In a life coach who has just published a self-help book, THEO PANAYIDES finds an ‘ordinary guy’ who is chatty, candid and enthusiastic about the power of positive thinking

The book is hard to excerpt. So, in a way, is the man. The book is called Ten Lanterns: Light Your Way – Lighten Your Pain and it reads like a fairytale-cum-memoir, with a chatty style and unconventional structure, not much like the instructive self-help book it undoubtedly is. Its author, Evagoras Evagorou, is also hard to pin down – not because he tries to be, but precisely because he doesn’t. He too is chatty, candid to a fault, with an almost childlike enthusiasm. One could quote him extensively, list his various accomplishments, and still not evoke the unusual experience of actually meeting him.

The accomplishments, professionally speaking, aren’t too unusual: 15 years at the Bank of Cyprus – first at the call centre of what was then Direct Banking (now 1Bank), then in HR, then wealth management – followed by a second career as a “positive-thinking-power master coach”, certified by ICF in the US and Solutionsurfers in Switzerland. But he’s also a certified negotiator from a university in Israel, a former lecturer at the Cyprus Police Academy, a former partner at coaching behemoth FranklinCovey, a non-executive director at four different companies – and now the writer of a book, published by Balboa Press in the US, which has sold (he tells me) 1,500 copies in the space of a month. Balboa (part of Hay House Publishing, specialising in self-help and inspirational tomes) is a sort of hybrid, its authors essentially self-publishing but also receiving the kind of push – like being promoted in a newsletter sent to 30,000 bloggers and journalists – associated with traditional publishers, hence the impressive sales figures.

Even all that, however, doesn’t really express his energy, or the way he talks. Here, for instance, is how he describes working at the bank and asking for a transfer: “I had a beautiful conversation with the then-head of HR, and I said to him, ‘I visualise myself, I see myself doing training’”. My questions enthuse him (“Wow, what a beautiful question!”), his spirit is buoyant in general. He’ll sometimes talk about himself in the third person, as if reciting a fairytale about someone named Evagoras – and, though he begs me more than once not to frame the book as “promoting” him, it’s also true that it tells his life story, albeit in a stylised fashion. His various misfortunes are there, his family are there. His grandfather, above all, is there, Grandpa Takis who owned the Deka Fanaria (Ten Lanterns) restaurant in Nicosia, giving the book its title and spiritual contours.

Evagoras himself is tall and tanned, with slicked-back hair and round eyeglasses with clear frames. He sits in a café in Engomi, reading Real Magic by self-help guru Wayne Dyer while waiting for me to arrive. He was born in 1977, ‘7’ being quite a significant number for him: his alarm goes off at 5.30 every day – but it’s “actually 5.37, because I want the first number I see to be ‘7’. You’ll understand when you read the book”. His morning routine is set, though not inflexible: a small bottle of water and some vitamins, 40 minutes of meditation, then physical exercise – usually the gym for two hours, half an hour on the treadmill and lifting weights for the remainder. “But always with a great deal of caution,” he adds. “After five lung operations, you can’t do too much.”

profile2The five operations are part of his misfortunes, which “today I call blessings,” he affirms virtuously. In fact, “let’s delete the word ‘misfortune’ and replace it with the word ‘blessing’. If I hadn’t had these blessings, we wouldn’t be here today”. The description in his book is a bit more visceral: “The pain has chosen to visit me again. It never crossed my mind that the nightmare I buried 22 years ago would come back into my life once more. A sharp, unbearable pain starts in the back of my neck and, like a bolt of lightning, descends throughout my body in an instant. It cuts off my breath and forces me to fold over and fall to the floor in the foetal position”.

That’s in reference to his fifth attack, two years ago and – like he says – decades after the previous one. Evagoras suffers from a syndrome called spontaneous pneumothorax, “the sudden onset of a collapsed lung without any apparent cause” to quote Wikipedia; it’s not necessarily life-threatening (it would be if both lungs collapsed at once, but in his case he’s always had one still functioning), but the pain is intense and surgery is needed to repair the lung wall. It happened four times, to alternate lungs, in his early 20s, and once more in his 40s – but in fact it could happen at any time, that’s the scary part. It’s not triggered by anything in particular (or at least they haven’t found such a trigger) so it’s always on his mind, especially since the shock of the recent bout: “If I feel the air conditioning on my back, the first thing I’ll think is ‘Oh God, I hope I don’t get pneumothorax now’. If I’m driving and I have to brake suddenly to avoid a cat, and the seat belt hits me, I’m like ‘Omigod, pneumothorax!’”.

A constant sense that crippling pain could strike at any moment might potentially affect people in two ways: some might become risk-averse and try to micro-manage everything, others might decide, on the contrary, that life is fragile and should be lived to the fullest. Evagoras is somewhere in between, but certainly closer to the latter than the former. Even his virtuous lifestyle isn’t rigid: “I’m an ordinary guy,” he declares. “I’ll go out, I’ll drink, I’ll sing, I’ll dance, I’ll get drunk – because life is beautiful!”. (His voice is famously angelic: he met his wife Elena by getting up onstage at a party, borrowing the singer’s guitar, and serenading her.) “And after I’ve done these crazy things, because they’re just as necessary as the other things – well, I just won’t get up at 5.37 the next morning.”

