Monks (of any religious tradition) are the most fascinating group of men I’ve ever had the privilege of reading about, studying, and speaking with. Ever since Trevor Gordon Hall held a chapel on mysticism my freshman year of college, I’ve been hooked on devouring the writings of great monks and nuns like Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence, St. Theresa of Avila, and many others. I even hope one day to take a retreat at a Jesuit monastery about two hours from my home here in Middletown one day. Members of the monastic community have much to teach those of us on the outside world, and I love learning from them.
This is also true of August Turak, author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks. Through a series of unfortunate (actually, he calls them fortunate) events, Turak, a CEO of the former Raleigh International Group and entrepreneur extraordinaire, found himself at Mepkin Abbey outside of Charleston South Carolina on a retreat. Afterward, Turak would return many times over the course of 17 years as a monastic guest, and while there, would learn a thing or two about how to run business.
From the get-go, it’s very clear that BSTM is far, far more than just some book about succeeding in the business world. Turak isn’t here to write anything like the underpants gnomes of South Park*. This isn’t a !2 steps to getting more profit, or even 12 steps to better community in the workplace (though those things will fall into place by applying this book). What Turak outlines is, effectively, a journey of the self with challenges that bring its followers to qualities that everyone seems to admire, but no one wants to act out. What Turak advocates is a level of selflessness and service for all businesses, be they large corporations or simple small-town start-ups. He details through many different case studies how, by acting selflessly and considering the whole group before one’s self solely for the sake of being selfless actually led him to greater things, including increased revenue, employee and customer satisfactions, and brand notoriety.
Make no mistake, though: this is no manipulation trick. Turak makes it clear that being selfless to increase profit is to misunderstand the point. What Turak is doing is reframing how businesses should structure themselves, that profit isn’t the goal. What Turak points out that the monks do is work to provide service to the community by providing a service or product that the community needs. The product (in this case, eggs) is of quality far exceeding government regulations, and is at an affordable price regardless of how much more money they could be making. The driving motivator behind the work of the monks is passionate love for others, and a desire to meet needs above all else.
I’m usually not one to take up books on business. Corporate capitalism tends to put a sour taste in my mouth, and I find most business books to be stuffy and boring, more interested in finding out how someone made a lot of money and less about people. BSTM turned that on its head and actually challenged me to live a life of greater purpose, and I don’t even like business! The only reason I requested this book was because it was about Trappist Monks, and it turned out to be an excellent, spirituality-oriented text made accessible through the virtue of being about, well, business. If anyone reading this book applies it to their daily life, things will change for the better. It’s roots go back 1500 years to the Rule of St. Benedict, and the principles, though inherently biblical (these are Trappist Monks), they’re more than applicable whether you’re religious or not. Definitely worth checking out!