T H E T A X I C A B H A D MOV E D from the highway onto an extraordinarily wide boulevard. It looked like a typical
city street, lined with trees on either side, a green
island separating oncoming traffic, but it was at least
ten lanes wide. I had never been to South America
before and was surprised by how much Buenos Aires
looked like a European city. An enormous obelisk,
resembling the Washington Monument, split the
scene in front of me, but the buildings and the streets
reminded me a little of Paris.
Julian had booked me on a red-eye on F riday night.
I had surprised myself by falling asleep on the flight,
waking just as the plane was setting down. And now,
here it was morning, but in another hemisphere from
the one I had fallen asleep in.
The belle époque–style stone buildings, black
cast-iron balconies and window boxes continued as
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 17
we drove, but eventually we moved into an area that
looked older, a bit tatty around the edges. There was
graffiti on the walls, stucco chipping off the sides of
buildings, dusty faded awnings. Although it was a
cool day here, a number of windows were open, and
I could see curtains flapping in the breeze. On one
corner, musicians were gathered, playing for a small
group of onlookers.
The cab was slowing now, pulling up to a storefront.
The sign painted on the window announced
tango lessons. Music drifted out of the half-open front
door. I double-checked the address Julian had given
me. This dance studio appeared to be it. I showed the
piece of paper to the cabbie to make sure we were in
the right part of town, that this wasn’t some sort of
mix-up. He nodded and then shrugged his shoulders.
I paid and got out of the cab.
Wow, I thought, peering through the half-open
door. When Mom said that Julian had changed his
life, she wasn’t kidding.
The room was long but not deep. Its walls were
painted a rich red, and glass chandeliers hung from
the ceiling. Men and women, holding each other
closely yet with a certain formality, stepped around
the room in time with the pulsing music.
As I watched, a tall, stylishly dressed man separated
himself from his partner and threaded his way
18 Robin Sharma
through the twirling dancers. When he got close to
me, I could see he was smiling.
“Jonathan,” he said. “I’m so glad you made it.” He
held out his hand and we shook.
It took me a minute to reconcile the man standing
before me with the picture I had imagined on my way
here. Julian looked far younger than he had when we
met over twenty years ago. His lean, muscular frame
bore no resemblance to the pasty, bloated figure who
had sat behind the wheel of that Ferrari. His face was
unlined and relaxed. His bright blue eyes seemed to
cut right through me.
“Please excuse me,” Julian said, waving his hand
around the room. “I wasn’t sure what time your flight
would arrive, so I thought I would take my Saturday
lesson. But now that you’re here, let’s head upstairs.”
Julian led me to a door, which I hadn’t seen from
the entranceway. Opening it, he gestured for me to
head up the stairs. When I got to the top, he moved
past me and opened another door. “Come in, come
in,” he said as he stepped into the room.
The apartment was bright and spacious, but nothing
like the kind of home I imagined Julian living in.
The furniture was an odd assortment of old and new.
Posters of musicians and dancers doing the tango
adorned the walls, and stacks of books sat on the
floor. It looked a bit like the home of a college student.
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 19
“I’m sorry to have made you travel such a distance
at short notice, but I’ve been staying in this gorgeous
city for the past few months. A friend was looking to
sublet his apartment, and since I’ve always wanted to
learn to tango, I thought this was the perfect opportunity.
Let me get changed, and then I’ll make us some
Julian disappeared down a long, narrow hallway. I
sank into a chair that was covered with a cotton throw
with the words “Be Extraordinary” embroidered in
its center. I could hear the tango music drifting up
the stairs and feel it humming under the floorboards.
As I waited for Julian, my mind began to race.
What was I doing? What did I know of this man? I
felt a powerful sense of unease move through me.
Somehow I knew that as soon as Julian walked back
into the room, my life would never be the same. I
sensed that what lay ahead of me was going to be difficult
and exhausting. I don’t have to do this, I thought.
I looked over my shoulder to the doorway, wondering
how long it would take me to find another cab. Just
then Julian walked back into the room.
He was now wearing a long crimson robe. The
hood draped his head.
“Tea or coffee?” he asked as he moved into a small
kitchen at the far end of the living room.
“Coffee, please,” I said.
20 Robin Sharma
I felt awkward sitting in the living room alone; I
got up and followed Julian into the kitchen. As Julian
prepared the coffeemaker, I looked out of the window,
down to the narrow cobblestoned street. The dance
class must have broken up because couples were
pouring out onto the sidewalk below. The syncopated
music had been replaced with the sound of talking
F inally I turned to Julian. “What. . .” I hesitated,
trying not to be too indelicate. I started again, “What
do you need from me? Why did you want to see me?”
“Jonathan,” said Julian, as he leaned against the
counter. “Do you know my story?”
