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My Thoughts on ‘On Purpose’

If I could suggest just one thing for your better mental health

While I had heard of podcasts, I had never found them too fascinating. During my time at LSE, around 2019, I’d open up and listen to the university podcasts on various important possibly world changing themes, but had never gotten hooked onto any.

2021, like most around the world, was a transformative year for me as well. While I was one of the lucky few who didn’t catch covid, I loved and lost many close ones, not just too the disease, but also through circumstances. Along with being an year of reckoning the way it was for everyone globally, I was also at that time unluckily, but in hindsight luckily, the batch that graduated just before covid in 2020. While I was fortunate enough to not miss out on the college experience having to study online, I had my different struggles as the moment I got out of school, the time I was supposed to figure out my place in the real world, the world closed down. While I tried to find myself and in process hold onto the world I was familiar with for an year in 2020, by the start of 2021, it all broke down and I found myself newly single after a very long term relationship and at the first rung of the ladder as I contemplated a career change. In a lot of ways I was restarting life as I knew it.

While the start of something new is always a cause for celebration and enthusiasm, when it comes out of need not want, when it comes at the cost of letting go of what you worked for or held dear, it loses its shine, its newness. I distinctly remember this moment despite not knowing then that this was going to be one of the biggest turning point I had had in my life since I was born.

I joined a boutique interior design firm for a few days to experience first hand if the career would be a good fit for me. As a newbie, I was tasked to take site measurements of an office with an intern. I’m guessing this was partially hazing, partially what one should rightfully expect to do starting as a fresher. So I made my way to the building, a beautiful recently inaugurated, luxury office complex with the most polite staff and stunning for an Indian building interiors. Therein I realised what I was measuring was an office setup inside North India’s first, recently developed Wework. Fascinated with where I had come in, I measured the premise, headed home and spoke to my mom on the way about how today I went to a place that I didn’t even know could exist in India, the kind of space I would love to someday go work at. This was a Wednesday. Over the weekend, I received a heart crushing blow to my personal life that rendered me incapable of functioning. As luck would have it, on Monday I received a text telling me the warm, welcoming office I had measured just last week was going to be my new office. But such was the graveness of my mental injury, that I couldn’t comprehend where I was and left out of the office, and the firm, within a few hours of getting there, not caring that I had just gotten to work where I had just built a dream of working last week.

It took me a few weeks to recover and pick myself back up enough to contemplate rejoining the company. But by that time we were rehit with the more gruesome wave of covid that brought the whole world to another standstill. A few months of staying at home, the blows kept coming. While my mental health was already deteriorating through my personal circumstances, seeing the world around me going through a health crisis, watching my friends and family struggling as they lost more and more loved ones, sitting at home anxiously awaiting doom, helplessly hearing about people’s upheavals without being able to lift a finger to help them, I felt like there was no way out of the abyss I was in. I started taking pills to help me sleep and lived life one day at a time, making one poor decision after the other, ready to give up on life.

When covid subsided a little bit, the turbulence it left was too grave and the world refused to move even though the crisis meters started turning from red to orange to yellow. Sometime during the yellow phase, I resumed going to work. To Wework. To the building I liked.

When you don’t like yourself, you don’t like anything around you. I didn’t look up once to see the charm in the place I was in. I’d go to my desk, put on my headphones, tune out the world, work, go home, get in bed and wait for the day to end. But music soon became too dreary for me to listen. Songs somewhere or the other talked of love, life, happiness and I didn’t want to think that could exist. When the silence of my noise cancelling headphones got too loud, I decided to give podcasts another try. I still don’t know how I stumbled upon this, but somewhere on my 3rd or 4th day, I ended up listening to an episode of On Purpose. It didn’t make me feel anything. It didn’t make me feel like I wasn’t smart enough, or wasn’t in love, or wasn’t building something, it was just there, it was just 2 people talking, and I was listening without feeling anything. Not feeling something was a big departure for me from feeling the trauma I was used to that would suck me in every so often. So I opened the podcast page and looked up the list of episodes. I found one on moving on. I tried to listen to it and thought to myself, hey, this is okay, I can do this, this is do-able advice, it is soft, let me try another one. And so I did. Till I heard every episode that had been on the show about love and moving on.

