Tuesday, June 21, 2005

In Search of Heroes Interview

I was recently interviewed by Ralph Zuranski, founder of In Search of Heroes a unique program for helping students develop their heroic potential while also recognizing business and community leaders. It was also a great honor for me to be included in the program’s Heroes Hall of Fame in the same space as some of my own notable heroes like T. Harv Eker, John Assaraf, and Jay Conrad Levinson!

What follows is the transcript of Mr. Zuranski’s engaging interview with me. You can also listen to the audio version of the interview by clicking on the following link and hitting the ‘play’ button:http://www.insearchofheroes.com/internet-heroes/pages/sharif_khan_hero.html

Interview With Sharif Khan
Interview by Ralph Zuranski

Sharif Khan is a professional speaker, writer, coach, and author of Psychology of the Hero Soul, an inspirational book on awakening the Hero within and developing people’s leadership potential. Based on over ten years research in human development and leadership, Sharif provides inspirational keynotes and leadership development workshops that empower audiences to unleash their inner hero to live their highest life. He has spoken to a wide-range of audiences including executives, entrepreneurs, educators, students, and was recently mentioned in USA Today. His vision is to inspire the world and make a positive difference in people’s lives; to help create a global culture of heroes and responsible citizens dedicated to promoting peace and prosperity in the world. For more information visit www.herosoul.com.

What is your definition of heroism?

It stems from the original word ‘hero’ which comes from the Greek roots servos and heros, which means to serve and protect. So self-sacrifice for the higher good and betterment of humanity is at the heart of being a hero. And what that implies is that the seeds of greatness lie within us all because we all have that innate capacity to serve. Martin Luther King said it best: “Everyone can be great, because anyone can serve. You don’t have to have college degree to serve. You don’t even have to make your subject and verb agree to serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Did you ever create a secret hero in your mind that helped you deal with life’s difficulties?

Very interesting question. I have a Council of Light or imaginary team of heroes if you will. I got the concept from Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich, where he talks about creating a team of heroes in your mind, where you go deep within your mind and choose your greatest heroes to sit on your round table and council you. I actually go to a secret place in my mind in meditation where I have a council of these people. Some include greats like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Sinatra, Jodie foster, Oprah, Einstein, and an eclectic mix that changes from time to time. I actually talk to them in my dreams and imagination and they give me answers encouragement and advice. It may sound strange, but that’s how I’ve developed my own ‘wisdom council’ if you will.

What were or are the qualities and attributes of your secret heroes?

They had a dream, they were determined, and knew exactly what they wanted and they had a larger than life vision. They went out there with courage and did what they wanted to do and didn’t take “no” from anybody and were able to accomplish their dreams; and so I look up to these role models knowing if they can do it, I can do it.

What is your perspective on goodness, ethics and moral behavior?

That’s a very important question. We need to be able to ask ourselves, in business or in life, “Is it going to be a win-win situation for everyone involved? Is it going to harm anyone?” If it’s going to harm other people or negatively influence and impact other people around us then we should not pursue that avenue. It simply comes down to: are we positively impacting other people, are we making a difference, and is it in line with our vision. A lot of people yield to the greed factor and try taking short cuts for immediate gain without consideration of others which leads to lots of problems.

What principles are you willing to sacrifice your life for?

FREEDOM! Freedom is worth sacrificing my life for. Freedom to live our dreams, freedom to imagine, to hope and prosper from doing what we love doing, that is worth giving up our lives for. In North America, we do have economic freedom and political freedom, but that is not normal. We are blessed and privileged because more than half the world does not have the same opportunities.

When was the lowest point in your life and how did you change your life path to one of victory over all obstacles?

