I T WA S O N E O F T H OS E D A Y S you find yourself wishing
was over before you’ve got even ten minutes into
it. It started when my eyes opened and I noticed an
alarming amount of sunlight seeping in under the
bedroom blinds. You know, an eight-a.m. amount of
light—not a seven-a.m. amount of light. My alarm had
not gone off. That realization was followed by twenty
minutes of panicked cursing and shouting and crying
(my six-year-old son did the crying) as I careened
around my place, from bathroom to kitchen to front
door, trying to gather all the ridiculous bits of stuff
Adam and I needed for the rest of our day. As I pulled
up in front of his school forty-five minutes later, Adam
shot me a reproachful look.
“Mom says if you keep dropping me off late at
school on Mondays, I won’t be able to stay over
Sunday nights anymore.”
4 Robin Sharma
“Last time,” I said. “Last time, I promise.”
Adam was sliding out of the car now, a doubtful
expression on his face.
“Here,” I said, holding up a bulging plastic bag.
“Don’t forget your lunch.”
“Keep it,” Adam said, not looking at me. “I’m not
allowed to bring peanut butter to school.”
And then he turned on his heel and raced through
the deserted school playground. Poor kid, I thought
as I watched his little legs pumping toward the front
door. Nothing worse than heading into school late,
everyone already in class, the national anthem blaring
through the hallways. That and no lunch to boot.
I threw the plastic bag onto the passenger seat
and sighed. Another “custodial” weekend had come
to an inglorious end. I had, apparently, failed spectacularly
as a husband. Now it appeared that I would
fail with equal flamboyance as a separated dad. F rom
the moment I picked Adam up, I seemed to provide
an unending series of disappointments. Despite the
fact that all week I felt Adam’s absence like a missing
limb, I invariably arrived late on F ridays. The
promised treat of pizza and a movie was dampened
by the tuna sandwich that Annisha made Adam eat
as his dinner hour came and went. And then there
was my phone, which chirped incessantly, like it had
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 5
a bad case of hiccups. It beeped during the movie, and
when I was tucking Adam into bed. It beeped during
our breakfast of slightly burned pancakes, and while
we walked to the park. It beeped as we picked up takeout
burgers, and all through story time. Of course the
beeping wasn’t the real problem. The real problem
was that I kept picking the thing up. I checked my
messages; I sent responses; I talked on the phone.
And with each interruption, Adam became a little
quieter, a little more distant. It broke my heart, yet
the thought of ignoring the thing, or turning it off,
made my palms sweat.
As I raced to work, I brooded about the botched
weekend. When Annisha had announced that she
wanted a trial separation, it felt like someone had
backed over me with a truck. She had been complaining
for years that I never spent time with her or
Adam; that I was too caught up with work, too busy
with my own life to be part of theirs.
“But how,” I argued, “does leaving me fix any of
that? If you want to see more of me, why are you
making sure that you see less?”
She had, after all, said she stillloved me. Said she
wanted me to have a good relationship with my son.
But by the time I had moved into my own apartment,
I was bruised and bitter. I had promised to
try to spend more time at home. I had even begged
6 Robin Sharma
off a company golf tournament and a client dinner.
But Annisha said that I was only tinkering—I
wasn’t committed to fixing what was wrong. Every
time I thought of those words, I clenched my teeth.
Couldn’t Annisha see how demanding my work
was? Couldn’t she see how important it was for me
to keep moving ahead? If I hadn’t been putting in
the kind of hours I was, we wouldn’t have our great
house, or the cars, or the awesome big-screen T Vs.
Well, okay, I admit it—Annisha didn’t give a damn
about the T Vs. But, still.
I made a promise to myself then—I will be a great
“separated dad.” I’ll lavish attention on Adam; I’ll go
to all the school events; I’ll be available to drive him
to swimming or karate; I’ll read him books. When he
phones at night, I’ll have all the time in the world to
talk with him. I’ll listen to his problems, give advice
and share jokes. I’ll help him with homework, and
I’ll even learn to play those annoying video games he
likes. I’ll have a wonderful relationship with my son,
even if I can’t have one with my wife. And I’ll show
Annisha that I’m not just “tinkering.”
The first few weeks apart, I think I did pretty well.
In some ways, it wasn’t so hard. But I was shocked
by how much I missed both of them. I would wake up
in my apartment and listen for the tiny voice I knew
wasn’t there. I would pace around at night thinking,
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 7
This is the time when I might be reading a bedtime
story. This is when I might give Adam his good-night
hug. And This is the moment I would be crawling into
bed with Annisha, the moment I would be holding
her in my arms. The weekends couldn’t come soon
enough for me.