Jay Shetty’s On purpose Podcast started in 2019 and used to release episodes once a week. So when I cherry picked the few episodes of my topic of interest from the already under development show, there wasn’t much to go on and I finished them fairly quickly. Then I moved on to hear podcasts about daily habits. As an underweight person who had lost 10 kgs and was struggling to sleep, it was the need of the hour. Soon enough I was so hooked that I went to the start of the show and decided to start listening from episode 1 and in about 2-3 months, I was all caught up. Starting from that day, till now, I’ve not missed an episode. And how can I? When this podcast is one of the biggest reasons I am able to sit here and write this blog. So let me tell you more now in a language that you can relate to.

Jay Shetty is a lifestyle coach who underwent monk training in India, overhauled his life from a standard management employee’s life to one of a happy world changing entrepreneur. He started On Purpose Podcast on 2019 to make mental health accessible to all by simplifying it and explaining it to people like us in terms we would understand, in actionable steps we could practically execute. The podcast has consistently been awarded the best podcast, the best mental health podcast since its inception. Jay wrote the bestselling book ‘How to live like a monk’. But these were not things I knew about him when I got hooked to the podcast. These were things I realised much later. All I knew when I was struggling was someone telling me fact based, proven methods of making me feel better. All I knew was that someone was just having a conversation with someone famous and I was able to listen to it without feeling like I wasn’t enough, like my life wasn’t as good as theirs, like I wasn’t doing binging on a guilty pleasure if I was listening to something that wasn’t work related.

On Purpose podcast today is almost 500 episodes old. It has 2 kinds of episodes. One you can consider as monologues, and the other as conversations. Both have mental health, work productivity, personal life, relationships and friendship as their themes. During the monologues, Jay talks about a chosen issue and presents facts, research and evidence backed suggestions and observations that can help us understand how to deal with something better. Whether it is break ups, burn outs, lack of focus, inability to find a purpose, wish of changing careers, stepping out of toxic equations, Jay has episodes on all aspects of life that trouble and plague most of us between the ages of 20s to 40s. During conversations, Jay calls over people to talk to. These people range from Hollywood celebrities to politicians to sports players to researchers and professors. He then goes on to talk to them, not in a way Ellen does, but in a way a friend would. Never have I ever heard a celebrity even imply my life is so good, I’m so privileged. The conversations deal strictly with human everyday aspects of life that everyone deals with in their own way riddled with their own upbringing and world view.

As I listened to one episode after the other, I started feeling like I had a friend. I started looking forward to coming to work and putting on my headphones. I had the kind of enthusiasm that people have talking to someone they liked. I would keep listening. I rarely talked during my bout of depression. I stayed by myself. But these episodes made me feel like I was surrounded by people I liked who were talking and giving me advice on what I needed to hear, granted I was just choosing episodes I needed on a particular day, but still. When I started listening, I didn’t focus much on implementing what I was hearing. I’d maybe try a trick on a particularly bad day. Or I’d try a gimmick during a fight I felt like I was seeing no way out of. But I wasn’t taking too many steps. Neither was I worrying about not doing anything on what I was wearing. I was just listening and I think inadvertently I was doing the right thing. Because not having the pressure of executing ensured I didn’t quit. That I kept the podcast just as a means of entertainment. Despite this, my life was improving, just with a speed I wasn’t seeing. I can pinpoint to a moment when my life graph suddenly stopped and started a sharp upturn, and I will. But I can’t pin point when my mental health got better. Overtime, I just started feeling better, feeling less alone. I started feeling like everything I was going through was normal and there were ways out of it. I started taking minuscule steps, like writing on some days, or recording voice notes and letting out what was inside of me, I started focusing on my purpose, I started giving more attention to my work listening to people talk about work, I was just becoming normal and finding new ways to deal with my loneliness and my injuries.

