The Secret To A Meaningful Life

The great motivator Shiv Khera, author of the bestseller You Can Win, talks about his new book, You Can Achieve More, and how to lead a fulfilling life

10/12/2018 12:01:27 AM
written By : Nithya Subramanian Print

‘A person with a positive attitude cannot be stopped. A person with a negative attitude cannot be helped.’ These thoughtful words are an apt start to a book that will enable you to achieve more. You Can Achieve More by Shiv Khera is the motivational speaker’s fifth book, which aims to help people live fulfilling lives.

Unlike his bestselling book, You Can Win, which has sold over four million copies in over 20 different languages and talks about goal setting, preparation and time management, his uplifting new opus focuses on reaching the ultimate goal of leading meaningful lives. “The secret to a meaningful life is in your hands. Through inspiring ideas and basic values, this book will help empower you to achieve more and become unstoppable,” said the author.

This book focuses on three pillars of life, which need to be strengthened – health, wealth and good relationships. Written in a simple, lucid style, it is filled with interesting examples that clarify and illustrate the ideas broached by the author. For instance, in the chapter ‘’Valuations Change, Values Don’t”, Khera asks people to be open to change but stay firm on values. He quotes the example of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s who once cancelled the franchise when he found a dead fly on the floor. Khera explains this action by saying that there should be no compromise on quality and values. “Ray earned credibility and was trusted, because he stood firm on values. Unfortunately, today too many people lack what Ray Kroc had. Values. Values are more important than valuables.”

Published by Bloomsbury, You Can Achieve More is divided into 23 chapters with the last one titled ‘Leave A Legacy’, which Khera said is a message to his children and the future generation. Each chapter ends with an “Action Plan” where the reader can write down some key takeaways from it through introspection and reflection. The last chapter asks the reader to 1) Identify three things you would like to be remembered for, 2) Write down three actions you commit to take to leave a legacy.

“My books are written at sixth grade level. And the whole idea is that in communication, the goal is to express not impress,” he said quite modestly.

Modestly, is perhaps, how Khera started off too. He hails from a business family that owned coal mines, whose fortunes suffered when the Government nationalised the mines. His father died when he had just finished college and left behind financial liabilities. The young man tried his hand in three businesses and all failed. On November 13, 1975, he left India and started life with a bucket his hand and washing cars door-to-door. But life in Canada was not smooth going.  He got into selling vacuum cleaners in the evening and totally by accident moved into selling life insurance. “When I was almost going to be fired by my manager, I attended a programme by Dr Norman Vincent Peale, which was one of the turning points of my life. I had little realisation that many times in life, we become our own problem. Till then, I kept failing all my life and kept blaming the whole world for it, not realising that I was my own biggest problem. Nothing changed outside, something changed inside and the direction in my life changed. What changed was my attitude. And because of that, the first sentence of my new book says that a person with a positive attitude cannot be stopped and a person with a negative attitude cannot be helped,” he said.

In an in-depth interview with the world-renowned motivational speaker, who can be compared to the likes of Dale Carnegie, Khera spoke in detail about this book You Can Achieve More while also giving us a sneak peak into the next book he has been working on.

India Se: What prompted you to write this book after You Can Win sold over four million copies?

Shiv Khera: This book is my fifth book, but after I finished it, so many things came to my mind, which I wished I could put in it, but couldn’t. So I can say that the manuscript for the next one after You Can Achieve More is almost ready.

I would say that the basic thread remains the same i.e. attitude, leadership, motivation and values remain the same, how can that change? That is universal and eternal. All over the world, the business community is facing one challenge, that of trust and accountability. People are looking at optimising performance and moving up to the next level, who doesn’t want to? But what is holding them up is trust and accountability. And sadly, many studies are saying that the graduates coming out today are not employable. What’s holding them up? 

We have been doing corporate training for the last 30 years. I tell owners or CEOs that what we are doing today is repair work. If we prepare them (our youth), we need not repair them. Where do we prepare them? We prepare them in schools and colleges. And if you ask people what is the missing component today, they will say attitude. People don’t take pride in their performance. Attitudes are messed up, people are willing to take a shortcut anytime to make a quick buck and the biggest thing that has happened is that people have forgotten the basics between making money versus earning money. Making money is criminal, earning money is spiritual. Wages without work amount to stealing. Sadly, this is the real world. Finding good professionals has become so difficult today, so the question is, “Are we willing to do a little more than what we get paid for?”

One big challenge that millennials face today is that they keep saying there is a lot of competition. My answer to that is, never in the history of mankind has it been so easy to succeed in life as it is today. Regardless of profession, we have no competition.

India Se: Why do you say that there is no competition today?

Shiv Khera: I say that for a good reason. I would like to ask you how many people do you know who are willing to do a little more than what they get paid for? Hardly any. Most people don’t even want to do what they get paid for. There is a second category of people who only do as much as they can get by with. There is a very small fraction of people who do more than what they get paid for. If you fall into that third category (who do more than they are paid for), I don’t care what your profession is, tell me where is the competition?

