Jay Shetty Interviews President Joe Biden On Purpose at the White House

Jay Shetty Interviews President Joe Biden On Purpose at the White House

Last Updated: February 5, 2024By

In the latest episode of On Purpose with Jay Shetty, global bestselling author, award-winning podcast host and purpose-driven entrepreneur Jay Shetty was graciously invited to the White House for a rare and personal interview with President Biden not to discuss politics or policy, but to discuss and address the importance of mental health.

In this sit-down conversation, The President reflects on his earliest childhood memories that have indelibly shaped his path. They unpack the importance to pause and think about the significance of reaching out to those facing tough times. Every compassionate connection has the power to uplift and heal.

The conversation goes deep as we delve into the profound realm of family, the cornerstone of existence, and discover how to cherish and prioritize those who matter most; and the art of decision-making and preparation, as you learn to navigate life’s intricate choices with clarity and mindfulness.

Jay Shetty Interviews President Joe Biden On Purpose at the White House

The Best Quotes from President Joe Biden on Jay Shetty’s Podcast

There are so many inspiring quotes and lessons in the interview. Here are some of our favourite highlights from the podcast interview.

 

1:11- Memory that defined who you are today and the person you’ve become

Jay Shetty: The first question I’d like to ask you is, what is your earliest childhood memory that you believe defines who you are today and the person you’ve become? 


The President: The earliest memory I have is – there’s two of them.

One is there was a bully in the neighborhood. Lived down the area called the plot and we lived up a hill and I was out with my friends in the alley behind our house. My mother was at the pantry looking out. The tough guy in the neighborhood smacked me, was a couple years older than me, and I came in holding my face and my grandfather was at the kitchen table and said, what’s the matter, Joey?

And he said, that’s a shame. I walked in and my mother said, Joey, go back out there. So go back out there, walk up… wait till he walks up to you. And as soon as he does, smack him right in the nose, she said. I’ll give you 50 cents if you do it. And I said, why mom? She said, you won’t be able to walk in that alley again if you don’t.

I was scared to death. I walked out, popped him in the nose, it bled, he ran. And I thought, huh? It worked. It worked. But  I think the lesson I learned the most though is I used to stutter badly. And I would talk like, like, like, like, like that. And then I’d catch my rhythm and be able to, and  it was something that I thought was the worst curse could happen to me. Because everybody makes fun of it. You know, stuttering, the only impediment people could still make fun of. I told you I had a cleft foot, or a cleft palate I should say, or whatever you’d say. Oh, but it’s an impediment that you can’t control. And the lesson I learned from my mom and dad was, you can never, never, never, never make fun of anybody for something that’s beyond their control.

Even if somebody was just way overweight, but it was a bully, you couldn’t say you’re fat. You could say you’re a jerk. You could never say anything was true about the other person. I mean it sincerely, period. Never because it’s beyond their control. And I think that’s the most important lesson I’ve learned in life is that there are certain things that people are beyond their control.

Their actions aren’t beyond their control, but you can’t make fun of anyone’s impediments, whatever they are.

Jay Shetty: I had a similar experience with being bullied, so that resonates very strongly with me. I think 

The President: Everybody does. Yeah, I was the runt of the litter. No, I really was. I was a little guy and I was a relatively good athlete even when I was a kid, but I literally was the runt of the litter.

Jay Shetty: Well, for me, it was my weight. I was overweight growing up, and it was the color of my skin. I grew up in an area where I wasn’t surrounded by a lot of Indian people. And so those were the two reasons, except my mother didn’t give me that advice. Sometimes I wish she did. My mother did the opposite. She actually came into my school and spoke to the teachers, which was really embarrassing at that age.

The President: Oh no, I think maybe it is, you know, I had a similar thing. I went to Catholic grade school in high school and you sat in alphabetical order. I was in the first row, Biden, four people down and reading class. Everybody read a paragraph.

I got to my paragraph and I remember what it was because I used to try to memorize it. Rather than have to look at the word when I was rereading it. And it said, and he was a gentle man and the teacher said, what’s that? Mr. Biden? He wanted, she might say gentleman, but it was easier to not let her say gentle man.

I said, gentlemen, I said, Mr. Bbb (stuttering), what is that? And I got up and walked out. And walked home, which was about two miles, and my mother was sitting there tapping the table when I walked in and said, get in the car. Went down the car. We walked in, went to the principal’s office, sat me outside the door. The door was cracked, you know, it was one of those opaque glasses, glass windows, and it didn’t go to the ceiling.