Around an year later, in 2022, I was in the lift with someone. Charged from all my podcast encouragement, I pushed myself and said hi. The podcast had inspired me to start something of my own so I had been thinking on many things. I increased my discomfort and asked the person in the lift to help me and give me some advice on it. About 2 years later, I am my own self help podcast advertising to anyone who’d listen about rebuilding life, career changes, entrepreneurship, relationships, mental and physical health, and yes, podcasts.

The person who helped me in the lift, and then advised me, became my friend. While I got to know him, I found myself being different. I was no longer functioning from the place of arrogance of me being how I am. I was cautious, I was aware. I found myself standing in moments, and looking at myself reacting differently to how the old me would have. I was calmer, I had better energy, I was confident. And I knew right from wrong instead of focusing on what I wanted. I wasn’t as angry, I wasn’t as immature, I wasn’t as scared of where the friendship was or wasn’t going. I was equipped. I had my sand buckets ready incase there was a fire. Because I knew more about my mental health, about relationships, about people than I did before. Almost 2 years down the line, I am happy. I have my life back, I have purpose, my work fulfils me more than I thought it could.

The person I met in the lift was a turning point for me. He brought on a sea of change my life. And while I credit him for turning my life around, I know he wouldn’t have come into my life or stayed in the capacity he is in if I hadn’t worked on bettering myself and that I attribute to this podcast. Even though it took an year, and a new person coming into my life, when my mental health got better, I started looking up at where I was. I re-realised the beauty of the place I was working at. So much so that even when the firm I was working for moved out, I stayed back and fulfilled my dream of working in a place like this, on my own terms.

Apart from being therapy, and chicken soup, why I keep hearing the podcast still, or recommend it is that it also makes you more aware of the world. I didn’t live under a rock but I didn’t know about a lot of the research that keeps happening in the world about our living practices. Not only do I know a lot more about them, I know the advantages of many. In today’s climate when mental health is one of the biggest buzz word, I have the confidence to sit and talk about it in an informed way.

Whether it is about gut health, or ways of killing burn out, or meditation, journaling, time management, physical health, I might or might not implement a lot of habits regularly, I know a lot about them an try and do as many as I can and my life is getting better for it. I know how to sleep better, I know how to wake up better. I know how to cheer myself up, I know how to keep myself better energised. I know how to deal with missing someone, I know how to fight. I know how to express myself clearer, I know how to give my partner empathy and look at things from his perspective. No one is perfect and I am very much a work in progress, but I am better for taking more responsibility over my head and health by keeping myself informed through the podcast and would definitely heartily recommend it to all I speak to.

Jay : What do you think your younger self would say to you?
Brian : Wow, I'm 41 years old and I live alone

This transcript is from Jay Shetty’s episode with Air BnB founder and CEO Brian Chesky. Apart from being one of my favourite episodes of On Purpose, it’s also the best example of how humane this podcast is. Whether its Michelle Obama talking about relationships, Ariana Huffington talking about sleep, Joe Biden talking about grief, Brian Chesky talking about loneliness or Djokavic talking about growing up in violence, Jay’s conversations are as insightful as his researched monologues.

As someone who has heard every episode being put out, I do have qualms about how the show is going on. I don’t like the new cover. I feel there are a lot more Hollywood celebrities lately than I’d like. The solo episodes aren’t as path breaking. The rare episodes Jay does with his wife, are usually a treat, but the recent one was a paid promotion with neary a thing to pick from. So I always recommend people to start listening from the first episode on, as that’s where the gold mines are. I dont know the future of the podcast, but I do know its past is still a resource I consider very valuable, and perhaps essential life training to everyone in their 20s and 30s.


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