Former monk Jay Shetty shares his 'equation' for finding purpose: 'Passion plus expertise plus service'

·6-min read

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Jay Shetty defines purpose as "passion plus expertise plus service," and it's safe to say that, after what he calls a "23-year journey" — including a three-year stretch as a Vedic monk — he's found his true calling. As an author, podcaster and purpose coach, Shetty is now diving into his latest role as the newly minted chief purpose officer for the meditation app Calm, an opportunity that will see him helping others find that purpose and greater sense of meaning in their own lives.

"I'd say my purpose today is to help everyone train their mind for peace and purpose every day," the Think Like a Monk author tells Yahoo Life's The Unwind. "I believe that it's a skill. I believe it's something we can train, and I want to be able to help provide the tools, the techniques and the platforms where people can actually come and engage with those insights and ideas in a relevant, practical and accessible way."

For starters, he's launched The Daily Jay, a series of seven-minute sessions that will offer the Calm audience a mix of meditation, motivational insight drawn from his own experience and studies and, crucially, manageable action items that any listener can easily implement.

"All of this insight and wisdom that I've gained is what we've truly worked on sharpening and defining for The Daily Jay," he says, "so that in seven minutes a day, we can actually help people not only practice the meditation behind this wisdom but actually apply it into their daily life as well."

Shetty's own path to finding purpose in life has been far from linear. At 18, he was attending business school in his native London when his friends convinced him to join them to hear a monk speak, something he admits he reluctantly agreed to on the condition they go to a bar afterward. The monk's talk, however, turned out to be life-transforming.

Jay Shetty opens up about his former life as a monk, finding his purpose and his new role at Calm. (Photo: Getty/Quinn Lemmers)
Jay Shetty opens up about his former life as a monk, finding his purpose and his new role at Calm. (Photo: Getty/Quinn Lemmers)

"When I was 18, I'd met people who were rich. I'd met people who were famous. I'd met people who were beautiful and attractive and strong and powerful," he says. "But I don't think I'd ever met anyone who was truly happy, who was truly content. And this monk had that."

Shetty began traveling to India during his summer breaks to study with the monk. Upon graduation, at age 22, he made the leap to becoming a Vedic monk himself. It was a far cry from the bustling corporate world he'd left behind in London.

"We woke up every day at 4 a.m.," he says of his three years as a monk. "We slept on the floor. All our possessions fit inside a gym locker. We had two sets of robes — you wear one, you wash one. Half of the day was dedicated to self-mastery and meditation, and the other half of the day was service to actually go out there and try and make a difference in the world."

While the lifestyle came with a number of challenges to someone accustomed to having his own space, independence and choices, Shetty was drawn to the idea of devoting his time to this self-mastery and service.

"What I found so fascinating is that the morning hours were dedicated to understanding yourself: understanding your own mind, training your own habits, training your own ego and character and your own resilience," he says. "And then the rest of the day was about: 'Can we take that out to the world? Can we go out there and share it?'"

He ultimately realized in his third year as a monk that that lifestyle was not his true calling, as he felt compelled to share these lessons more widely with the bustling city culture he'd left behind; indeed, his new Calm role will see him help organizations prioritize mental health in the workplace. But Shetty credits his monk experience with giving him the tools to help him weather adversity in life — namely, adaptability, a commitment to service, mindfulness and a better understanding of his feelings. He likens those three years to school and the nine years since he's left to the exam that follows.

Now a bonafide well-being figure whose insight has been sought by the likes of Jada Pinkett Smith and Matthew McConaughey, Shetty is using those tools to help others find their purpose — something he says society discourages in favor of chasing success at any cost. Real purpose, he argues, is an "equation" that blends one's passion, skills and opportunity to serve others.

"What's something that you deeply enjoy, that you are immersed in, that you might even be obsessed with?" he explains. "Have you developed the skills around it, too? I think this is often forgotten. I think we think our passion's enough, but it has to be a skill, and an expertise is something we have to build. And finally, service: Are we using it to improve the lives of others?"

An example would be someone who's passionate about art, develops photography skills and serves others by capturing beautiful images of the world around them. Or, in Shetty's case, a passion for meditation and mindfulness, the skills he's built over the course of his monk training and his commitment to now sharing those skills with the world at large. That's not to say he's settled on his exact purpose as his work evolves, however; he sees himself as "still in pursuit" of his purpose — "and the more I allow myself to pursue, the more I enjoy the journey," he adds.

Some parting advice from the new king of Calm? When stress hits, engage the "3 Ss" — scent, sight and sound — to help you be more present and less distracted. Shetty also reminds himself to not reflexively panic when he's asked to make a decision.

"I think the biggest thing that keeps me calm is knowing I don't have to make a decision," he shares. "When you're being forced to make a decision — maybe you've seen an email, maybe someone's sent you a message, maybe someone's asking you a question — often we are stressed because we feel we have to make a decision right now. And I think one of the things that I gain calm around is saying, 'Well, actually, is this the right decision? Am I focusing on the right thing? Is this even the right question?' So I think giving myself that time and space is a really healthy way to give myself calm and find calm."

—Video produced by Kat Vasquez.

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