Anyway, to make a long story short, she said, I’d like to speak to the teacher. My mother said, and she said, I’d like to speak to the teacher. So the teacher walks in and looked at me like, you’re in trouble now Biden. Walked in, sat down. There was a crack in the door. I’ll never forget this. And my mother, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan. She looked and like I said, what? What did you say to my son? She said, did you say bbb Biden said (stuttering), I’m just trying to make a point Mrs. Biden. She said, if you ever do that again, I’ll come back and rip that bonnet off your head. You understand me? Swear to God. Get up, walked out. Go back to class, Joey. But you know, everybody has something that is tough, particularly when you’re younger.

And it makes such a difference when somebody reaches out. I’m sure you  had some experiences with some saying, come on. Like for example, there’s more than a handful of young stutters. They’re not so young anymore that I still keep in touch with them. One young kid introduced me when I ran for President.

Took such courage because he talk, talk,talk, like, like that (stuttering) And he practiced and he practiced and he practiced. But it’s had a profound impact on his life. Another young man, when I was Vice President,…you can tell a stutter if you’re a stutter.  He was in line with his mom who was in Tennessee where I was doing a thing for Al Gore and she introduced her son and I could see him go. The lips I said, I said, Hey, I’m about to finish my speech. Why don’t you come help me write it? And the mother looked at me and he looked at me and took him in and I showed him how I marked up my speeches so that I could get a little cadence with what I did. Did you ever see the movie The King Speech? 

Jay Shetty: Yes, of course.

The President: Well, the gentleman who had a copy of the King speech who did sent me a copy, and I don’t know if I have my book with me, but there’s…one of these days, I’ll show you my speeches. I looked at it and I marked it up the same way. Every speech I mark up is the same way.

See the slash marks I put on?

Jay Shetty: Yes.

The President: Well, it’s just to help me, you know, instead of, you know, your experience fighting to help your daughter, your experience fighting to help your daughter is struggling. But you know, there were people who reached out to me too. Maybe that impediment was the best thing ever happened to me.

Jay Shetty: It’s incredible, isn’t it? How a challenge that you’re going through actually helps you become more compassionate and empathetic towards other people. 

The President: It’s kind of human nature for most people. When you understand the pain someone’s feeling, your first instinct is, look, we have an expression in the family from the time I was a kid.

It’s all about showing up to just being there. I mean, I imagine the times when you were down because they’re making fun of your Indian heritage and an all white population that having someone come up and say, Hey. Come on, you and me. Let’s do boom. It makes a difference.
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8:56- Coping with the loss of his son Beau, daughter Naomi and first wife Neilia

The President: Think of all the young people today. I think that there’s more anxiety and loneliness today than there’s been in a long, long time. You know, my friend, I appointed Admiral McCarthy, he was telling me about, you know, the percentage of young people today who are feeling lonely alone. And sometimes it’s just touching, showing up.

My deceased son Beau who should be sitting here instead of me would always say, dad, you know, it’s time to make that call. You know,  I’d get on a plane and go home. And because someone had a serious problem, lost a wife, a daughter, and he’d say, dad, you don’t have time. When he passed away, hundreds of people had told me how he called. He showed up. He was there. And because there were people who showed up for me too. It just really matters. 

Jay Shetty: Yeah. You’ve been through, you mentioned it there, you’ve been through so much tragic loss in your life. As you just mentioned there, you didn’t run for presidency in 2016. Shortly after the loss of your son, you’ve lost your first wife and daughter in a horrific accident.

I can’t even begin to understand how someone has the courage to process that much loss and grief, let alone move forward in the way you have. It’s truly admirable. How did you begin?

The President: I had an overwhelming advantage in the loss, and that was, I had a really close family that was there. For example, when my wife and daughter were killed, my first wife and my two boys were very badly injured.

A tractor trailer broadside. I wasn’t in the accident. When I got home from the hospital, my sister and husband already gave up their apartment and moved in, helping me raise my kid. My brother. We lived in a suburban area. It was more country than suburban and there was a little barn on a garage barn.

My brother came and he turned the loft in the barn into an apartment for himself. They were there for me all the time. That was a gigantic difference. My best friends in my life are my sister and my brothers. And so I had an enormous advantage. And I think that when you see people who are going through something tough, it does matter if you reach out.