As a very young child I grew up with a lot of racial hatred and prejudice because of the color of my skin and being a South Asian. I grew up with a lot of low self-esteem and low self-worth, and carried it all through my young adulthood. There was a tragic time in my life when my father passed away when I was 18 while I was going to high school in the States at that time. That was a devastating experience for me because my father was my best friend and a beacon of light and hope for me, and he encouraged me to excel and be the best I can be. When my father passed away in a car accident, I fell in to a spiral of deep depression. Because of my low self-esteem and low sense of self-worth, I didn’t see any way out and I was immersed in darkness and didn’t know where to turn. At the time, my father didn’t have any life or car insurance. I had to pay my way for my last year of high school (a private boarding school). I ended up corking and uncorking blood specimen test tubes, working in a lab, and separating urine and stool samples all day long. Not the most exciting summer job for a student. Within a very short period of time, I became an alcoholic at 18 and I was passed out drunk on the streets of Queens, NY and on the subways and didn’t have a hope in the world.

That was the lowest point in my life and also a turning point in my life, because that was a point I decided. I knew where I was heading and I didn’t want to end up like another statistic. I wanted to get myself out of that situation. For me personally, it was turning to God. Letting go and letting God and saying, “Let Your will be done. I need Your help and guidance.” And God intervened in my life. That was an incredible turning point in my life and turning to faith and the Higher Power in me was what gave me strength and got me out of that situation.

Do you have a dream or vision that sets the course of your life?

Absolutely. My vision is to inspire the world and make a positive difference in peoples’ lives. To help create a global culture of heroes and responsible citizens dedicated to promoting peace and prosperity in the world. That is a vision that’s larger than life. It gets me going and energizes me whether I’m having a good day or bad day; it gets me up every morning and allows me to stretch and grow.Do you take a positive view of setbacks, misfortunes and mistakes?Absolutely! I think it was Mr. Thomas Watson Sr., founder of IBM, who said, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” So failures and setbacks and mistakes are stepping stones towards greater and greater success. We need to ask ourselves: “What can we learn from this experience? How can we grow from this experience?” Because nothing really is a failure; everything is a learning experience.

Are you an optimist?

I am a perpetual optimist. I am always looking at the glass half full versus half empty. (most of the time)

Does it take courage to pursue new ideas?

Yes it does. It takes a lot of courage because typically, in the new development stage of an idea, people tend to bring us down and want to put us at their own level. So having the courage to succeed and not taking “no” for an answer and going beyond is important. Including myself. Writing has been a passion of mine since I was probably 8 years old, and people around me, especially in South Asian culture, and even sometimes within my family, were admonishing me not to be a ‘writer’ because I’d be a struggling artist all my life and telling me “why don’t you be a doctor, or lawyer, or accountant, or get an MBA, so you can make money.” It took me courage to say “no” this is what I’m passionate about, this is what I love doing, and this is what I’m going to do and I stuck to it. I disciplined myself to write two hours every day and ten hours on the weekends (not including research) and in a period of about two years, I had a finished book, Psychology of the Hero Soul, which is an inspirational book and awakening the hero within and developing people’s leadership potential.

Were you willing to experience discomfort in the pursuit of your dream?

Yes. That is something that is necessary because it takes a lot of hard work and effort. Nothing really comes easy. Anything worthy of great achievement requires hard work, effort, persistence, and perseverance. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we expect, but if we let those things bring us down then we’re not able to move forward. For example, in the book publishing world, only 5 % are making it, and 95% aren’t. The reason is the 95% give up within the first year or two, and so it requires continual effort and continual perseverance.

How important is it to believe that your dreams will eventually become reality?

It is very important! I believe you have to taste and feel and smell your dream as if it is a reality right now. I’m a big believer in seeing the reality and the vision and dream right up front, right now, the way it is. If you can’t visualize and see the tears of triumph running down your face when you win that award or get that promotion, nothing will happen. It doesn’t matter how many goals you set, or how many affirmations you say till you’re blue in the face, if you don’t have that feeling or that knowing that this is going to be a reality, then nothing is going to happen.

Everybody has doubts and fears. In fact a lot of people are paralyzed by those doubts and fears. How are you able to overcome your doubts and fears?

