Azim Jamal is one of the finest inspirational speakers in the world, and a best-selling author of several books like The One Minute Sufi, Seven Steps to Lasting Happiness, The Corporate Sufi, The Power of Giving, Life Balance the Sufi Way and the latest Business Balance & Beyond.
• In 2009 Azim won the Nautilus Gold Prize for books that change the world. Previous winners include the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle.
• His books include Business, Balance & Beyond, Life Balance the Sufi Way, Seven Steps to Lasting Happiness, The Corporate Sufi. He has twice been #1 Amazon best-selling author, topping Harry potter in 2005.
• His books have been translated in 10 languages.
• His work has been praised by Ken Blanchard, Seth Godin, Brian Tacey, Robin Sharma, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and Jack Canfield.
Q. From accounting to full time writer and corporate speaker. How did the transition come through?
Basically, I’m an accountant. I was in the habit of doing some volunteering work. It was then when I got to work with the Afghan refugees for some budgetary purposes. I went into a small hut and within 5 minutes, I came back out. The stench was unbearable and the conditions were practically unliveable. I was shivering and shaking at the same time due to what was happening around me. In those 5 minutes, something happened to my soul. I realised that accounting was not enough. I realised that my gift was to inspire people and not accounting. That was how the Sufi in me was ignited which led to the birth of the Corporate Sufi.
Q. What is the hardest thing about writing in your genre?
In my case, I was an accountant and I’m a corporate guy. So personally, writing didn’t come easy to me. I can speak on my feet but when it comes to writing, it’s not so easy. I think very fast but I take some time to put my thoughts into paper. I’ve improved my writing skills over the past few years but I’m not quite there yet.
Q. How did you come up with the idea of “The One-Minute Sufi”?
I realised that people are so busy in their lives that they don’t have time to read. I observed when they have too much to read, they don’t read. The One-Minute Sufi is a very small book and every chapter of the book can be finished in a minute or so. But every chapter is deep and full of meaning. I don’t remember the exact words, but Winston Churchill once said for a one hour speech I need an hour to prepare; for a half an hour speech I need two hours to prepare; but for a 5-minute speech I need 3 hours to prepare. The idea was to simplify the Sufi teachings as the most profound things in life are simple, right?
Q. The book deals with the aspect of the Corporate. How do you feel about it in today’s context?
The point is this that the corporate guy is very materialistic and thus, loses sight of the other side. The Sufi, on the other hand, can be very spiritual but being poor is not the best thing. So, the message really is that how one can learn from the other. What the corporate guy can learn from the Sufi is that the Sufi says, “You are in the world, but not of the world”, which means that this world is just a transition; no matter how many zeroes you etch before, you’ll die with a zero. There’s more to life than the material things.
Q. Due to the nature of today’s lifestyle, majority of the people are of the view that spirituality and practicality cannot go hand in hand. What is your take on that?
My view is that spirituality and materialism are not divorced; they are married. As parents, you could give them the roots of ethics and the wings of self-esteem. If you are business person, and by the medium of business, you help people and their families, business becomes a prayer and a spiritual act. If you’re a student studying to share his knowledge and wisdom with the world, studying becomes a spiritual act. To me, if spirituality is divorced from your life, something is wrong.
Q. How does it feel when people like Brian Tracy, Dr. Ken Blanchard, Seth Godin, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Robin Sharma and Dr. Deepak Chopra applaud your work?
These are my friends. I speak with them on a regular basis. We are all like-minded people, who and appreciate and reciprocate each other’s work. It feels good because essentially, we are from the same song book. We all bring different angles, but in the essence we all are the same.
Q. How do you balance writing, speaking and other activities?
I struggle, a lot. My core strength is speaking. I speak very naturally. It’s a concept that I talk about – opening your birthday gift. I believe that this is my birthday gift. The more I do it, the more world class I get. But, the more I get into administrative activities like marketing etc., the more it drains my energy because it is not my core strength. But at the end of the day you have to juggle, so I juggle.
