The phenomenon of modern times is that, thanks to technology, what happens in a small room, a forest or a cave in a remote pocket of the globe can be seen and heard by millions of people everywhere. The search for wisdom and knowledge is no longer a solitary pursuit left to scholars or monks; it’s a global conversation, and Jay Shetty—a former monk, as it so happens—wants you to be just as much a part of it as he is.
“I’m someone who’s obsessed with wisdom and experimenting with wisdom and making it go viral,” he says. That last part goes a long way in explaining his success. Shetty’s video blogs have surpassed 5 billion views and he has over 32 million followers across his various platforms. Whether Shetty, 32, intends it or not, his messaging is tailored to his fellow millennials or, perhaps more so, to the even younger Generation Z.
These generations were born into the internet or introduced to it early in life, and they act accordingly. They are less likely to see online life as a negative, and open themselves to the positivity that comes with it.
“I think millennials have really made it their vision and commitment into life to really find themselves, to focus on what matters,” Shetty says. The world is shrinking in the internet age, and people realize that answers can come from anyone who lives anywhere. Wisdom has been democratized. “The community gets to decide what’s being heard,” he says. “Now, we’re seeing so many new faces, so many new backgrounds, so many new people from different cultures sharing their unique stories.”
Shetty’s story is just about as unique as they come. He grew up in London, struggling to make friends and teased for his weight. When he was 18, he met a monk, who seemed to have an internal quality that he’d been searching for his entire life. “He captivated me like someone I’d never seen before,” Shetty says. “His aura, his energy, was just infectious.” Shetty would go on to graduate from Cass Business School in London, but that monk’s view on the world stuck with him. At 22 he decided to commit the next four years to live as a monk across Europe and India. “I shaved my hair. I wore robes. I slept on the floor. We meditated for four to eight hours a day,” he says.
Finally, there was a point where his mentor seemed to know something about him that he didn’t know about himself. He insisted that Shetty return home to put the knowledge he’d learned to good use. He had a healthy understanding of his body and mind, but had no job and was $25,000 in debt. Some of the people he’d gone to business school with were working for big companies that fostered stressful, pressure-filled environments. The relationships created opportunities to turn his wisdom into public speaking. He then had the foresight to take his messages to digital and social platforms in order to reach more people. One of those people turned out to be Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who invited him to host his own show. He moved to New York, interviewed celebrities, gained millions of followers and was named a Forbes “30 Under 30” in 2017.
Shetty’s videos and podcasts touch on productivity, relationships, and numerous aspects of mental health. His personality is infectious, engaging, and reassuring for viewers. He talks a mile a minute, which makes his most valued habit something of a surprise. “I think being still and being silent and finding your own space is so important in this hectic world,” he says, referring to meditation.
The internet might seem like a cold place to some, but Shetty is just trying to go viral for people who have been conditioned to improve in formulaic ways. But improvement requires wisdom, and wisdom has to be unlocked from within. “Don’t make a to-do list,” Shetty says. “Make a ‘to-be’ list. What do you want to be?”
How a Former Monk Manages a Career
Jay Shetty is one of very few people who have taken the experience of living as a monk and used that knowledge to build a successful career for himself. Here are a few tips he’s provided for applying knowledge of one’s self to the workplace.
- Look ahead and think about where your present is taking your future. “If you’re at a company, look at the person who is 20 years ahead of you and ask yourself, ‘Is that where I want to be?’ If the answer is no, then you need to find a new path.”
- Start a side hustle. “Everything that becomes your mainstay originally will have started as a side hustle,” Shetty says. Experiment with possibilities and find things you enjoy improving at.
- Don’t hide what you want to accomplish. Shetty suggests telling everyone you know about the places you want to be in your career. Maybe they can help you.
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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Illustration by Hanane Kai