I ask about bad habits, and drinking wine is probably one of them. (It’s not like he has to drink; but, if he happens to open a bottle with dinner, he’ll usually finish it.) Another ‘bad’ habit isn’t really so bad, just something he’s trying to fine-tune. “I’m so effusive with people! I love hugging, I love kissing, I like touching. But not everyone is okay with that. I mean, when you came in just now I wanted to hug you, to thank you for meeting with me, but I obviously didn’t.” (I assure him that I wouldn’t have minded.) Evagoras is a fulsome, heart-on-sleeve, nakedly emotional person. “I’m very sentimental. I cry with a song. I’ll tear up if I see a loving couple taking care of each other, I get all nostalgic if I see an old man looking at me with an expression that’s like ‘I was young once, like you’, or ‘Live your life, son!’. I get overcome very easily… I catch vibes, I catch energy”. His loved ones know all about it. Years ago, back in the army, he heard a Greek song late at night – a father-and-son duet – and was so moved that he drove to a phone booth (this was before mobile phones), called his dad “and I said ‘Dad, I’m calling to say that I love you’”. “I love you too,” said his father, knowing his son well enough to know this wasn’t a prelude to some cancer diagnosis or other terrible news.

Maybe this is why he’s hard to pin down – because it’s not (just) about what he does, it’s his energy, the whole experience of meeting him. ‘Positive thinking’ can sound like a scam (it probably is), but his love of people seems real – and he’s humble too, if perhaps self-consciously humble. “I have nothing to teach anyone,” insists Evagoras. “The one thing I might be able to do, with God’s help, is to awaken in others what they already have inside them.”

What we have inside us gets there early, in childhood – “years ago, in primary school,” he says, and it takes me a while to realise that he’s actually speaking of himself, his examples being his own real-life examples: “Back when we opened our exercise book and wrote ‘My name is Evagoras and I want to be a pilot’. ‘My name is Evagoras and I’m in love with Endria.’ ‘My name is Evagoras and I support Apoel.’ ‘My name is Evagoras and I love Greece.’ ‘My name is Evagoras and I must honour my parents and society’.” The problem, he explains, is that “as we grow up, people enter our lives who change our story, or affect our beliefs. I call them ‘the confidence thieves’… It could be the primary-school teacher who hits you and says ‘You’re stupid, sit down’ – he’s a confidence thief. It could be your uncle who says ‘My son is smarter than you’. It could be your sister who says ‘Have you checked out your nose recently?’. My sister used to call me Gonzo”, the long-nosed critter in The Muppet Show. “My sister was a thief of my confidence. That doesn’t mean I love her any less.”

This, in the end, is his vision (and the book’s philosophy): life as a series of hurdles and making a conscious choice to leap over them with “good choices”, self-awareness and positive thinking. (There were other misfortunes: he and his wife lost a child, though he only alludes to it in the book.) Then again, Evagoras was lucky as well: he had a magical childhood, living on top of the restaurant where his dad and grandfather worked, “a little rascal” poking his nose in the kitchens – and indeed shaking hands with the customers, because his dad made a point of presenting him to the great and good who came to Ten Lanterns; nothing like meeting the president himself (Spyros Kyprianou, while Evagoras was still in single digits) to counter the negative influence of the ‘confidence thieves’. His dream was to take over the restaurant someday, but Grandpa Takis – one of his spiritual mentors – insisted on a college education and a better life. “I can only assume that I could’ve made a great restaurateur,” he muses. “Because I love food, I love people, and I love giving.”

Maybe this is key to his rather particular charm, the restaurant connection that inspired the Lanterns in his book. A life coach, after all, is quite demanding. The guiding metaphor behind what they do is sport, it’s right there in the word ‘coach’ (or ‘trainer’) – but the metaphor behind Evagoras is closer to hospitality. His ‘teaching’ has a touch of walking into a restaurant – following the owner’s advice, to be sure, placing yourself in their hands, but also feeling welcomed and un-judged. It’s telling that he did very well at university (an MBA with a major in Communications at University of Nicosia, graduating summa cum laude), yet his most striking achievement was being student president for all three years – even as a freshman, which never happens – and using his post to create a fund for impoverished students. Talk about service.

Evagoras Evagorou is devout (his mentors also include the abbot of Machairas, his ‘spiritual father’), and God gets a credit of sorts for Ten Lanterns – both as the invisible force that seemed to be “dictating the flow of info” as he wrote, the author himself being merely a vessel, and also for the enthusiasm that may be Evagoras’ most salient quality: the word, after all, comes from the Greek ‘en’ and ‘Theos’, having God within you. It can seem naïve, yet it’s undeniable – even for those who mistrust the self-help industry, and seriously doubt that anyone’s life can be changed by New Age sermons and inspiring strategies.

“Look at it like a fairytale,” smiles Evagoras, addressing himself to the cynics and doubting Thomases. “If you don’t want to believe my story, read it as a fairytale and just ask yourself one question: What do you feel now you’ve finished the book? Do you feel better or worse?” All he can do is describe his life, his fairytale, “and you have two options. You can jump in my train – my door is open – or go back to your own fairytale. The invitation is mine. The choice is yours.” We don’t just shake hands, we hug – the warm hug he’s been longing to deliver since I walked in the place – then return to our respective fairytales.