We meet the bestselling author Robin Sharma, who's giving a presentation on how to conquer the corporate world at Emirates Palace on Wednesday.
Robin Sharma plans to pitch positivity in Abu Dhabi
The nine-hour deficit between the UAE and Robin Sharma's home in Canada means it's just after 6am in his time zone when we make telephone contact.
Despite the antisocial hour of our call, he is wide awake, full of spark and ready to effuse about his forthcoming seminar in Abu Dhabi.
"Every day I get up at 5am," he declares in an exuberant tone. "Then I exercise for an hour, as I can take control of my psychology and physiology and dump endorphins into my body, which naturally makes me happy."
But, as a vastly successful self-help author and business consultant, Sharma clearly has a lot more to be elated about than just a predawn burst of aerobic activity. His run of fortune began 15 years ago, when, wilting under the strains of a career as a lawyer, he wrote his first book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.
This fable concerned a high-flying attorney who, after suffering a physical and mental breakdown, disposes with his luxury possessions and heads out to India to learn the ancient wisdom of the Himalayan gurus. The book's condensing of eastern spiritualism into a simple, allegorical tale struck a chord with the anguished masses and became a publishing sensation.
Since then, he's had 11 further bestsellers, including a business guide, The Leader Who Had No Title, which led on to him acting as an adviser to corporate giants such as Microsoft, Nike and IBM. He's also a sought-after motivational speaker, and it is in this guise he'll be hitting the stage at the Emirates Palace Auditorium on Wednesday.
Such is the expected demand to hear him speak that the event organisers are charging Dh3,000 to sit in on his three-hour presentation. Nevertheless, Sharma argues the invaluable lessons he'll impart will justify the hefty ticket price.
"Anyone who comes to my event will get at least 20 times the value of what they're going to invest," he contends. "This will be a game-changing event in their lives. They'll get re-inspired, they'll learn how to grow their businesses and they'll get some ideas into what makes a great life."
Much of the session will deal with how businesses can thrive in this economically uncertain era, but personal advancement will also be on the menu.
As with all of his self-help contemporaries, Sharma's attracted his fair share of criticism, but he insists it doesn't deter him.
"Of course people are cynical about my message. A lot of cynics tend to generalise and then judge without knowing the facts. Often, cynicism masks insecurity and fear. You see, it's easy to be cynical because we can judge a message or a person and not embrace any change, and most of us are frightened by change.
"People say: 'All he talks about is self-help and it doesn't work.' Well, first of all, I'm not just talking about this. I'm coming to Abu Dhabi to help organisations grow leaders and become more successful. These tactics have helped a lot of the best companies in the world, so how can you be cynical about that?" Sharma claims his ideas are particularly popular in the Gulf, where he's lectured before on numerous occasions and his books are placed prominently in outlets including Magrudy's. Some may find this surprising, considering that the flaunting of wealth through status symbols is de rigueur in this region.
Sharma disagrees: "The first thing I want to say, even though I wrote the book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, I'm not anti-wealth. I help companies and people become wealthier. I've worked with a lot of billionaires and I encourage people to chase wealth if that's their priority.
"But when we get to the last hour of our last day, our lives will not be defined by the Ferrari in our driveway or the wealth we've accumulated. Instead, we'll be defined by when compared to our creative and human potential - our gifts and our talents - how much of it did we realise?
"And secondly, how many people did we help and of what use were we to the world? That's a fundamental truth. So if this is important to us on the last hour of our last day, then why would we not make it the most important thing to us right now?"
Sharma believes this message, as well as his fusion of eastern and western trains of thought, is why he's in such demand in the Gulf region.
"Part of the reason I love coming to the Middle East is that the values here are very much similar to my own," he surmises. "People are not afraid to think about their mortality and not afraid to think about what their legacy will be when they die. You know, I was in Qatar a year ago, and someone at the seminar slipped a piece of paper to me saying 'the measure of a greatness of a person lies in the length their shadow casts on future generations'. That's exactly what I believe."
Overall, Sharma claims if we were all as positive-minded as him, the whole of society would benefit.
"Everyone needs to become the CEO of their own job," he says. "Just imagine if everybody, from the taxi drivers on the streets of Abu Dhabi to teachers to business leaders, all said, 'I'm going to take responsibility for my life and show leadership' rather than being the victim and waiting for other people. Then not only would all businesses be world class, than the world would be a better place."
A worthy message indeed, although we doubt the city's cabbies could afford the Dh3,000 a pop for tickets to his Emirates Palace event.
Robin Sharma will speak at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi at 9.30am on Wednesday. Tickets cost Dh3,000. Call 04 361 4619 for more information
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