One of the ways I’m able to overcome my doubts and fears is using a technique which I learned from Tony Robbins, where I conditioned myself to feel pain whenever doubts and fears entered my mind. I put a rubber band around my wrist and every time I had a little inkling of doubt or fear of the little voice saying, “Sharif you can’t do this,” I just snapped that rubber band and it produced pain. There are two things that motivate human behavior: the desire to gain pleasure or the desire to avoid pain; the desire to look good or avoid looking bad.

Another way of overcoming my doubts and fears is having a vision for myself of the future and where I expect to be. This would actually be a really good exercise that anyone could do: on a single sheet of paper in the present tense, write down where you want to be ten years from now. What type of an income level would you want to be making? How would you be perceived and treated? What type of clothing would you be wearing? What type of lifestyle would you be living? Write it all down and then start being that person right now. Start commanding that presence right now and you will attract the circumstances and the people in your life to be able to accomplish that vision. Those are the two ways that I overcome my doubts and fears.

Who helped give you the willpower to change things in your life for the better?

My father passed on a lot of wisdom and guidance and encouraged me to study the lives of successful people and read successful biographies. My father was a PhD. in Psychology. Ever since I was 8 years old he immersed myself in the classics like James Allen, Wayne Dyer, Shakti Gawain, Dale Carnegie, and all of these personal development greats I started learning at a young age. So he was an inspiration to me.Another person that was a real inspiration to me is a gentleman by the name of Jim Ross, who I dedicated my book to. He is the founder of the Canadian Academy of Method Acting, and he taught me a lot about the psychology of the hero and psychology of the villain. He was a mentor to me, a messenger, a carrier of truth. He is definitely a hero in my life.

How important is it to readily forgive those who upset, offend and oppose you?

It is absolutely critical to be able to forgive people that have offended or harmed us in any way. It’s a very difficult thing to do, but if we really think about it, harvesting the anger and hatred inside against the other person is not doing anything for that person. It’s only harming us and creating toxins and bad energies in our bodies which is going to ruin our health. I think there was some study where they said that even ten minutes of feeling angry had enough toxins in the blood to kill a guinea pig. Can you imagine half an hour or an hour or many years of feeling anger and hatred to somebody and what kind of damage that can do to our health and mental well being? So it’s very important to forgive others and be able to let go and move on.

Do you experience service to others as a source of joy?

Yes I do. I sincerely believe the hero’s journey is about following one’s bliss and doing what one loves doing in service to others. That is what really brings the most joy, and that is what really brings the most success as well, because the only way to get what we want is by helping enough people get what they want first. I’m a big believer in serving. If you want to increase your wealth and influence by ten times, just ask yourself the question, “How can I help ten times as many people as I am helping right now?”

What place does the power of prayer have in your life?

The power of prayer has really changed my life a 180 degrees. I believe at the time when I was at a low point in Queens, NY and had nowhere to turn to, if I had not prayed to God and asked for guidance and intervention, I would definitely not be here today; I would have probably been in an alleyway somewhere with a knife stuck in my back or ended up being a criminal. So prayer has been an important and daily part of my life.

Do you maintain your sense of humor in the face of serious problems?

I try to. Sometimes it’s very difficult when something overwhelming occurs and it’s difficult to laugh in the face of fear and obstacles, but I think it’s important for heroes and leaders to not take themselves seriously; to take their work seriously, but not take themselves seriously. Being able to admit faults and weaknesses is what endears other people to leaders. They can say “he’s one of us. That this person is one of us and we can relate to this person.”

Who are the HEROES in your life?

My father was a hero. Jim Ross, who I dedicated my book, The Hero Soul, has been a hero to me because he was a teacher and a mentor, a messenger, a carrier of truth. I think the people out there making a difference in peoples’ lives, teachers, coaches, entrepreneurs; I think all those people who are serving people or helping solve problems and showing people how to overcome their own problems are the real heroes; and it’s unfortunate that the media doesn’t pay enough attention, which is why I really like your “In Search of Heroes Program” because it’s really unique.

