Correction to This Article
An Oct. 8 Style article about a seminar of motivational speakers incorrectly referred to Vicente Fox as the former prime minister of Mexico. Fox is Mexico's president and has held office since December 2000.

There's No You in Motivation? Here's Why!

Learn to project: Lance Armstrong, larger than life at Power Within's all-day motivational speaking event in New York.
Learn to project: Lance Armstrong, larger than life at Power Within's all-day motivational speaking event in New York. (Photos By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 8, 2006

NEW YORK -- This story will transform your life.

Seriously, if you are standing, have a seat, because we are going to cover a lot of material here, and when we are done, you will no longer be the blinkered and rudderless ninny that you are right now. There's a good chance that when we are done, you will think back to the person who is reading these words and you will say, "I was such a loser back then!"

Bold claim? Not if you spent Friday sitting through "The Power Within," a day-long lecture-fest of motivation and advice from a slate of speakers, including Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong and stars from the executive suites of corporate America. About 2,000 people came to a cavernous room in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for this booster shot of inspiration, each shelling out between $200 (for a cheap seat) and $1,200 (for the front row and a photo with the former president).

Where did all that money go? To Canada, of all places, minus the speakers' fees, of course. Specifically, it went to a company called The Power Within, which is based in Toronto and was founded by Salim Khoja, a Kenyan immigrant with a rather colorful back story. In 1992 Khoja was convicted of stock fraud and sentenced to three months in prison -- he served about 10 days -- and was later barred for life from brokerage business ("I was stupid and messed up," he told a Canadian newspaper). He entered the speaking biz after watching a TV infomercial starring self-empowerment giant Anthony Robbins, and he then began packaging Up With You!-themed productions. The roster of talent on the company Web site is varied enough to include Suzanne Somers and Vicente Fox, the former prime minister of Mexico. The company does not release information about what it pays these people, said Mich Ahern, a Power Within publicist.

Despite the vaguely spiritual sound of the name, there is nothing religious about the Power Within, but at moments the Friday event had the feel of a revival meeting for MBAs. Preaching the gospel of success has a long and hallowed tradition in this country, as does the idea that riches await anyone willing to listen and learn from the wise and the prosperous.

"It's attitude, not aptitude," howled Peter Guber, the third speaker of the day, and a man best known for producing such Hollywood hits as "Rain Man" and "Gorillas in the Mist." Guber was introduced with a montage of film career highlights, plus snapshots of him with people like Fidel Castro and Jude Law. Omitted was any mention of Guber's departure from Sony in 1994 amid a bounty of box office disasters and murmurs of negative cash flow.

Guber has a Boston accent and a slightly manic speaking style. His argument: We are all the authors of our own scripts, and we have the power to compose a screenplay in which we are the hero, not the goat.

"You don't think you're a storyteller?" he boomed. "Then what the hell is that little voice always jabbering away in your head? You can't shut off that voice. It's there when you're sleeping, when you're eating."

Most people write for themselves a lousy voiceover, repeating mantras like "I don't want to get sick, I don't want to get fired," and the result is that you get sick and you get fired. It's all in the script! He caromed through analogies, cited scientific studies of monkeys, dragged in some alarming population statistics and shouted a series of semi-coherent homilies.

"You must be dyslexic! You must believe that 'no' means 'on'!"

"Change is no longer linear."

And arguably the finest line of the day: "Land is a mystery to a fish until it's too late -- don't become one!"

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