(a 14 minute read)
In the spirit of Christmas and with the dawn of a new year on the horizon, I thought it would be appropriate to write a different kind of blog post. This means no business books or advice on how to crush it online. Today I want to talk about a book I really love, that I think everyone should read at one point in their lives: “The Monk who sold his Ferrari”.
In a nutshell, this best-selling 1997 book, written by Robin Sharma, is about a fictional character who gave up his luxurious lawyer life to live a more centered, mindful and most importantly happier one. Although you could call it a self-help book, it’s not one of the usual ones…
How It’s Different
First off, it’s not written in the regular “do this, do that” approach. As mentioned, it’s about the lawyer and the story is told from his point of view. In a conversation with an old friend he talks about his new life and what he learned on his journey, told in a really beautiful way - it’s honestly a great read. Reading this, you’ll discover new strategies to expand your horizon and become truly grateful for life itself.
The book is also different in the way it’s structured. In it, the main character tells the story of a fable he learned. This fable has seven elements that each represent an important key to a happier and more fulfilled life - and each has specific and actionable tactics to practice the principles.
So, I decided to structure this blog post in the same way: first I will tell you the fable and then I’ll quickly go over each of the seven elements and explain their meaning. I obviously won’t be able to do the book justice with a quick blog post like this so you should definitely read the book yourself, you won’t regret it. (*cough* And check out our Top 10 list on other books you should read - shameless plug.)
“Picture the following scene…”
“You are sitting in the middle of a magnificent, lush, green GARDEN. This garden is filled with the most spectacular flowers you have ever seen. The environment is supremely tranquil and silent. Savor the sensual delights of this garden and feel as if you have all the time in the world to enjoy this natural oasis.
As you look around you see that in the center of this magical garden stands a towering, red LIGHTHOUSE, six stories high.
Suddenly, the silence of the garden is disturbed by a loud creaking as the door at the base of the lighthouse opens.
Out stumbles a 9ft-tall, 900lbs Japanese SUMO WRESTLER, wearing nothing but a pink WIRE CABLE covering his private parts.
As this sumo wrestler starts to move around the garden, he finds a shiny gold STOPWATCH that someone had left behind many years earlier. He slips it on, and falls to the ground unconscious, silent, and still.
Just when you think he has taken his last breath, the wrestler awakens, perhaps stirred by the fragrance of some fresh yellow ROSES blooming nearby. He looks at them and he is startled by what he sees.
Through the bushes at the very edge of the garden, he observes a long winding PATH covered by millions of sparkling diamonds. Something seems to instruct the wrestler to take the path, and to his credit, he does. This path leads him down the road of everlasting joy and eternal bliss.”
Remember the fable, carry it within you, and your life will be elevated to new heights - mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. If you always keep the essence of the fable and the seven elements close to your heart, you’ll know what I mean. Now let me explain.
#1) The Garden: Master Your Mind.
First, let’s talk about the garden. It’s meant to represent our inner life, which includes our emotions, our dreams and desires, and most importantly our thoughts. Notice how the garden - the home to all events - is described as “magnificent, lush and green” and not as “rotten to its core”?
Hopefully you can agree that what’s going on in our minds directly correlates with how our life’s going and that mental health is essential to function well. This is also where thoughts come into play, because the quality of your life is directly determined by the quality of your thoughts. If you practice channeling all your energy into mastering your thoughts, you’ll feel like you’ve just unlocked a new superpower. Sounds weird? Let me elaborate.
We have no control over what happens to us in life. The things we think we have control over are usually just reactions to what’s already been determined by other forces. Forces bigger than us. What we actually do have full control over though, are our thoughts and how we react to external events.
For example, how do you react when someone cuts you off in traffic?
Are you one of those people that start raging, yelling and cussing, and generally ruin your whole mood and even day, and that of the people around you?
Or are you more relaxed and simply let it go right after?
The only drivers we really affect with our rage and thirst for justice are us. If something negative happens, it’s up to each and every one of us to decide on what we make of the situation. If we were to let our thoughts be dictated by every slightly negative thing that happens to us, we’d burn out by age 30 and live miserable lives.