Why are HEROES so important in the lives of young people?

Heroes are so important in the lives of young people because there are not a lot of role models out there. And some of the role models give a very negative impression. So when we see someone in movies or even in school, when we see gang leaders who are profiting from criminal activity and wearing nice clothes and driving a Mercedes, these people have a negative influence on younger people. I think the younger people really need to see heroes and leaders who are not only making a difference in peoples’ lives but also prospering themselves so they can look to those people as examples and follow in their pursuit. Our children and young ones are going to be the future leaders of tomorrow. So it’s very important to have the right heroes and the right leaders impacting their lives.

Who do you think are the HEROES today that are not getting the recognition they deserve?

As I mentioned before, many of the teachers, many of the coaches, many people who are training and teaching young entrepreneurs, these people are not getting the recognition they deserve because we are all focused on the celebrities or the actors or the sports heroes that we tend to forget our friends and families and the people around us who are making a small difference in people’s lives on a daily basis.

How do people become heroes?

That’s a very good question. To start, self knowledge is really important. On the Greek temple of Apollo there is an inscription that reads, “Know thyself, and you will know the gods and the universe!” To know your strengths and weaknesses, your deepest desires and your deepest fears, really being able to understand where you begin and where you end and beyond. Self knowledge is so important because through self knowledge we learn what it is that we really want to do, what our calling in life is, what our blessings are. By pursuing those blessings, by following our bliss, and doing what we love doing in service to others, we automatically become heroes.

Do you think heroes are located everywhere?

Absolutely! Heroes are all around us. They are among our friends and family and relatives. They’re in different parts of the world in different cities. People are doing small random acts of kindness every single day. And the media doesn’t go out and video tape them. So when we pick up the newspaper we see all the tragedies and the harm and wars that are going on around the world. But we don’t recognize that heroes are all around us and we don’t have to look far.

With all your world travels would you say that people in different cultures look at heroes differently?I think so, because people have different connotations of what a ‘hero’ means. For example, in Australia they talk about cutting down the ‘Tall Poppy,’ and so any one who gets to be too ‘heroic’ or too big on themselves, they like to cut down, because they feel that person is trying to be too self-indulging. People have very different attitudes as to what heroism is and what a hero actually means and who they look up to as heroes. It’s really interesting to see the different world views. I don’t think they share necessarily the common elements because of the different connotations they have about heroes.

With the world the way it is, especially the war against terrorism, you’ve lived in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, do people in Middle Eastern countries look at heroes differently like the bombers or Al Qaeda?

That’s a very difficult question because unfortunately there are some people out there that …I’m not talking about the Middle Eastern culture, the Iraqi culture, or the Pakistani culture in general…but there are some people who have a twisted mentality and see the terrorist, or the Osama Bin Laden’s as heroes. For example, when Hitler was running Germany, so many German youths had been through propaganda at a very early age, having been set up to view Hitler as a Hero, as a God to be looked up to. And where I find there is a problem is many of these terrorist operations that are occurring in these countries are sending out this type of propaganda and setting up schools and infiltrating young minds with a lot of garbage and a lot of nonsense about who are heroes and who are not heroes and what are the requirements of heroes. That’s something that myself, being a South Asian, and having lived in some of those countries, I’m trying to change with my work with The Hero Soul, to let people know that there are options, there are ways of looking at what a true hero really is, where the origin comes from is the Greek root to ‘serve and protect’ and I’m hoping to change perceptions.

How does it feel to be recognized as a ‘hero’?

It’s a really rewarding feeling. Coming from a stage in my life, having grown up in Scarborough here in Ontario, Canada, where I was suffering so much low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness that I never took any leadership roles at all in school and in my young adulthood; to now come full-circle and be respected as a ‘leader’ as a ‘hero’ training entrepreneurs, executives, and educators and students alike on the qualities of leadership and being a hero…it really is a very rewarding feeling to be held in respect and esteem. Words can’t describe it.