I mean, it does matter. Like, for example. You know, when you’re a senator, for all the years I was in a small state, you know, so many people, and people would pass away. You’d show up at the wake of the funeral no matter what was happening. And I learned it early on. People would stop and just come and throw their arms around me because if they know, you know, the pain they feel, get some solace in it.

The President: It’s not always easy, but it just matters to just reach out, let people know you see them.

Jay Shetty: How did you allow yourself to receive that help too? I feel like, as you were mentioning earlier, with the loneliness and anxiety that exists, a lot of people either struggle to know what to say. I think we live in a society where people are like, well, what do I say?

If they’ve gone through that? And the opposite end, what you just said, being able to be open enough to actually receive help requires a certain amount of courage and strength as well. 

The President: Well, I was raising a family for real, an extended family. My grandparents as well, where my dad had an expression. Family is the beginning, middle, and end. There was a rule in the family growing up, not a joke. We didn’t know it at the time, but whenever you wanted to speak to your mother or father, I mean, he said, can we, he had a problem. No matter what they were doing, they stopped no matter what they were doing.

They stopped and heard. Listened to you. And I did the same with my children and they did the same with theirs because it’s a matter of them knowing that they are the most important thing in your life. If they’ve got a problem, you’re there to listen. I have seven grandkids, five ’em old enough to talk on the phone, you know, every day I either text or call them.

And matter of fact, during the campaign, I didn’t realize they were having an interview – the four oldest grandchildren. They said, and just at the time, and they said, they call me pop, pop calls us every day or text us every day. And I called ’em, the phone rang while they’re in the interview.

Well, I give my word. I had no idea they’re in there and go. But I just think being there is important and it makes such a difference. Knowing that someone’s gonna be there for you. Just to hold you. Just to hug you.

Jay Shetty: I believe you’re right. I believe we often overcomplicate things. We think we have to say the perfect thing. We have to have the solution. We have to be able to fix someone’s problem.. 

The President: Agree. But it’s just half of it just showing up. Even people you don’t know that well, but you’ve met – the fact you’d call. And say, I’m thinking of you. I’ve learned this from my experience.

The day will come when you open that closet door and you smell the fragrance of her dresses or you’re going by that park where you walk with your child or your wife or husband, or the thing that reminds you. And for the longest time, I’ll just bring a tear to your eye.

But eventually, every once in a while, it’ll bring a smile to lift before it brings a tear to your eye. When that happens, you know you’re gonna make it. That’s the moment. You know, I make it. Doesn’t mean you still don’t cry. Doesn’t mean that pain still isn’t real even years later, but you know, you can make it.I think there’s an advantage sometimes if you have deep faith.

Whether you’re Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, you know, whatever. My family, when they wanna get an important message to me, they tape it on the mirror of the bathroom. I’m serious. Another day.

Jay Shetty: So you wake up in the morning…

The President: No, it’s on the mirror. My daughter actually taped on my… she’s a social worker taped on my mirror.

Happiness is something, something to do, something to love and something to look forward to. Beautiful. And Dad, you have all those things, just remind you.

Jay Shetty: I think what you just said about the smile before the tear is probably one of the realest things I’ve ever heard. I think we often are trying to create a world in which we only have smiles and we put pressure on ourselves and the people around us to be forever happy.

And what you just said there really, really resonated with me. It really hit me actually, the idea that you will cry, it will happen, but that tiny smile that you experience, even through a loss, even through grief, that’s right. You are fortunate that you got to have that experience that allowed you to find that smile at that time.

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16:37- Relationship between vulnerability and strength

Jay Shetty: And I feel like you’ve been through so many obstacles in your life. But I’d love to know what you see as the relationship between vulnerability and strength, especially as a leader, because I think leaders have an overarching pressure to display strength in a certain way.

The President: I have a rule that I thought that everybody in my staff knew because I had when I was a senator for a long time. At one point, I don’t know how they measured it. I had the same staff longer than anybody in the Senate at the time.

For example, we were doing a very  important Supreme Court hearing. I was chairman of the judiciary committee and we worked on it very hard and did all the research. Anyway, there was one young man where people say he was invaluable because he’s the guy who knew all the details about certain things, and I found out that he was having trouble at home.

And I said, I want you to go home. Don’t come to the hearing. He said, I cannot go home. Go home. And you know why? Because I would go home. I have a thousand bosses, but only one. Me no one. And so I know when I had crises at home raising the boys, I went home. I don’t know how many years ago it was, but in this job and as Vice President, another person was having some trouble at home and I found out, but I said, go home.

