Book Review – The 5 AM Club

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The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life by Robin Sharma

“On the day [I finished this titan’s masterpiece] more doves and butterflies took flight over the historic center of [my hometown] than ever before. There was even a double rainbow that extended all the way from [Burger King] to the [Public Library]. You would have been impressed, if you had been there to see it” (Refer to Epilogue for comparison text).

Okay, I’ll leave the narrating to Sharma, but it’s finally time to tell you what I think about Sharma’s 5 AM Club and the book he wrote to describe it.

I was clearly not a fan of the narrative style in this piece. I didn’t see the value in being told when, where, how and what to believe on every step of this journey. I’d rather have been presented with more facts and science (not “magic”) to help me improve the quality of my life. I felt like I was being indoctrinated into a cult of personality at times.

To be fair, the actual ideas, charts and formulas for success that comprise the 5 AM Club are legitimately valid approaches that could help the reader maximize the return on their investment of time for improving the quality of their life. If the storytelling were removed and we were presented quick tips or FAQs in a 15 minute read or video, we may have had a winner. I know I’d be willing to watch the TedTalk.

In the end though, there’s nothing really new here in either the philosophy of the 5 AM Club or the narrative. The storytelling led me down a path of resistance rather than intrigue. Overall, I was disappointed. I felt that a second reading of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People would better accomplish the same goals presented here, but in a clearer more approachable way.

With enough money, doesn’t everything look and feel like magic? Was it the 5AM Club that made life a dream for the entrepreneur and artist or was it the happenstance meeting with someone who had unlimited resources that opened the door to create a rare but attainable opportunity for these two to thrive?

Maybe I’m just as jaded as the entrepreneur in the beginning of the story. Perhaps, I just need a billionaire to take me under his wing and show me how this “magic” really works. Would seeing the wonders in the world through the lens of the One Percent’s vast estates and wealth have made this journey attainable for me? I don’t know. I don’t know any billionaires to ask.

Anyhoo, as Riley would say, if you’re a billionaire and you think I have it all wrong, I’m willing to open my mind and give you a chance to mentor. Until then, I’d recommend trying something by Stephen Covey or Ryan Holiday for your next read. I think you’ll find a greater return on the investment of your time.

Happiness is a Metaphor

It seems everyone has heard of at least one apocryphal or even modern sage who has some “secret” to share for achieving your best life. They speak confidently that if you listen carefully, and follow their instructions precisely, you will ultimately find happiness.

It’s absurd.

The goal we are told to seek is flawed. We look for joy and forget the truth that the concept is fleeting. We treat our emotions as if they were tangible goods that could be bought in any marketplace. Then, when we can no longer grasp and hold on to this phantom “feeling,” we flounder in despair.

We struggle, and we fight against the world. We do more of the “right” things. We follow more of the same archaic rules. We continue to rely on the illusion of hope, because we’ve invested so much time and energy toward this single idea that we can’t bring ourselves to admit defeat and change our course. We act as if action and belief are enough to manifest joy and banish pain. We desperately justify and narrate our stories with grand fictions placing ourselves as either heroes or tragic victims. We create myth so that at least in fiction there is a version of happiness that will last the remainder of our lives.

This is the happinesses illusion. We end up blaming our failure to find our unobtainable goal as a defect in ourselves—in our faith, in our character or even in our will. Those “secrets” we were given only led to empty promises, and our unfounded hope binds us to an unpleasant truth.

  • We can do all the right things.
  • We can follow all the rules.
  • We still won’t find lasting happiness or joy.

Somewhere along the way we drew the erroneous conclusion that happiness should be the goal of life. We decided pleasure and joy were the endgame. If we could just achieve this almost sublime state of mind, then we had made it to the “promised land”—the mystical height of the human condition.

This is clearly untrue, but we still blindly support this belief system. Every time we make it our goal and purpose in life to be happy, we set ourselves up for failure. We reinforce this false dynamic with happiness traps.

