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How Mindfulness Can Help Your Career - Lessons From a Former Monk

Edwin Zuluaga shares how being a monk for 5 years helps his career in consulting and provides tips for mindfulness

When I learned about Edwin Zuluaga's experience as a monk before becoming a management consultant at a global consulting firm, first I thought of Jay Shetty, given their similar background.

Then, I was very interested in learning about the connection between mindfulness & meditation, and business, so I invited him to an Ideas for Divas videocast.

Here are my top 3 takeaways from the interview. Press play and take your conclusions!

1. Empathy and listening help us to build connections with people, for service and business

Edwin shared why he made the authentic choice to become a monk aiming to serve underprivileged populations across the United States. He mentioned that as soon as he became comfortable in a community, he was transferred to a different areas and he had to start building relationships and awareness again from scratch.

After 5 years he aimed to create more social impact, influencing institutions and governments to change policies and that was beyond what he could accomplish as a monk. So, he left primarily to focus on Social Work.

He later realized that his problem-solving skills would be valuable for consulting and that it would be possible to create social impact working with governments and non-profits.

Building empathy with people from various backgrounds - from youth at risk and homeless to VPs of financial institutions - in a human-centered fashion has helped Edwin to engage with clients and other stakeholders and to progress in his career. As a monk, he got used to listening, without judgment or jumping to talk next, and this skill enables him to understand client's problems and better position him to propose suitable solutions.

In his own words:

Working with diverse groups helps you to become self-aware of your own assumptions, biases, and self-perceptions, and then you can show up better to whoever you are meeting.

2. Mindfulness goes beyond meditation and practicing it can help business and life

Edwin mentioned how being mindful in the day-to-day builds self-awareness and reflects on how you show up in various situations - when people cut you off in traffic or when you are on a business meeting.

He mentions that practicing meditation helps you to manage your emotions and avoid projecting them to other people, especially in stressful situations.

According to him, mindfulness goes beyond meditation. Focusing on tasting the food when you eat instead of scrolling on your phone or truly listening to your partner in a conversation instead of thinking about what you want to say next are examples of mindfulness practices that can help to build self-awareness.

When you are trying to solve complex issues, if you are not present in the room as a whole, you are missing out on an opportunity to truly engage with the client (...). If you don't practice mindfulness it's really hard to show up for client conversations.

3. Self-kindness is key to building a mindfulness practice

Edwin used to meditate for 2 hours a day as a monk. His life changed and now he has to balance multiple responsibilities - his career as a consultant and his personal life - so he has been meditating for 10, 20 minutes a day.

He is working to strengthen his practice and he emphasizes the importance of giving yourself grace in the process of 'silencing the monkeys in the brain'.

You are a human and this [a meditation practice] is a work in progress. This is not something that you wake up someday and have figured out.

His own experience as a monk was challenging as in the beginning he would get distracted or fall asleep and he felt frustrating thinking that everyone else in the chapel was a pro mediator. An old monkey told him that people have unique journeys to achieve a true state of mindfulness.

Starting with a small goal, like 5 minutes of meditation a day, and having social support when practicing mindfulness while prioritizing self-compassion are Edwin's suggestions to succeed in your journey.


This interview helped me to be kinder with myself about my mindfulness practice. I do the 10 minutes daily Calm in the morning and used to think that's not enough and that I needed to go to a retreat or a class to learn how to meditate properly. Although I still want to progress in my journey, Edwin's message to give ourselves grace for committing to the process, really resonated with me.

I also want to be more mindful in day-to-day activities, being fully present and avoiding multitasking - like listening to the ocean waves and birds when going out for a walk instead of listening to a podcast or audio-book. Divas, how are you progressing in your mindfulness journey and how is that helping your career and your life? Leave your comment on Twitter or Facebook. Liked this content? Share with someone who will benefit from it and subscribe to be the first one to know about the latest articles and interviews.

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