And they said, no, no, I can’t. I got it. I said, if you don’t go home, I’m gonna fire you. Go home. Your relationship is a hell of a lot more important than whatever you’re doing for me. So that’s a rule we have, not a joke. And you never have to tell me why. All you gotta say is I’m not gonna be in, I take your word.

If it turns out you’re playing games with me, I’ll learn. But I know you too. Well take the time because you’re not committing better than your relationship. And it’s a little bit what you were just talking about and you know, I think you’d have to ask my staff. I don’t know, but, I think they, as long as they know that’s more important, more important than doing whatever specific thing you’re doing at that moment for me. 

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20:27- On navigating difficult decisions

Jay Shetty: Every day for years you’ve had to make difficult and stressful decisions, high stakes, hugely impactful on so many people. When you are making decisions, do you follow your head, your heart, your gut? How do you think about decision making? 

The President: I don’t know how to separate the three. Many times my heart brings me to the problem and my gut tells me what I think I wanna do.

But my head, meaning the research, the back sometimes says, that’s the wrong answer. So I wish I could say, I think you’re driven by a value set. You know what you value, you know what you think is important in life, you know what you think is consequential. And I think people who. know what they value…doesn’t mean they’re better at work, but if you know, if you follow your value set, to me, they’re kind of basic things. My dad used to have an expression for real. He said, Joey, everyone’s entitled to be treated with dignity, everybody. Dignity was his word, dignity. And what I find myself looking through the prison, for example, I was at an event the other day where I was talking about a problem a mom was having providing for the help the needs of a child of actually a teenager.

I said, all I can think of when hearing about not being able to afford the treatment was how she’s deprived of her dignity. Imagine being a parent and you can’t do anything about it ’cause you don’t have the financial wherewithal, because you don’t have the connection, but you don’t know where to go.

It’s a little bit like, you know, I think the most dangerous, the most hated word in English language in any other language translated is cancer. You have cancer. It just strikes fear in everybody. Well, it’s one thing to get an analysis by a great doctor, but you still need someone to guide you through.

It’s complicated, and we’re finding significant breakthroughs in cancer. But you need someone to sort of lead you through who knows about it. I think it’s the same way with any problem people have. If there’s a way to let people know there’s an avenue, there’s a way through. You know, I used to have a friend named Bob Gold who died of a heart attack. And I used to say, Bob, do you understand me? He’d say, Joe, and I understand you but you gotta know how to know. And, and that’s why we can be so of little things that can be of enormous value. 

Now I have to admit, when you’ve been through something that’s been particularly difficult, helping someone going through it again forces you to relive your experience.

The people who’ve been through it who show up and support it. I always compliment them because it’s like, it happened yesterday. When you start to focus on it, it’s hard. We underestimate what we can do, not I’m enough about being President. I mean, just what we can do in terms of dealing with people.

I try to understand what is motivating the other person. When I’m doing things internationally or personally, because if you can understand what motivates them, there’s a shot. Even with the bad guys, you can break through and get something done.There’s a way to expose the meanness without causing direct conflict.

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29:15 – Best and worst advice you’ve ever received

Jay Shetty: What is the best advice you’ve ever received and what’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?

The President: I guess the best advice I ever received is show up. Just show up, be there and get up. My mother used to say, Joey, get up. Never bow, never bend, never get up. Just get up. And, but showing up is just that, that’s a big part.And I guess the worst advice I’ve ever received was holding a grudge because lots of times when people do something that is really not good, it is because they were fearful and they did it, not fearful of you, but their circumstance. And it gets you nowhere, which means people doubt whether I’m really Irish. The joke inside was why it’s really Irish. But all kidding aside, remembering is important, but holding a grudge is not helpful.

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30:30 – On seeking support and guidance in your own challenges and journey

Jay Shetty: Where does the President seek support and guidance in your own challenges and journey? 

The President: Well, my best friend is my wife. A woman who has probably had more to do with my success than anyone other than my sister, Valerie. And, my brother Jim, and if it’s really just now, I can’t share classified information with him at all.