But as the months ticked on, those thoughts began
to fade. Or, more truly, they were crowded out by
everything else. I would bring work home each evening
or stay at work late. When Adam called, I’d be
tapping away on my computer and hearing only every
other sentence. Whole weeks would go by without me
thinking once about what he might be doing during the
days. When the school break came, I realized that I
hadn’t booked any time off to spend with him. Then
I scheduled a client dinner on the night of Adam’s
spring school concert. I also forgot to take him for his
six-month dental cleaning, even though Annisha had
reminded me just the week before. And I started to
show up late on F ridays. This weekend was just another
installment of “quality” time that was anything but.
I gave Danny, the security guard, a little wave as I
pulled into the office parking lot. After my crazy rush
to be here, I suddenly wished I wasn’t. I pulled into
my space, but I didn’t turn off the engine right away.
In my defense, my obsession with work was completely
natural. It was a highly stressful time at
8 Robin Sharma
the company. Rumors had been flying for months
that we were about to be sold. I had spent the last
twelve weeks doing nothing but churning out reports:
sales reports, inventory reports, staffing reports,
profit-and-loss statements. When I closed my eyes at
night, all I could see were the crowded grid lines of
a spreadsheet. That was what awaited me inside the
building, but I couldn’t put it off any longer. I turned
the engine off, grabbed my laptop case and headed in.
I said hello to Devin, our receptionist. His head was
bent studiously over his computer screen, but I knew
he was playing solitaire. As I veered right, I could see
Devin smirking, but maybe I was just imagining that.
The shortest route to my office is to the left, but I no
longer went that way. Devin obviously thought that
was because Tessa’s desk was to the right. But that
was only an added bonus. If I went to the right, I didn’t
have to go past Juan’s office. Juan. Damn. I don’t know
why I should be bothered so much after all this time.
It was only an unused office now. The blinds were up,
the desk was clear, the chair was vacant. There were
no pictures of Juan’s wife and children on the filing
cabinet, no coffee mugs on the credenza, no plaques on
the wall. But it was as if the shadow of all those things
hovered over the empty spaces.
I slowed my pace as I approached Tessa’s cubicle.
Tessa and I had worked together for years. We had
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 9
always got along well—we shared the same sense of
humor. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with
Annisha, but I had to admit that I’d found myself
thinking a lot about Tessa since the split.
I caught a glimpse of her dark hair, but she was on
the phone. So I kept going.
Almost as soon as I was through my office door, I
found myself turning around. I wondered if I should
check out the new prototype before I started on more
pressing work. I knew the design team would let me
know about any developments, but the thought of
distracting myself with a few minutes in the lab was
The design lab was where I’d started out. One of
my first jobs was in the development sector of this
place—an auto parts manufacturer. It was my dream
job. Juan, the technical director, took me under his
wing. Juan was my mentor.
But the thing is, even if you love your job, you can’t
stay put. That’s a career killer. But no one had to tell
me that. I was like a dog wagging my tail so hard that
I’d put my back out. The people above noticed. When
the next rung of the corporate ladder was offered to
me, Juan took me into his office.
“You know,” he said, “if you take this position,
you’ll be out of research and design for good. You’ll
be selling and managing. Is that what you want?”
“I want to move ahead, Juan,” I said, laughing.
“And I’m sure not going to wait for you to retire to
Juan gave me only a weak smile, but he didn’t say
After that first step, I moved up through the ranks
pretty quickly. Now I was overseeing all our projects
and product production for our biggest client.
I picked up my coffee mug, about to head down
the hall to the lab. But then I stopped. There was no
need for me to be there. I put my coffee cup down and
dropped into my chair. I snapped on my computer,
opened a file and turned my eyes to the maze of numbers
that filled my screen.
A few hours later, I had just finished yet another
profit-and-loss statement and was about to return to
my overflowing inbox, when the phone rang. It took
me a few seconds to recognize my mother’s voice. She
sounded upset. Good lord, I thought. Now what? My
mother had been inordinately interested in my life in
recent months. It was beginning to annoy me.
“Sorry to have bothered you at work, Jonathan,
but this is important,” she said. “I’ve just been talking
with Cousin Julian, and he needs to see you right
away. It’s urgent.”
Me? I thought. Why on earth would Cousin Julian
need to see me?
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 11
To be frank, I didn’t really know Cousin Julian.
He wasn’t my cousin, but my mother’s. She had been
close with Julian and his sister Catherine when they
were all small, but I grew up on the other side of the
country. Far-flung relatives were as interesting to me
as last week’s newspaper.
The only time I ever met Julian, I was about
ten. We were visiting Cousin Catherine, and she
arranged a dinner at her house. I don’t recall
whether Julian’s wife was with him, or whether he
was already divorced. To tell you the truth, I don’t
remember anything at all about the visit, except
for one thing: Julian’s bright red Ferrari. I had
heard Catherine mention it, so I was waiting on
the front steps when he peeled up the driveway.
The car was even more fabulous than I had pictured.