I wasn’t sure what Julian was getting at. I told him
that I knew he had been a litigation lawyer who had
made a fortune and had lived a lavish lifestyle. I told
him that I heard he’d had a change of heart and left
his practice. I wasn’t clear about the details.
“It’s true,” said Julian. “At one point, I was more
successful than I had ever dreamed I could be—as far
as fame and money go. But I was destroying my life.
When I wasn’t consumed by work, I was smoking
cigars and drinking expensive cognac, having a wild
time with young models and new friends. It ruined
my marriage, and my lifestyle began to take a toll on
my career. I was in a downward spiral, but I didn’t
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 21
know how to stop. One day, in the middle of arguing
a big case, I crashed to the floor of the courtroom. A
That rang a bell. Mom had probably told me something
about this, but I obviously hadn’t been paying too
Julian shook the hood from his head and then
reached up to a shelf above the sink to pull down two
“I spent months recovering my health. During
that time, I made a decision.”
I sighed. This is where that lovely Ferrari got
“I sold my mansion, my car, all my possessions. And
I headed to India, hoping to learn what I could of the
wisdom of the world. You see, building my net worth
had become less interesting to me than discovering my
self-worth. And chasing beautiful women had given
way to pursuing enduring happiness.”
I stifled a sigh. It sounded as if this was the beginning
of a long story. I was impatient to hear what any
of it had to do with me.
“During my travels deep in the Himalayas, I had
the great good fortune of coming upon an exceptional
man. He was a monk, one of the Sages of Sivana.
He took me high into the mountains, to the village
22 Robin Sharma
where the sages lived, studied and worked. The sages
taught me many remarkable lessons that I would love
to share with you.”
Julian paused and looked down toward my feet. I
realized with embarrassment that I had been tapping
my foot like some impatient customer in a shop line.
Julian smiled. “But I sense that now is not the time.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I guess I’m just a little anxious to
get back home.”
“Not to worry,” Julian said gently. “A story should
be told only when a listener is ready to hear it.
“You want to know why I asked you here today?”
The coffee was ready. Julian poured two mugs.
“Milk? Sugar?” I shook my head. Julian handed me a
mug and then headed into the living room. Once we
had both settled in chairs, he continued his story.
“One of the things that the monks taught me was
the power of the talismans.”
“Talismans?” I said.
“Small statues or amulets. There are nine of them.
Each holds a piece of essential wisdom for happiness
and a life beautifully lived. Individually, they are just
symbolic tokens, but together they hold extraordinary
transformative powers. They can, in effect, be
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 23
“You need to save a life?” I asked. It sounded a
little melodramatic. Or a little crazy.
“Yes. There is someone I know who is in desperate
trouble. Others have tried to help, but with no success.
This is our last resort.”
“Does this have something to do with my mother?”
I asked. She had been very upset on the phone.
“It does,” said Julian. “But I am not at liberty to
“Listen, if my mother is sick or something, I have
a right to know.” I felt my chest get tight, my breathing
“Your mother is in no danger,” said Julian. “That’s
all I can say.”
I was about to press him, to ask more questions,
but Julian had drawn his lips together, put his coffee
cup down on the table in front of me. It looked as if
he was ready to end the conversation. I sighed and
looked down at the floor for a minute.
“Okay,” I said, “but where do I fit in? What do you
need me for?”
Julian had left his chair and moved over to the window.
He looked out toward the street below, but his
eyes seemed to be focused much farther in the distance.
“When I left the village,” Julian said, “the monks
gave me the talismans in a leather pouch and asked
me to be their new keeper.
24 Robin Sharma
“But after I left the Himalayas, I traveled for a
while. One night a fire broke out in the small hotel
I was staying in. I was out at the time, but my room
was destroyed. I was carrying the talismans on me, so
the only thing I lost was a pair of sandals. At another
inn, I heard a fellow traveler talk of being mugged on
a side street in Rome. It occurred to me that while
the talismans were being held by the monks in the
village, they had been safe. I was the only visitor who
had reached that remote place in a very long time.
But now that I had these treasures, they were at risk.
At any time, they could be stolen, lost or destroyed.”
Julian went on to explain that he had decided it would
be safer if he sent each talisman to a different trusted
safekeeper who would turn it over when Julian had need
of it. With each object, he had sent a letter with some
descriptions about what he understood the talisman to
mean. Now it was clear that he needed these talismans
back. He said he wanted me to go and get them.
“What?” I sputtered. “I mean, isn’t that what
FedEx is for?”
Julian smiled. “I don’t think you understand the
importance of these talismans. I can’t entrust them
to a courier or to the mail. They are scattered all over
the world, and I need someone I know to pick them
up in person.”
“And you can’t go?” I asked. I knew I was being
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 25
a little rude, but the image of Julian tangoing across
the floor downstairs was still in my mind.