  • If only I could save up enough money to buy a house, I’d be happy.
  • If only I could finish school…
  • If only I could get this job…

What’s keeping us from being happy with what we have? What’s preventing us from living successful and impactful lives without acquiring something more?

We all understand that happiness feels good. Pleasure is fun and it’s easy to to pursue. Who doesn’t want to have a little more fun in their lives? In contrast, hardships are unpleasant and we will do our best to avoid them. So, we end up choosing the wrong priorities. We stop thinking about how we can can live more impactful and influential lives, and instead we focus on what we can acquire to make our days a little more convenient and less burdensome.

Just because we avoid hardships doesn’t mean we should seek happiness as the end goal. The unfortunate truth is that we’re incapable of being happy 100% of the time. Happiness is a subjective, emotive and ever-adapting response to our environment. Happiness has never been a tangible measurement or a lasting state of mind. We can’t weigh happiness and ensure everyone keeps 5 lbs of joy on them at all times. So, why do we keep acting as if joy were something we can purchase or acquire through hard work?

Emotions are temporary responses to changes in our environment. By definition they cannot be sustained indefinitely. You can’t keep yourself in the throes of jubilation laughing for the rest of your life over the joke you told when you were in the third grade. Happiness is a roller coaster of highs and lows.

  • I can have a rough morning and find true happiness savoring a cup of coffee.
  • I can break my leg and find bliss looking into the eyes of my partner who’s there by my side.
  • I can lose my job and still come home to an enthusiastic, tail-wagging dog who always wants to play and has no concept of his human’s trials.

Happiness is like the rising and setting of the sun. It’s always there if you know both when and where to look for it. Joy is the metaphor we use for reminding ourselves to pause and appreciate the passing of the time.

  • All things come and go.
  • Bad things will eventually end.
  • Good things will ultimately disappear.

We need to make peace with the reality that we’re temporary—just like happiness.

Journeys are neither destinations nor goals

Who said it could not be done? And what great victories has he to his credit which qualify him to judge others?

Napoleon Hill

Today, I propose the start of an experiment in living our best lives. I can’t promise we’ll find lasting happiness, but I know that we can find clarity and purpose.

Each of us has a unique opportunity to own our experience in this world. Rather than be thrown around by chance, we can choose the paths we will walk in this life.

We don’t have control over many things like where we were born, what we look like, or even our intelligence. We do, however, always have personal ownership over how we respond to our circumstances. We could always leave the town we were born in. We can dress our best, even if we’re not supermodels. We will still learn new things, even if we’ll never be geniuses.

  • Do your reactions to your circumstances help or hinder your efforts to build a better life?

No one has the power to control our response to circumstances. We get to decide how we will react to every new experience. In the end, our greatest strength comes from our ability to choose how we respond to the difficulties and limitations in our path.

  • We can’t control the world.
  • We can’t control others.
  • We can’t control nature.

Really, there’s only one thing we can control. We can be mindful of how our perceptions influence our responses. Mindfulness can empower us to make more impactful decisions that will improve our lives even when we lack the ability to control the external conditions which trouble us.

  • The world is both a place of opportunity and oppression depending on who you ask.

Our goal must be to learn how we can overcome the obstacles in our path and find the opportunities hidden from us. If you change nothing in your life today, you only guarantee that nothing in your life will change tomorrow. Is that what any of us want? Why not choose a path of action instead?

  • What does it means to be human?
  • How can we find meaning in this existence?

Create your own path. That’s how you know that this philosophy is more than a trend or a motivational thriller. We’ve been exploring these same ideas across the millennia from every civilization. The same questions on your mind today were being discussed a thousand years ago.

There isn’t an answer written here. There’s only a path presented that you can choose to walk. Here are some final thoughts to help you on your journey.

  1. Question everything.
  2. Trust there’s always a path you have not yet tried.
  3. Don’t give up. Progress only stops when you do. If you lose your way, you can always start again.