Julian saw my face (my chin must have been scraping
the top of my shoes), and he invited me for a ride. I
had never been in a car that moved so fast. It felt as if,
at any moment, the wheels might leave the pavement,
and we would be airborne. I don’t think I said a word
the whole ride. When we arrived back at the house,
Julian got out of the car, but I didn’t move.
“You want to hang around in the car for a while?”
I nodded. He turned to leave but before he could
go, I stopped him.
12 Robin Sharma
“Yes,” he said.
“How did you get this car?” I asked. “I mean . . .
does it cost a lot of money?”
“It sure does,” he said. “So if you want one of
these yourself, Jonathan, you’re going to have to work
really, really hard when you grow up.”
I never forgot that.
As I remember, Julian didn’t stick around long
after dinner—Mom and Cousin Catherine seemed
disappointed, maybe a little annoyed. Although I was
only ten, I could imagine that Julian had much more
exciting places to be. He was clearly living the kind
of life that I wanted when I got older. I watched with
envy as Julian’s fabulous sports car tore down the
After years of saying nothing about the man, Mom
had begun to invoke Julian’s name every time we got
together. She had recently told me the Ferrari was
long gone. Cousin Julian had, apparently, gone through
some sort of life-changing experience. He’d quit his
extremely lucrative job as a high-powered litigator,
sold the Ferrari and embraced a “simple” existence.
Mom said he had studied with a little-known group of
monks who lived deep in the Himalayas and that he
now often went around in a crimson robe. She said he
was an utterly different man. I wasn’t sure why she
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 13
seemed to think this was such a good thing.
And she had been trying to get the two of us
together. She had suggested that I make time to visit
with him when I was in his city on business. But
frankly, if I didn’t have enough time for Annisha or
Adam, why would I take a day off to spend with a man
I hardly knew? Besides, if he’d still been a phenomenally
successful lawyer with a glamorous lifestyle and
a flashy sports car, I might have seen the point. But
why did I need to spend time with an unemployed old
man with no Ferrari? There were plenty of guys like
him hanging around in my local bar.
“Mom,” I said, “what are you talking about? Why
does Julian need to see me?”
Mom didn’t have details. She said Julian needed
to talk with me. He needed my help with something.
“That’s nuts,” I said. “I haven’t seen Cousin Julian
in years. I don’t know the guy. There has to be someone
else who can help.”
Mom didn’t say anything, but I thought I could
hear her crying softly. The last couple of years since
my dad died had been tough on her. “Mom,” I said.
“Are you okay?”
She sniffled a bit, but then started talking in a
steely tone that I barely recognized.
“Jonathan, if you love me, you’ll do this. You’ll do
whatever Julian wants you to do.”
14 Robin Sharma
“But what. . .” I didn’t get a chance to finish my
“There will be a plane ticket waiting for you when
you get home tonight.” She started another sentence,
but her voice began to crack. “Jonathan, I need to go,”
she said and then hung up.
It was hard to concentrate for the rest of the afternoon.
The phone call was so unlike my mother—her
forcefulness and desperation unnerved me. And then
there was the whole mystery of the thing. What on
earth did Julian want me to do? I wondered about
this life change of his. Had he gone completely off his
rocker? Was I going to meet with some old coot ranting
about government conspiracies? Some wild-haired
fellow who shuffled down the street in his housecoat
and slippers? (I knew that’s not what mom meant by
“crimson robes,” but I couldn’t get that image out of
my mind.) I was so preoccupied by these thoughts
that I walked right past Juan’s office as I left for the
day. It wasn’t until I entered the lobby that I realized
what I had done. It felt like a bad omen.
When I got back to my apartment, I almost forgot to
check the mailbox. I struggled with the bent key for a
few minutes, and then the little metal door flew open,
spitting pizza flyers and insurance offers all over the
floor. As I shoveled them up, my hand settled on a thick
envelope. It was from my mother. I sighed, stuffed it in
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 15
my pocket and headed up the stairs to my apartment.
I opened the envelope while my frozen lasagna
entrée spun around in the microwave. Inside was a
short note from my mother explaining that Julian
was temporarily living in Argentina, and a return
airline ticket to Buenos Aires. Good lord, I thought.
They want me to take a twelve-hour flight to meet
up with a distant cousin for an hour or two? Over the
weekend? Great. I would have to spend my entire
weekend in a flying sardine tin and disappoint my
son. That, or upset my mom even more than she was
I ate my lukewarm lasagna in front of the T V, hoping
a large tumbler of Scotch would mask the crumminess
of my dinner and the misery of my mood.
I put off phoning Annisha until I was sure Adam
would be in bed. Annisha is a stickler for routine, so
there was no guesswork there. When she answered
the phone she sounded tired, but not unhappy. I
braced myself for her mood to change when I told her
about my possible weekend plans. But Annisha knew
about it already.
“I’ve talked with your mom, Jonathan,” she said.
“You need to do this. Adam will understand.”
So that was that.