conference he used to hold for ‘the highest level of game-changers’, entitled The Titan Summit, cost an eye-watering $40,000 (£29,000) per seat. ‘But my last one was in 2019,’ he says. ‘It was very successful, sold out, but I didn’t want to keep doing the same thing.’
He has been known to turn down requests to speak at conferences if the companies don’t align with his values (‘I won’t accept a client just because they’re waving money at me’), and while billionaire CEOs and sports stars enlist his help, ‘students and homemakers’ also form a part of his audience.
He has little time for indolence or snowflakery, ‘and I have to be very careful, as I don’t want to be cancelled for the rest of my life, but I think there’s a lot of entitlement in our world right now,’ he says, ‘a lot of people who are extraordinarily thin-skinned.
‘I want to be clear that there are some things that are unacceptable and unjust and should be handled, but I believe it’s gone to an extreme in some cases.’
He believes ‘there are a lot of people who are in a lot of pain’ right now, but projecting that pain on to others isn’t the answer. As he says in another of his neat Sharma-isms: ‘Handle the cuts that you’re dealing with so you don’t bleed on the people who didn’t cut you.’
The fear and uncertainty wrought by the pandemic has provoked a surge of interest in Robin’s work.
‘Often when our foundations crumble, we look for guidance. I think a lot of people are turning towards personal growth and self-leadership.’
And in a world that looks increasingly unstable, they’re looking to be ‘the heroes of their own lives,’ he says, ‘as it’ll give them some sense of certainty and power in this world.’
The Everyday Hero Manifesto by Robin Sharma (£16.99, Thorsons) is out now.