I don’t mean that, but I think that’s the place where I go most. But also I have a great advantage over the years. I’ve grown to have some great relationships with people I’ve worked with and on my staff. And I think most of my staff would tell you, the senior staff is that I don’t treat them like they work for me. I treat them, which they are. They know the reason I hire them. I want them to know more than I know. And there’s some things that I seek advice from a religious perspective. But that’s really personal.
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31:44 – On wanting to be the President of the United States | his love for Dr. Jill Biden and first wife Neilia

Jay Shetty: I believe it’s been said that you told your first wife when you met her that you wanted to be, or one day you would be the president of the United States. Is that true? 

The President: No, it’s not true. I love it. I read all this what I did tell her. No man deserves one great love, let alone two. For real. The two women that I married, one passed away were women  I knew when I went out with them the first time, I wanted to marry them. My first wife I told her when I met her, we went to..I had an $89 tax return. I wanted five guys down to Florida and I don’t drink, so I was bored with all that. So I went to Nassau where you could apply for 25 bucks round trip. And I met my deceased wife and I told her when I hung out with her for four days down there on the beach that I was gonna marry her.

And she looked at me, said, I think so, and I started commuting every day, every weekend when I was a senior in college. That’s how I ended up at Syracuse. She’s in there. And then my present wife was,it was a blind date that my brother set up for us, and I knew when I saw her, I was on that 10 most sales bachelor’s list for five years.

And it’s not a fun thing because there were a lot of ’em, don’t get me wrong, a lot of nice people, but I’ve kind of given up on thinking I could have …and I got to. Blind date. I’ll never forget my brother said you like her. She doesn’t like politics.
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33:35 – Which TV series best represents the White House?

Jay Shetty: There are so many shows today based on the Presidency, the White House mirroring,and shows on TV streaming platforms, which one is the most accurate and which one is the least accurate? mission? 

The President: Look, one of the problems I have is I don’t, and I shouldn’t, I don’t watch much television. And it’s not because I’m above it or anything like that, it’s just that. For example, for 36 years after the accident occurred, and I commuted every day, 300 miles a day. And,the press actually I had won. I got to know all the conductors so well, I became friends and one day as Vice President, I was going home on the train, which the Secret Service doesn’t like because there’s so many opportunities to interrupt the train. And this particular guy, I’m not gonna embarrass him, say his name company, grab him and cheek, he is Joey Baby. I thought they’re gonna shoot him anyway. I said, no, he’s, he said, I just read in the paper you travel 1,000,100 thousand miles on Air Force planes because you gotta list how many miles you’re traveling.

And he said, big deal. He said, Joey, we had a retirement dinner. He said, you know what we figured out, you know how many miles you travel on Amtrak? I said, no. He said 1,000,200 thousand miles. 119 days a year, 300 days, 300 miles round trip, 36 years plus. I’m going, God, my point was I was on a train a lot and, so when I get home, There wasn’t much to watch.

I mean, not it was to watch, but I’d, I’d always make sure. I think you know, you every, all your guests know this. I. That children need to know that they’re the most important thing in your life.

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36:27 –  If you could create one law in the world that everyone had to follow, what would it be?

Jay Shetty:  We ask this question to every guest who’s ever been on the show, but it truly is unique asking you this question. If you could create one law in the world that everyone had to follow, what would it be?

The President: I don’t think it’s a matter of being able to have any one law that could change people’s attitudes. I think I’m optimistic. I think we have, we’re on the cusp, but we’re in a time of real change, and we’re at an inflection point in moral history, whether I’m President or not, things are gonna change drastically.

And you see it happening all around the world and we have an enormous opportunity. But the thing I wanna change is the American attitude that we can do anything. We can do anything. There’s nothing we’ve ever set our mind on we’ve not been able to do. We’ve done together for real. And so I laid out four things that I thought were critically important to my State of the Union.

One was to make a fundamental change in cancer treatment. We can cure a lot and that’s why we put another $6 billion. I mean, pick the impossible thing.  I have Caroline Kennedy gave me a copy of part of President Kennedy’s speech about going to the moon. He said, because we refuse to postpone, we have to refuse to postpone anymore.

There’s so much we can do. And I mean it, I believe it with every fiber in my being. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve never been more optimistic about our chances than now. And that’s why when I ran, I said I ran for three reasons. One, to restore the soul of America, sense of decency, just the way we talk to one another.

Secondly, to build this country from the middle out and the bottom up. The wealthy still do very well, but everybody has a shot. And thirdly, to unite the country and I think we can do it. I really genuinely do. And, uh, But then again, as my offer referred to, I’m a cockeyed optimist, but I really believe it.

 

Watch the Full Interview POTUS Joe Biden and Jay Shetty

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