Julian chuckled. “I know that I may not appear to be
terribly busy,” he said, his tone getting more serious
now. “But it is really not possible for me to do this.”
I was silent for a few seconds. How could I put
“Cousin Julian,” I said. “No offense, but you said
you need someone you know to pick these things up.
You don’t really know me. I met you once—when I
“I know you better than you think,” said Julian.
His pleasant smile had vanished. His eyes were dark,
and there was a gravity in his expression that was
“Listen to me, Jonathan,” he said quietly. “I can’t
tell you how I know this, but I do. The only person
who can collect those talismans is you.”
He paused and then added, “I know that my answers
aren’t very satisfying. But trust me, Jonathan, when I
say that this is a matter of life and death.”
We sat for a long while in silence. I was thinking
about the sound of my mother crying on the phone.
The feel of the empty space on Annisha’s side of the
bed. The look in Adam’s eyes when I disappointed
him. It isn’t very often when you are the “only” one—
the only son, the only husband, the only father.
26 Robin Sharma
F inally I broke the silence.
“How long will this take?” I asked.
“I’ve written to all the safekeepers,” Julian said.
“I haven’t heard back from everyone. But I’ve got a
place for you to start—a friend of mine in Istanbul. As
far as time goes, well, getting all the talismans will
take a few weeks. Maybe a month.”
Good lord. That was all my vacation time and then
some. I took a deep breath. Julian looked at me and
cocked his head.
“Jonathan?” he said.
I looked back at Julian. There was such kindness in
his eyes. For a moment, he reminded me of my father,
and I realized how much I missed my dad. I also realized
that I had made a decision. Words caught in my
throat, so I only nodded.
Julian smiled. Then he stood up and ran his hands
along the side of his red robe.
“And now,” said Julian, “since we have concluded
our business, I shall make you some lunch, and then
perhaps we should check out the neighborhood. It’s
called San Telmo. And it’s become one of my favorite
places on the planet.”
I S P E N T A P L E A S A N T , if odd, afternoon with Julian.
He took me to a ballroom a few streets away where
seasoned tango dancers were giving a show. As the
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 27
music thumped through my body like a second heartbeat,
I noticed Julian’s feet tapping, his legs moving
slightly as if he were imagining himself doing the
moves. Then we walked through the winding alleys
until it was time for me to head back for another redeye
flight home. As we stood on the sidewalk outside
Julian’s apartment, music wafting out of the studio
and filling the air around us, Julian turned to me.
“One more thing, Jonathan,” he said. F rom a
pocket in his robe, he pulled a small leather-bound
notebook. “I’d like you to keep a journal while you
“A diary?” I asked. “What for?”
“Not a diary, Jonathan. A journal. The talismans
lend power to those who hold them. But those who
have them give these tokens power as well. It is important
for me to know your thoughts and feelings about
this journey—and about what the talismans mean to
you once you are in their presence.”
My shoulders slumped. I didn’t know what was
worse—taking weeks out of my life to travel around
the world collecting someone else’s stuff, or having to
write about it. Self-reflection has never been my forte.
“I think once you are on your own, once you have
these incredible talismans in your hands, recording
what’s in your heart won’t be as onerous as it sounds,”
28 Robin Sharma
I was about to say, sure, whatever, but I stopped
myself. What did it matter? If I was going to do
this crazy thing, I might as well do it the way Julian
Just then the cab pulled up in front of us. As I
climbed in, my resolve was nicked by small points of
fear. It had been a very long time since I had started
something new, begun any sort of adventure. I shut
the door and looked back at Julian as the taxi began
to edge away from the sidewalk. Julian raised his
hand to wave, and then called out to me.
“Jonathan,” he said, “be joyful. It’s not every day
that you get to save a life!”
I T T O O K A L L MY N E R V E to get in my car on Monday
morning and head into the office. I had three weeks
of vacation coming, and I would have to take them as
soon as possible. But if the journey took longer than
that, I could be in real trouble. All I could ask for was
unpaid time off, and if the answer was no, I guess I
was out of a job.
But honestly, I said to myself, as I hauled my reluctant
carcass out of the car and forced myself through
the front doors of the office, what did one foolish choice
matter? After all, in the past, I had always made what
I thought were great decisions at the time. And where
had that got me? My job had become a constant source
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 29
of stress and frustration. My wonderful wife was leaving
me. Whatever savings I had built up through all my
hard work were going to be decimated by divorce. And
even the joy I felt with Adam was being eaten away
by the guilt I had, seeing him only on the weekends—
and being such a lousy dad even then. Could one crazy
move like this trip really cause me any more pain than
all my sensible decisions had brought me?