On the other hand, if we manage to stay cool in those situations (or at least not get hung up on the negative), not only will we strengthen our minds and patience, but we will incrementally build better lives - thought by thought.
The traffic example is obviously just an exaggerated and minimal thing but this principle can be applied to any area of life. We begin to lift our spirits, see more good all round us and we’ll generally feel better overall. That’s why mastering the mind is so important and that’s why everything else takes place in the garden - it’s all in our heads. Seemingly small things can have huge effects if compounded over time...but more on that in the later chapters.
#2) The Lighthouse: Follow Your Purpose.
We hear it all over social media, in everyday conversations and we’ve even talked a lot about it in our other blog posts: follow your passion, pursue your dreams, and yadda yadda yadda. Phrases like these are thrown around so much that they’ve begun to lose their original meaning. But the thing is, we hear them so damn often because they’re so damn true. So what do they really mean?
If we’re looking for lasting fulfillment, then we have to do what’s right for us. Lasting fulfillment comes from pursuing clearly defined personal, spiritual, and professional goals. We only have one shot at making this life worth, so why not spend that time doing something we actually like doing - or at least trying it?
This thought always makes me think of a YouTube video by Matt D’avella where he talks about this topic. The way he states how we usually put off our personal goals until it’s too late just because we don’t feel like there’s a deadline is really beautiful, so definitely check that out too. Or better: wait until after you’re done reading, I’ll link it below.
You’ve probably heard of all the studies that show how the majority of people, when it’s all said and done, don’t regret the things they did, they regret things they didn’t do. One of the worst feelings there is comes when the person you are meets the person you could’ve been. Don’t let that happen and pursue what you really want to do instead of trying to conform to an image that’s not yours.
#3) The Sumo Wrestler: Practice Kaizen.
“Kaizen” is an old Japanese word for “continuous improvement”. Nowadays it’s usually applied to business but it can also be for an individual. Always seeking to improve and always trying to be a little better than we were yesterday are very honorable attributes to have. Creating routines, building positive habits and getting rid of negative ones to get the most out of our days are things that everyone should be doing.
This is easier said than done. Trying to change our life as a whole and achieve mastery almost certainly leads to failure. We simply tire out pretty quickly and get overwhelmed by the task at hand.
Instead, we should think of our lives as 16h-mini-episodes that happen every day (16 hours because we should spend 8 hours sleeping). Thinking of life like this makes everything much more manageable and it’s much easier to build routines and habits with positive effects. That’s because we don’t experience life as a whole - we experience it in 16h increments, one day at a time.
Success on the outside begins on the inside and consistency leads to greatness. In the book Sharma also talks about what he calls “the ten ancient rules for radiant living” - a fire name if you ask me. If you build in these ten habits in your daily life and are consistent with it, you can’t help but feel better:
- Solitude (being okay with yourself)
- Physicality (exercise)
- Nourishment (eat well)
- Abundant Knowledge (read every day)
- Personal Reflection (regularly reflect on your situation)
- Early Awakening (win the morning and you win the day)
- Music (great music is incredible)
- Spoken Word (get rid of the negative; positive affirmations only)
- Congruent Character (stay true to yourself)
- Simplicity (most times, less is more)
Remember: don’t try to do it all at once. Break tasks down into smaller, more manageable tasks and then go at them one by one. Simply try to be a little better today compared to yesterday...it’s because it’s all there is. Your life IS today, it’s just today repeated.
#4) The Wire Cable: Living With Discipline.
Nowadays, “discipline” has become a weird term. When we hear people talking of discipline, it’s usually the David Goggins kind of discipline where one has to grind through their day, not stopping until we have everything ticked off our to-do lists, where reward comes in the form of punishment, and more stuff that all sounds really exhausting. What happened?
Discipline can be much simpler than this. It simply means that we should strive to be consistent with what we’re doing. We don’t have to be right ALL THE TIME, we just have to be mostly right most of the time to make huge progress. Working out once won’t get us fit, just like eating fast food once won’t make us fat. It’s what we do on a regular basis over large periods of time that determine how our lives will play out.
Think of it like the wire cables that hold up huge bridges: they’re not just a few really really thick cables that hold everything together. No, every single wire cable is made of dozens or even hundreds of smaller, interwoven cables that are stronger than the sum of their parts when combined.
