August Turak is the author of Brother John: A Monk, a Pilgrim, and the Purpose of Life (October 21, 2018; Clovercroft Publishing), recipient of the prestigious Templeton Prize. Turak is an award-winning author, speaker, consultant and contributor for Forbes and the BBC. He is also the founder of the spiritual and educational nonprofit the Self Knowledge Symposium Foundation (SKSF). August retired as a successful entrepreneur and corporate executive. He attributes much of his success to living and working alongside the Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey since 1996. As a frequent monastic guest, he learned firsthand from the monks as they grew an incredibly successful portfolio of businesses. His book, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks, was published in 2013 by Co-lumbia Business School Publishing. When he is not praying and working alongside the Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey, he works with his nonprofit and lives on a seventy-five-acre farm near Raleigh, North Carolina.
What do I do best?
What I do best is be myself. At the ripe age of 19, I decided to dedicate my life to becoming the best human being I could possibly be regardless of whether that would mean becoming a cabbage or a king. What makes my books and articles special is the ring of authenticity my readers tell me they evince, and that is because I have done my level best each and every day to live the best life I could. My lofty aspirations and the transparency they require has not made my life an easy one. But at the age of 66 I can hon-estly say I have no regrets.
What makes me the best version of myself?
If I can be forgiven for mentioning two I would offer sincerity and passion. Many years ago one of my female college students said, “What I love about you is your sincerity.” In my book Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks I said that these monastic secrets will not work unless they are accompanied by sincerity “or at least a sincere desire to become a more sincere human being.” I have spent a lifetime trying to become a more sincere person, and it has paid me a handsome dividend.
As for passion, I firmly believe that anyone can do virtually anything if they are passionate about it. At an early age I became passionately interested in discovering the truth, and my passion for this mission has been responsible for everything else I ever accomplished.
What are my aspirations?
At 20 I met an amazing spiritual teacher. I was his student for five years, and he never asked any of his students for anything in return. Incredibly grateful I asked him several times how I could repay him. Each time his answer was the same: “Pass it on. If I have helped you pass it on to someone else.” My life is now totally committed to passing on all that I have so graciously been given by God and my teachers.
My Biggest Success?
Several years ago, I was checking in at my gym. A man I had never seen before or since was handing out towels. As I took my towel he suddenly blurted, “If you could be anywhere doing anything, where would you be and what would you be doing?” Without thinking I instantly answered, “I would be right here, right now, doing this.” As I walked toward the locker room I noticed there were tears in my eyes. I realized that my answer to this man (or angel!) had come from the very deepest part of me and was utterly true. I am at peace with myself and the universe and that is my greatest success.
My Most Challenging Moment?
In 1988 I was living in Raleigh NC. I volunteered to give some lectures at North Carolina State University to the students about my life as a spiritual seeker. Several students were inspired and asked me to mentor them. I agreed. A week or so later, a friend and colleague from my days at MTV and cable television offered me the job of a lifetime. Only catch was that I had to relocate. I told him I could not relocate because I had given my word to mentor these kids for free. My friend was flabbergasted. He couldn’t understand why I would give up an amazing opportunity just to mentor a couple of kids I’d just met. Yet to me, my word was my bond, and my teachers had taught me to always put spirituality first.
My refusal had lingering repercussions. My reputation suffered as word got around, and I was labeled as something of a “religious nut.” Offers dried up. But in the long run it all paid off. The company that wanted to hire me went bankrupt. I instead started my own company on $2500 and sold it eventually as part of a deal for $150 million. The kids I mentored became a bit of a mini-movement and it was one of these students that in 2004 convinced me to enter the Templeton Foundation’s Power of Purpose Essay Contest. My essay Brother John won the $100,000 grand prize and launched my career as a writer. In retrospect, my life would have been ut-terly different and far poorer if I had taken that offer. Yet worst of all it would’ve meant living with the knowledge that when the chips were down I didn’t have what it took to practice what I teach.
The more successfully we forget our selfish motivations the more successful we become.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
My foremost role models are my spiritual teachers Richard Rose, and Fa-ther Francis Kline and Father Christian Carr from the Trappist monastery, Mepkin Abbey, that I frequent as a monastic guest. My immigrant grandfa-ther also named August Turak came to this country at 19, with no English, no money, a 6th grade education and as he told me, “the clothes on my back.” He ended up very successful and one of my heroes. Louis R. Mobley founded the IBM Executive School in 1956 and ran it until 1966. I had the unique opportunity of living, working and studying under him as his protégé in the late 70s. He remains a man I admire very much. I also draw a lot of inspiration from literary figures like Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, Socrates, or Dostoevsky.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
I was a Russian history major in college, and in the last 12 years I have travelled frequently to St. Petersburg, Russia. I have a lot of friends there and remain fascinated by the contradictions that have both plagued and in-spired the Russian soul for hundreds of years.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
I am not very materialistic so this the hardest question for me. I would have to say my favorite objects by far are books. I have been an avid even compulsive reader since I discovered history in the third grade, and I am surrounded by books. I also have a prize possession. A handwritten letter I received in 1979 from J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye.
My Current Passions?
My current passion is exactly the same one I chose when I was 19; trying to be the best person I can be. There is a famous theme that has en-tranced many artists and sculptures. It depicts a man carving himself out of stone. https://tinyurl.com/yb97s3uj My first spiritual teacher used a photo of one of these statues as the cover for one of his books. It cap-tured my imagination in 1973 and constantly carving myself out of this balky and recalcitrant block of flesh that God gifted me with has been my single-minded passion ever since.