Now if you look at life histories of people or organisations that have succeeded, they have lived by one principle or philosophy, “I will always give more than what I get.” If we live by this philosophy, tell me where is my competition? I can say in the last 30 years, I cannot recall making one outbound call for business. It is always inbound, via word-of-mouth. When you start in life, in any profession or business, you look for business, but after you establish your credibility, business starts looking for you. That is the key.

India Se: You made an interesting point that graduates coming from schools today are not employable, that proper training should start in school. But how do you do that especially since these educational institutions are so result-oriented and have their own agenda? Is there a focus on students?

Shiv Khera: Colleges and schools are teaching students how to make a living, but who is teaching them how to live? And one without the other is incomplete. 

Relationships have become a big issue, not just husband-wife, parents-children, or colleagues at work. 

In this book, You Can Achieve More, I ask people, why they do they go to work? To get money. What happens after that? They want to move up in status, want to get power… eventually they all say, “I want to be happy.” Ultimately each one us looking for the same thing. 

I mentioned in my book that happiness is certainly a mindset, but it does need three things: 1) Good health 2) Wealth, by which I mean financial wealth and 3) Good relationships.

Many times, people say money doesn’t bring you happiness. My question is, does poverty bring you happiness? If I had to be unhappy, I’d rather be unhappy with money rather than without money. Besides, I have learnt one thing that money in good hands always does good, while money in evil hands always does bad. So it is the duty of people who have good moral values to become millionaires and billionaires, because money in good hands always does good. 

Similarly, what is life if a person does not have good relationships anywhere? Such people are emotionally bankrupt. Good relations in life bring strong bonding, strong bonding gives security in life. We don’t build relationships just because somebody can be useful, don’t we need each other? There are different kinds of friendship – one is friendship of convenience, second is friendship of usefulness, third is when we have a common enemy. And the fourth kind of friendship is real friendship, which is built on mutual respect.

You hear the word tolerant, but if we are living together because of tolerance, we are postponing the blast. We live together because we respect each other. The day we do not have mutual respect, we cannot live together. Similarly, between employer and employees, that’s where we can have lasting relationships. This is built on trust.

Religious preachers might say that love is the most important thing in the world, but I would say trust. There are people we love but can’t trust. 

India Se: What are some of the other key takeaways from this book?

Shiv Khera: In this book, I have touched upon the dos and don’ts in life. 

We have been hearing that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but we don’t say an ice-cream a day keeps the doctor away. There are some dos and some don’ts. Now an apple a day, it’s easy to do, we could do it, we should do it, but we don’t do it or we won’t do it. ‘Don’t’ means that I have a bad attitude and ‘won’t’ means I am stubborn. If I don’t have an apple a day, can I have 30 apples a day? Does it amount to the same thing? The answer is no. There is a cumulative effect, there is a compounding effect. See the 15 years of abuse of my body, can I repair it in 15 days? No. We have to understand that every little thing counts. 

Sadly, we forget to make the difference between little and important, petty and trivial. We need to distinguish between them.  That’s why I have said in You Can Achieve More, that to change reality, you have to change mentality. 

India Se: In today’s digital era, attention spans are very short. Where do you see people going when there is so much influence of the social media?

Shiv Khera: I disagree with the statement that attention span is very small. The content is weak, attention span is not. The same generation, the millennials, go to the movies and they do not move. Really the bottom line comes down to this -- if you’ve got the attention, you’ve got it all the way till the end.

India Se: How does social media impact the current generation?

Shiv Khera: I’m not a techie, but social media is a tool, what we were doing offline is being done online. It is a different tool. But it has become very impersonal. Today you have 1000 friends on Facebook, but you don’t have a real friend in life. Loneliness has gone up, stress levels have gone up.

Homes where they value relationships don’t have any phones on the dining tables. Gadgets are tools, these are supplements not replacements. We need to understand their pluses and minuses.

India Se: Tell us about your own writing process?

Shiv Khera: It is still the old-fashioned way, I don’t use computers. I still do it by hand, taking notes on paper. When I get back to office, I dictate my manuscript to my secretary. This is certainly time-consuming.

India Se: How do you crystallise your thoughts when so many ideas are floating around?

Shiv Khera: When so many different ideas come on a same topic, eventually, it is your conviction that comes out. You have contradictory ideas, conforming ideas, complementing ideas, but once you get all that, then what is your idea? That’s where you start thinking, what makes sense and what doesn’t and that’s where your internal beliefs make sense. Now you crystallise the whole thing and that’s yours.

In this world, what’s new? Nothing? But sometimes what you bring through the crystallisation process, is probably unique. And if you look at it, my books are written at sixth grade level. And the whole idea is that in communication, the goal is to express not impress. 

India Se: How did you start as a motivational speaker?