Q. How do you deal with your critics, if any?
I do a newsletter. Recently, a close friend of mine called me up and said that I’m going to unsubscribe. The first reaction is obviously feeling hurt. But if I try to please everybody, I’ll end up pleasing nobody. There is a core group to whom your work will appeal. The idea is to appease that specific clientele. Some of them will not like your work, so you can’t take it personally because you can’t please everybody.
Q. Both as a writer and a corporate speaker, what are the questions that you most frequently face?
I meet different kinds of people during my seminars.
When I meet highly successful people like CEOs of different companies, their questions generally revolve around what is the purpose; we’ve gotten around, we’ve made money, but what is the purpose of life etc.
From the mid-level crowd, questions are like how do I grow my business, how do I find happiness and stuff like that.
Q. What is the one thing that you cherish the most and the one thing that you regret the most in your life?
What I cherish the most is that I feel that if I can touch someone with a prayer, if I can help somebody every day, I feel I am the most successful person in the world. Everything else is secondary. I could be number one in anything, but if I can’t do that, it is meaningless.
Hmmm. (A long pause) The one thing that I regret the most is that I missed the first few years of my daughter’s life. I was struggling with my work at that time to establish myself, so I couldn’t be there with her in the beginning years of her life. Although I’ve subsequently recovered, my daughter is my best friend, but still if could do it again, I would not miss out on them because you never get them back.
Q. Any authors to whom you specifically look to for influence while writing?
When I was literally about to give up my career, my book was not getting to the bookstore; all efforts were going down the drain, this book The Greatest Salesman in the world by Og Mandino fell into my lap. This guy was going to commit suicide but ended up selling 50 million copies. So, this one book has had a great impact on my life and work. Second one is Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, I read that book about 35 years ago. I was a compulsive worrier; I used to worry all time. This book not only helped me stop worrying, it also led me to the path where I am today in terms of writing.
Q. Do you think you’ll ever write an autobiography in the future? What would you name it?
The only title that comes to my mind is “I Am Nothing”. Everything that we have is by God’s grace, we are only conduits. So by becoming nothing, you become something. It’s not on the cards, but someday, who knows.
Q. Any real life source of inspiration?
My parents – my dad and my mum. I always tell people that my parents never told me to serve people but all my life, I saw them serve people. It’s not just what you say but what you do that matters. So, for me the inspiration came from my parents to not just teach by words but by example.
Q. What has been your most fulfilling experience regarding your books, and by extension, your career?
If somebody is touched by a message in my book or my speech, if they get hope in their lives and realize that they are unique in their own way despite what people say; if they realize the spark in them, for me if I’m able to do that by God’s grace, then I’m blessed.
Q. What is your message to the spiritual leaders who preach about renouncing the world but have no take on how to deal with it in a spiritual way?
Generally, I feel that the best way to be spiritual is to make it a way of life. Making a difference to the people who are poor, sick, students who can’t get education – for me that is the highest spiritual thing you can do, not just being in a temple, a church, a mosque or a synagogue.
Q. Any particular book which you are working on?
The last book that I wrote was Business, Balance and Beyond. That book took 20 years to complete. It basically encapsulates who I am and the Corporate Sufi message.
We all are in business. Mother Teresa was in the business of helping people, Mandela’s business was to lead his country to independence, and a housewife’s business is to make sure that house runs efficiently within the budget. So, the question is whether or not you are effective, efficient and capable.
Next comes balance – there’s internal richness and there’s external richness. Both are required for a complete life.
Then comes beyond. You have money, but you’re not happy. Success, apart from being subjective, is very personal. The challenge is to complete the transition from successful to significant, from personal to a person helping others. So, if I write anything else, it will revolve around these three pillars.
Q. Any message to struggling writers?
Many times in life we reach a dead end. I myself was about to give everything up just before Og Mandino’s book fell into my lap. Particularly on one trip to India, I thought this was going to be my last trip, nothing was working out. Nothing was happening, so I decided that if this time nothing happens, I’ll throw in my towel. What I’m trying to say is when you’re close to defeat, know that victory is near. Do not stop turning the stones because you never know.