I spent an hour swiveling in my desk chair, wallowing
in disappointment and pessimism. By the time I
walked into my boss’s office, I had accepted my whole
predicament with fatalistic resignation. I had, in fact,
almost forgotten how difficult this discussion was
going to be.
I was quickly reminded, however, once the first
few sentences had left my mouth.
I had settled into one of the strategically low office
chairs that faced David’s mammoth desk. He had
hardly looked up from his computer as I walked in. But
as I explained that I needed to take my vacation, and
perhaps even more time to deal with a family emergency
overseas, he raised his head. His expression
could only be described as “stunned.” As I launched
into an explanation about my accumulated vacation
days, he held up his hand.
“Let me get this straight,” David said. “You want
twenty-one days off in a row, without notice?”
30 Robin Sharma
I couldn’t help myself. “Well, technically, Saturday
and Sunday are called ‘the weekend,’ so no, not
twenty-one straight days.”
“Jonathan, you know damn well that no one is
allowed to take more than two weeks’ vacation in a
row,” he shot back.
The conversation only got worse when I said that I
didn’t know exactly when I would return.
“Of all the people in this organization,” David said,
“you’re the last person I would have thought would pull
a stunt like this.”
“I know,” I said. He was right.
“You know, Jonathan, you’re considered a rising
star around here. And before today, if you asked me
to name one person who was going to come out of
this sale or merger or whatever it is looking like the
golden boy, I would have said it was you. But you take
off like this, at this time. . .”
He turned to look at the window. He was twirling
a pen between his fingers, a frown stiffening his face.
I didn’t need to hear this.
“Look,” I said. “I talked to Nawang over the weekend.
She has agreed to manage my projects during
my absence. She knows what she’s doing. And she
can always try me on my phone in an emergency. So—
can I take my vacation, or do I have to resign?”
“Take the vacation,” David said tersely. “But I’ll
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 31
tell you one thing. If we can do without you for a
month, we can probably do without you forever.”
I got up from the chair and headed for the door.
Before I crossed the threshold, I stopped and turned.
“David, would you have said the same thing if I’d
made this request because something was going on
with my wife or son?”
David continued to stare out the window. His
expression was unreadable.
The walk back to my office was a long one. It was
chilling to think that David might not care about helping
me if my child was ill or in need. But why did
I expect anything different? This place did things to
people. I had seen that with Juan.
Juan. There wasn’t a day I didn’t think about my
old boss, my old friend. As the months passed, I had
found it increasingly difficult not to be distracted by
his absence. I often found myself waking up in the
night, unable to fall back to sleep, going over and
over events in my mind, reliving my part in the whole
disaster. But no matter how often I replayed it, I
couldn’t put it behind me. Getting away from it all
was probably the best thing I could do.
T H E N E X T F E W D A Y S were a maelstrom. I scrambled
to resolve things at work. I let loose a tsunami of
messages and phone calls. I blew around town, doing
32 Robin Sharma
banking, picking up dry cleaning, attempting driveby
visits with my son. Even packing was chaotic—how
did I know what to take if I didn’t even know all the
places I would be heading to?
And then I was sitting on the red-eye flight. To
Turkey. On my way to meet a friend of Julian’s. My
phone was turned off; there was no paperwork in my
overhead luggage. I had many quiet hours by myself
with nothing I had to do, nothing I could do. I was
hoping to rest, but my mind was still racing. I took
out a piece of paper from my jacket pocket. Julian had
sent me a brief note with the airline tickets.
“Thank you,” it said, “for taking time away from
your family and your work to take this voyage. I know
you had a dozen reasons not to go, but one of the best
gifts we can give ourselves is to get rid of our excuses.
Rudyard Kipling once wrote, ‘We have forty million
reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.’ And the
dangerous thing about excuses is that if we recite
them enough times, we actually come to believe they
are true. This task I’ve asked you to do involves a lot
of travel, but I hope that you can focus on the opportunities
it provides rather than the inconveniences it
may pose. Life itself is a journey after all, and what
matters most is not what you are getting, but who you
Julian had also sent a small leather pouch on a long
The Secret Letters of The Monk Who Sold His Fer rar i 33
cord. I was supposed to wear it around my neck and
put the talismans in it as I collected them. For now,
it was in my jacket pocket. I fingered the soft leather
Everyone around me on the plane was falling
asleep. There was a gentle hum of the engines; the
subtle rattle of the drinks cart disappearing to the
back. I closed my eyes. I thought about Annisha and
Adam. Somehow I knew, being so far away, I would
miss them all the more. Then I thought about the
other people missing from my life. My dad’s absence
was a dull ache that was lodged in my chest. But it
was pain with a certain gentleness, accompanied as
it was by so many happy memories. Then there was
Juan. Julian’s words came back to me. “It’s not every
day you get to save a life.”
Wasn’t that the truth?