I did not go to meet Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker famous for infomercials in which he commands people to "unleash the power within," to mock him. I figured that part would just come naturally. And I was not too worried about Robbins converting me to his system of optimism and self-worth. Robbins may have 33 years' experience speaking in front of 4 million people, but I have been successfully unmotivated for 39 years.
What I didn't realize is that Robbins likes to give people assignments impossible tasks like getting a quadriplegic shut-in to skydive on his upcoming NBC reality show, Breakthrough with Tony Robbins. And while he never explicitly said so, it was clear by the end of our five hours together that he was issuing me the toughest assignment he'd ever given: to write a column about Tony Robbins without making fun of him.
Robbins approaches me in a whiz of enthusiastic glee; he has even more energy in person than he does on TV. "If I talked on TV the way that I do in real life, people would think I'm insane," he says. Robbins talks quickly and loudly, often cursing and sometimes crying, and he puts his 6-ft. 7-in. body right next to mine, touching my arms and chest. When telling a story about someone kissing someone else's hand, Robbins kisses my hand. Which motivates me to yank my hand back.
After hearing all about his show and his estate in Fiji, I ask Robbins to guide my life. He takes a page from my notebook, on which he draws his theory, LC=BP: happiness is when your life conditions are the same as your blueprint. After asking me a bunch of questions about what I'm proud of (my career, my involvement in my community ... O.K., just my career), we deduce that the things I value most are significance and variety. "I would say love is what you really want, but your strategy is to be significant to get people to love you," he says. Throughout, Robbins quotes a shocking number of articles I've written, which makes me feel very, very loved.
I am so enthralled by Robbins' figuring me out that I try to trick him into telling me another story about men kissing hands. I ask him how I can accept my imperfections, which seems easier than actually changing my life. To which he says, "Your model is not to accept," then asks, "What is it?"
"To judge," I say.
Robbins fist-bumps me hard, which takes me by surprise after the hand kiss. "That's why I said, 'Do I want to be interviewed by this guy today?'" he says. "'He's sarcastic. He judges.' I have a different job. It's to understand and help."
I point out that this sounds a lot like judging. But he argues no. "We need critics," he says.
I do not believe he thinks critics are as valuable as people who inspire quadriplegic shut-ins to have full lives. Mostly because they are not.
"No," he insists. "The model you have is hierarchical. Which is why you judge." Until that moment, I had assumed I judge people because otherwise there's nothing to do while pretending to listen to them.
At dinner, Robbins' hot wife Sage sits at a different table so Robbins can focus on me. Robbins is a major focuser. The vast majority of times I've had sex, I have not been this focused on. I ask him how I can become friends with the celebrities I meet, as he does; Robbins is tight with Bill Clinton, Anthony Hopkins, Andre Agassi and Quincy Jones. "I'm looking to understand and help them, which makes it easy to be a friend," he says. "But that's not your goal. There are only so many friends you can have." I think this is Tony Robbins' way of telling me he doesn't want to be my friend.
Next I ask Robbins how I can improve. This is one of many words he doesn't like. "Your opportunity is to be less judgmental of yourself. I can own myself. I don't have to lower someone else for me to be higher," he says. He argues that I'll be less critical of others if I stop believing that I lucked into a gig in which I seem funny only because I'm in the world's least funny magazine without the word science in the title.
Before I leave him, Robbins says no doubt touching me somewhere "Whatever you write, I'll still like you. And I'm sure you'll test me." But even though I have about 20 solid Tony Robbins jokes ready to go, it turns out I don't want to make fun of him. Not because I want him to be my friend but because I want to be my own friend. God, I hope this wears off soon.