Lessons from a Monk: Learning to Listen

(Episode 1 of 2 with Danny Levin)

Lessons from a Monk: Learning to Listen

Danny Levin walked away from running a billion dollar company to find happiness and inner peace by living as a monk in a monastery for 10 years. He later helped lead Hay House grow from $3 million to $100 million a year in revenue. He is also the author of The Mosaic, which introduces the Four Practices of Connection, a completely new innovative strategy to re-connect people and help companies work together to innovate and achieve more.

In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss Danny’s journey and how we can do better at listening. 

Listening to Himself

When Danny was 13 years old, his father passed away unexpectedly. Two years later, his mother passed away on the same day. As young kids, Danny and his brother moved in with their aunt and uncle who they didn’t know very well. 

At that time, Danny’s uncle owned a multi-billion dollar company. When Danny moved in with his family, his uncle said, “This could work out great for both of us. I’m going to watch you for about a month and a half, and I’m going to see what you’re made of. If you have the qualities that I think I see already, I’m going to change your life.”

Just as his uncle promised, about a month and a half later, he took Danny out to lunch. He told him, “Today’s the day I’m going to change your life. Tomorrow, I’m going to start you pushing a broom and you’re going to work your way up from the bottom of my company all the way to the top. In 15 years, I want to retire and you’ll be sitting in my seat. You’ll be running a multi-billion dollar company.”

While Danny was incredibly grateful for the opportunity, he told his uncle, “I would like to be able to watch you for a year. I’d like to see if you’re the type of person I want to be when I’m 30 years old.”

With the recent death of his mother and his father on his mind, Danny had greater questions on his mind. “I lost the most valuable things in my life,” Danny said. “My life had different questions around [it], not how much money I could make or what was going on. I was driven by some desire to find out the meaning of life. Why would my heroes be taken from me?”

Before he accepted the offer to take over the multi-billion dollar company, he wanted to know if that would make him the type of person he needed to be. He didn’t find the answer he was looking for, so he turned down the offer. He listened to himself and what he really needed. 

Similar situations happened throughout his life. He’d get close to an opportunity but eventually walk away because he knew it wasn’t right for him. Doing so, he learned one of the most important lessons. “We can never be successful being somebody else; we might make money, but we can never be fulfilled doing someone else’s work,” Danny said. 

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Listening to Others

As part of his journey, Danny lived as a monk for 10 years in a monastery while also running the monastery’s publishing house. While he lived there, he kept his eye on a competing company, Hay House. While they were publishing similar books, he noticed that their company was making a couple million dollars more than theirs. So, he called Hay House and asked if he could go to lunch with them. He wanted to listen to Hay House to learn what they were doing right.  

As they were having lunch together, he learned they were running conferences. Danny came up with the idea to put on an event together and gather 3,000 people for the event. While Hay House didn’t have time to put it together, Danny took it over himself and started asking for speakers. 

In three or four days, he had arranged amazing speakers, rented an arena, and put tickets up for sale. Within the hour, they sold out. The event was so popular they even had people sleeping outside to make sure they could get great seats. Not only did they sell tickets, but they also sold their products in the arena as well. 

The success of this event led to other events, and Hay House offered Danny a job with them because his ideas were making them so much money. 

“I’ve always had an ability to see things others don’t see, to take challenges and risks of things that nobody was doing and find a way to do it. That created an opportunity for Hay House to grow from $3 million to $100 million in sales a year,” Danny said. “It wasn’t because of me, we had teams of people. Everybody there played an important part. We were a mosaic of people that created something exquisite together.”


Learning to Listen

Danny told me that if he could tell people one thing, he would encourage them to go live in a monastery for 10 years. Doing so helped him answer life’s greatest questions and put him on the path he needed to be on. He learned how to listen to himself and others. 

“One of my saddest moments and memories of life is seeing a world that I live in where very, very few people love themselves,” Danny said. “They have no sense of who they are. They have no sense of what they’re capable of overcoming. They have no sense of how beautiful they are.”

Danny realized that many people fear being their true selves so they put up a veneer. They try to hide parts of themselves so they will fit in, but when they do this, they are only being who the other person wants them to be. They are not being their true self. And as Danny learned early on, we will never find true fulfillment or success trying to be someone else. 

“When I speak to people, what happens is I occupy your mind. Fear lives in the mind, so if I can occupy your mind, that can also occupy fear. If fear is occupied, then I can have direct access to your heart, direct access to your soul, and I can listen to what your heart and soul want to say,” Danny said. 

When we listen to others, we can help them let go of their fears and tell us what they really need. By listening to the people we work with in our businesses, we create a safer environment open to more ideas and new methods for success. When Danny created the event with Hay House, it was successful because he was able to work with others and learn what they really needed. 

Danny discussed this principle in his book, The Mosaic. The main character walks into a restaurant where the people are smiling and laughing. He asks a waitress why everyone is so happy, and she says, “It’s really easy. We always give them what they ask for, but in addition to that, we give them what they need.” 

To find what people really need to be happy, we simply have to learn to listen. 

“When I speak to people in conversation, I always try to address the question they’re asking, but I also try to hear the question, what do they really need?” Danny said. “I try to have my heart talk with their heart and my soul. That’s what I’m masteringhow to be secure enough in myself, to take that risk, to really connect, open my heart to people, and make a connection.”


Listening in Our Companies 

Danny’s daughter has a developmental issue that made it so she couldn’t talk. In 31 years, Danny has never had a conversation with his daughter, and yet he learned how to listen to her and hear her. Despite her screaming and tantrums, Danny was able to look past the noise to find what she really needed. 

“That 31-year-old kid taught me that what she did, everybody in the world does,” Danny said. “When people didn’t get listened to, they yelled.”

Danny explained this in businesses, we often forget to listen to others around us. When we don’t listen, people get upset and often eventually end up yelling and arguing. When people don’t listen, it creates chaos. Things get messed up. Deadlines get missed. People show up to work late. 

“If we would only listen to those people in our companies from the bottom of the company to the top of the company, . . . and ask their opinion, we would never go screaming and yelling to get attention,” Danny said. 

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Danny for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

  1. We should take the time to listen to ourselves to understand what we really need. 
  2. We can never be successful or truly fulfilled being somebody else and doing their work.
  3. We should listen to others. We can’t do everything on our own; we should learn to be a mosaic of people and do great things together. 
  4. When we listen to others, we can help them forget their fears and tell us what they really need. 
  5. When we listen to others in our companies, we can prevent arguments and other mistakes. 

Connect with Danny

To learn more about or connect with Danny:

Next Steps

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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