Shiv Khera: Attending a programme by motivational speaker Dr Norman Vincent Peale was one of the turning points of my life. Till then, I kept failing and blaming the whole world for my failure, not realising that I was my own biggest problem. Nothing changed outside, something changed inside and the direction in my life changed. What changed? It was my attitude. 

Hence the first sentence in You Can Achieve More says that a person with a positive attitude cannot be stopped and a person with a negative attitude cannot be helped. 

I also noticed that “problem” is a sign of life. So long as we are alive, we shall have problems. We cannot solve all our problems, but we can handle them. And that is why I have said, “Life is full of Choices and Life Is full of Compromises.” Seems like a contradiction, but it isn’t. If I light up a cigarette, I have chosen to invite cancer, if I eat too much, I have chosen to be obese. Life is full of choices.  The important thing is that we are all free to the point of choice, but after we have made our choice, choice controls the chooser. We have no more choice after that. 

I have mentioned in the book how life is full of compromises. Is everything in life under our control? No. I didn’t choose my parents, neither did you. I didn’t decide where I was going to be born, when I was going to be born. If this is the colour of my skin, there is nothing that I can do about it. Sometimes people are born deformed. Bad things do happen to good people for no reason, no fault of their own. In life we cannot choose the cards that are dealt to us, but we can choose how we play the game.

If you look at any success story, there is a story of setback and failure. I have used the example of the greatest legend in martial art - Bruce Lee. Are you aware that one of his legs was shorter than the other by one inch? He was also near-sighted. But Bruce Lee practised 5000 punches per day for decades. He said that he was not a afraid of a person who known 1000 ways to kick, but was afraid of that person who knew only one way to kick but had practised it 10,000 times.

Similarly look at Steve Jobs. He was put up for adoption the day he was born. Achievers are people who have done it in spite of problems, not in absence of. And that is the key. These people did not do anything for competition or survival. They did it for domination.

India Se: Coming back to your Journey?

Shiv Khera: After I attended a programme by Dr Norman Vincent Peale, my life changed. And the year that I was getting fired, I did over a million dollars in business. The next year three million, then five million. I moved to the US, got into three businesses, bought a company in California in 1984 with no clients and later sold it when it had 500 clients. 

Dr Peale showed me direction and I felt it is time for me to put it back to the system. That’s when I started volunteering my time to the maximum security prisons in the US. I started teaching atittude, self- esteem programmes, so life changed. That’s the time, I started taking the programmes to the corporate world and my first client was Lufthansa. And then we started rolling.

People look at you and say you must be lucky – right place at the right time. I clarified this statement that one  must be at the right place at the right time in my book You Can Achieve More, saying it is an incomplete statement. You need to be the right person at the right place at the right time.

There’s one more thing that I mention in this book. Invariably you hear people say, “I want to be extraordinarily successful, I want to have extraordinary income, I want to have an extraordinary life, but they never end up asking themselves, “Are you an extraordinary person?” A person has to be something before he or she can get anything.

India Se: Tell us a little about the tagline of the book “Live By Design, Not By Default”?

Shiv Khera: If we live a happy meaningful life, we are living by design, but if we live with guilt, remorse, resentment, we are living by default. There is no human being who does not have guilt, remorse or regret once in a while, but if this is an ongoing thing till death, this is totally by default. And that’s really something we don’t want to do. That’s how we came up with the subtitle.

In the last chapter, I have a message for my children and the upcoming generation on leaving a legacy. 

India Se: What are your views on the present generation leading fast lives, taking red-eye flights and keeping hectic schedules?

Shiv Khera: In life we make our schedules. What tires people is not hard work; it is mental stress. You start feeling tired when you are mentally stressed. I am 69, I don’t think I’ve come back from a full-day’s job saying I am tired. I am not. It is only the mental stress that pulls you down.

Once in a while we all get into the fast life, stress is the price we pay to be a race horse. You take a jackass to the race course and he is so cool, no stress. But that is a jackass.  Stress is not bad, but we cannot handle chronic stress.

India Se: Do you think the millennials will take to this kind of work? Are they willing to give up their jobs very easily?

Shiv Khera: The sad part is that they think the next one has no stress. But that is not true. They are looking for something – it is like a pie in the sky. It is an illusion. That doesn’t happen. Eventually we must become grounded and the easier and faster we gain reality (the better).

India Se: What keeps you going? Would you consider retiring?

Shiv Khera: You have job satisfaction when you are enjoying it, you hang in there, don’t want to leave. I would have retired a few years ago. When my wife asks me when I’m going to retire, I say ‘this year’ and she says you told me that six years ago. 

But when I get a letter, note, call or e-mail from someone I don’t know telling me how my talk changed their life, that’s what keeps me going.  But I have become extremely selective in my assignments.

India Se: Tell us about your family.

Shiv Khera: I have two daughters and two grandsons – one daughter is in India now and the other is here in Singapore. So I spend time between the US, India and Singapore.

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