Why do you think you were selected for this unique honor?

I believe that early in life, because of the unique situations that happened in my life, and the tragedies which I suffered, I connected at a deeper level, at a spiritual level, and found out at a very early age what my calling in life is. And my calling, my purpose, is to enrich the lives of as many people as I possibly can, using my God-given talents, writing being the main one. So I think I’ve been privileged because I saw my calling at an early age, and I took action and decided to pursue my calling regardless of what others were saying around me.

How will being recognized as a HERO change your life?

It already has changed my life. I know if I were to pass away right now, that I have already done something that will leave a lasting legacy and a gift to humanity with the work that I’ve already done. And it gives me a great sense of peace. And what really gets me going, the drive, is thinking what will be written on my epitaph when I die, how do I want to be remembered. That’s what allows me to want to serve as best I can using my God-given abilities to help as many people as I can within the shortest time frame that’s left because life is really fragile. Life is so short. I heard about Cory Rudl (world-renowned internet marketing expert) who recently passed away in a car accident, I think he was racing with a buddy, he was such an inspiration teaching people about the internet. Life is really fragile and short and we need to make the most of it right now.

Do you have any good solutions to the problems facing society, especially racism, child and spousal abuse and violence among young people?

Our own image is reflected in every single human individual around us. What we do to others we are actually doing to ourselves. And if we mistreat somebody else, or if we call somebody else names or harm somebody, we are actually harming ourselves, because what goes around comes around and the law of motion says, ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ If you want to be respected and treated with love and compassion, then you need to treat other people with love and compassion and respect – and you’ll get that back ten times over.

If you had three wishes for your life and the world, that would instantly come true, what would they be?

My first wish would be to have people in the world live in harmony and for people to find ways to be prosperous doing what it is that they really love doing. I’d love to see a world where we can actually accommodate that and help people to do what they love doing and prosper. I see so many people and see so may youth out there who have all these aspirations and dreams, but they’re not finding an outlet to be able to live those dreams. And they are really perishing inside. It’s so sad to see so many people who don’t find a direction or calling in life and are thinking of committing suicide. That is one wish: to see everyone living a prosperous life doing what they love doing.

My second wish, if there was a magic wand and it was a utopia, to end the wars and famine and disease, and have a world where there is just peace and love and respect for each other.

And finally, my third wish would be to have a world with people dedicated to EXCELLENCE. Because God is Excellence! Being the best of the best, holding ourselves to high standards and to quality. We would really have a paradise on earth if were committed to excellence – towards truth, and nobility, and something grand.

What do you think about the “In Search Of Heroes” Program and its impact on youth, parents and business people?

I think it’s the greatest thing Ralph! I’m so glad you were able to find me on the web somehow. And when I took a look at your “In search of Heroes Program” and what it’s doing for the youth, as well as for promoting local heroes, and helping their businesses, which will allow them to further give back to their communities and further be mentors to the youth and students, who in turn can learn more about writing and more about becoming heroes; it’s a wonderful positive cycle that you’ve created and I really admire what you’re doing and respect you. You are a hero in your own right.

What are the things parents can do that will help their children realize they too can be HEROES and make a positive impact on the lives of others?

The #1 thing that parents can do is to be role models for their children by living their own dreams and doing what it is that they love doing; encouraging their children when they have ideas, goals, and aspirations, and instead of putting them down and saying it’s not realistic or that your vision is ‘too big,’ to actually encourage them, and give them hope and inspiration and give them an avenue to go out there and do what they love doing.

Sharif Khan’s website for his work in developing heroes is at www.herosoul.com/. He also has a success blog at www.sharifkhan.blogspot.com/. His book, The Hero Soul, is available at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Indigo bookstores. To reach Sharif directly, call (416) 417-1259 or email: sharif@herosoul.com.