The things we do on a daily basis are like these small cables. By themselves, they don’t do much. But put them together and everything’s different. Small actions compound over time and become habits that can either work for or against us. It’s up to each and everyone of us to decide which side we want to be on.
#5) The Stopwatch: Respect Your Time.
Things like possessions and money come and go. We go to work so we can earn money that we can spend on things or experiences, and sometimes parts of it even gets invested. Time is different. It doesn’t come, it just goes.
Time is the most precious asset we have because it’s non-renewable. Everyone has a set amount - 24 hours per day - and for some that supply expires sooner than for others. We never know when that expiration date comes. That’s why we should respect our time more than anything else and have the courage to say “No” to spend it wisely. The whole concept of time ties closely into the things we talked about in chapters 3 and 4 so I won’t go too deep into it to avoid repetition. Ask yourself…
Will watching another episode really be more fulfilling than working on your hobby?
Should you really go now instead of spending another hour with a loved one?
How will you look back on these things at the end of your life?
If you think of your actions from the perspective of your older self, the decisions you make right now suddenly have a lot more weight. In time travel movies people are always so cautious of making any decisions because of the potential effects their actions can have on the future. Yet when we’re just living in the moment we never really feel like our actions have any weight at all. Let’s change that.
#6) The Roses: Selflessly Serve Others.
The quality of your life ultimately comes down to the quality of your contribution. It doesn’t matter if it’s about personal fitness, business decisions or major international geopolitics.
We base most of our decisions on what we want and what’s best for us, but being kind to others never hurts. Practice daily acts of kindness, give to those who ask, and cultivate richer relationships. That’s what it’s all about. What’s the point of anything if we simply keep it to ourselves?
You can also apply it to all of the examples from above, I didn’t just list random things. With personal fitness: nothing comes from nothing. You want to feel better in your body? Work out and eat well. With business: competition is good. It pushes you to improve, it elevates the whole market and everyone can benefit in some way. With geopolitics: investing in others is key. It opens doors for new partnerships, more trade and greater innovation.
Always remember: if others are doing well, you’ll be doing well too. A joy shared becomes twice the joy and a sorrow shared becomes half the sorrow.
#7) The Diamond Path: Embrace The Present.
Modern society (myself included) has a pretty short attention span. We are always looking for something new; always looking to avoid boredom of any kind. If you think about it, we are encouraged to not live in the now.
Even when we were still in school we didn’t think about the Now but about something else: we thought about the stuff we did in the past, we were studying or doing homework for stuff that was coming up, and we were always planning far ahead into the future. For most of us, this hasn’t really changed since.
While it’s normal - and essential - to do this, we often forget to cherish the moment in the process. We should make a conscious effort to distance ourselves from that mentality. To simply take in the NOW even for a few seconds while forgetting about everything else that’s going on. Never sacrifice happiness for achievement.
And it’s not even that complicated. Life’s short. If you see your crush, go right up to them and then simply walk past because it’s probably not worth it...but all kidding aside, you know where I’m going with this. Look at the sky for one or two minutes every now and then, enjoy the sunset or sunrise every other day, or drop everything you’re doing and only focus on your breathing for one or two minutes.
It’s All There Is
If you can take one thing with you, I want it to be that you understand that the present is all there is. We don’t live in the future and the past only exists in our memories. Life is made up of 16h increments and consistently focusing on that can help you not get lost in the bigger picture. I think no one said it better than Master Oogway from Kung-Fu Panda:
And that’s all there is to say.
I hope you enjoyed this quick, surface-level summary of the book and that you learned at least one valuable thing. I say it every time but I truly mean it, definitely read this book on your own too - you won’t regret it. When reading a book, you can really get into the world the author created and you can learn SO much more. There’s so much I simply can’t cover in a blog post.
I said it before and I’ll say it again, always remember: don’t try to do it all at once. Simply try to be a little better than you were yesterday. Your life IS today, that’s all it is - it’s just today repeated. Now let’s go out there and make next year better than the sh*tshow that was 2020. The fact that you’re still reading tells me that you’re exactly the kind of person that can do that.