Jay Shetty invited John Legend to share his life story.
Growing up with an absent mother, he built a safe environment for his children. On top of being one of the most appreciated artists alive, the musician is also a loving husband and father, for whom family is essential.
Legend won multiple awards throughout his music career, including twelve Grammy Awards and Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, a Tony Award, and an Emmy Award. Moreover, he recently launched a class on songwriting on Masterclass.
Legend grew up in a Christian family in the evangelical community. He started his education by attending a Christian school, but because it was too expensive for his family, they decided to homeschool him instead.
In contrast to his friends and peers who attended traditional schools, Legend spent a significant amount of time at home with his mother, who was also his teacher.
Legend told Jay Shetty that he was a precocious child and always wanted to learn about things beyond his age. He was interested in reading and would read whatever he could.
During his childhood, the musician was “obsessed with” dictionaries and encyclopedias. From his mother’s book, he learned how to type. Around the same time, he also started taking piano lessons.
After ten years of homeschooling, Legend eventually had to attend a public school. Unfortunately, the reason behind it was his parents’ divorce, he told Jay Shetty. After his grandmother passed away, his mother began abusing drugs and couldn’t continue on the path she had started.
Enrolling in public school was a significant life change for Legend. On top of his parents’ separation, he was now faced with a completely different social setting that he wasn’t prepared for. He was also able to skip two grades, finishing high school at the age of sixteen.
The musician explained to Jay Shetty that in many ways, homeschooling hindered his social development. He was a shy kid who found his voice through his music. He felt uncomfortable striking up a conversation with someone, but he would bloom on stage. He called his music his “social crutch.”
It Takes A Village
During times of uncertainty, with his mother fighting addiction and mental health issues, Legend sought encouragement from his relatives. He was lucky to have a broad support net, such as his extended family with his cousins, aunts, and uncles, who helped him fill the gap his mother had left behind.
Moreover, the musician and his brother were lucky to have a guidance counselor who took them under his wing. In addition, Legend would immerse himself into his music as a coping mechanism during turbulent times.
“I think a lot of times when your parents aren’t able to give you everything that you need. It’s good to have other people in your life that can do it,” he told Jay Shetty.
Legend admitted to Jay Shetty that losing his mother to substance abuse was traumatic. She transformed in his eyes from a caring mother into an addict. And this change made him and his brother feel abandoned.
Luckily, his mother found the strength to recover and heal in many more ways than just physical. Yet this doesn’t change the fact that Legend needed to forgive her for the harm he experienced during her darkest times.
To children, parents are supposed to have all the answers, fix all broken things, and be role models. However, realizing they are fallible can be a big shock, especially to young kids. The musician was overcome by disappointment concerning his mother when he understood that she had made her fair share of mistakes.
However, as part of his growth, Legend had to figure out a way to forgive her. It was essential both for him and his mother to heal. Because, the musician added, keeping a grudge will hinder you in the long run.
Forgiveness is “the best way for you to go on and live. The best life that you can live is to get that weight off of your shoulder that you’re holding on to,” Legend shared with Jay Shetty.
Being A Parent
Because he grew up in an environment that didn’t always feel safe, the musician wants the best for his children. So he and his wife made it their purpose to model a loving home and relationship and create a safe space for everyone in their family.
Legend shared with Jay Shetty that the central values in his home are generosity, love, kindness, and passion. He and his wife want their children to thrive and allow them to make mistakes in a safe environment.
According to Legend, growing up in fear and surrounded by danger can affect a child’s ability to respond to stimuli and to deal with their fight, flight, or freeze response. If they experience too much trauma, coping with life can be difficult. So, the musician doesn’t want his children to experience such events at home.
When Legend started playing music, he studied the piano. He learned it well enough to accompany himself or others, but he feels that a concert pianist plays it better.
However, he developed his strengths by becoming a great songwriter and performing. He admitted to Jay Shetty that while it takes some talent to write good songs, it is much more than that. Over the years, the musician developed techniques that would help him find inspiration even when nothing extraordinary was happening in his personal life
Legend teaches a class on Masterclass about songwriting. There, he shares his methodology and processes behind the scenes. And one of them is that even when nothing significant is happening in his personal life at the time of songwriting, he is able to draw inspiration from others.
The musician likes working in the same room as other writers, he told Jay Shetty. They try out different versions and choose the one that sounds the best. Moreover, he believes that humility and egolessness are essential traits in his job. He doesn’t have to be the one to come up with the song. If others’ ideas are better than his, Legend will acknowledge that.
Maintaining A Happy Marriage
John Legend’s wife is not at all involved in creating new songs. She only listens to the final product and gives the musician honest feedback. However, it is important to him to know that she enjoyed his work.
Jay Shetty and Legend agree that having different passions and interests but backing each other’s work signifies relationship maturity. Support from your partner comes in many shapes and forms, and it doesn’t mean being inseparable at all times.
Yet the musician feels the proudest of his work when his wife also feels pleased. She sometimes suggests changes and improvements to some of his shows, and she often joins him there to see him perform on stage.
“I want her to love it. And I respect her a lot. And I trust her a lot. And I feel like she has good taste. So if she likes something I did, and she especially likes it, then that’s a really good sign for me,” Legend shared with Jay Shetty.
I Don’t Love You Like I Used To
Unlike popular belief, loving someone like on the first day is not a sign of solid commitment. Love, like many other things in life, evolves. This is what John Legend had in mind when he wrote I Don’t Love You Like I Used To.
His love for his wife, Chrissy Teigen, grew stronger over the years as they faced joy and hardships together. The musician admits to feeling more connected to his wife than ever, primarily because of all their combined experiences.
When they met, Legend was in his mid-20s, and he admitted to Jay Shetty that he was very selfish back then. But his attraction for Teigen made him want to become a better partner. So, he put in the effort, and they built a beautiful family together.
The singer explained, “When we first met, we were very attracted to each other… But that level of attraction is more like infatuation at the beginning of a relationship and love when it is able to stand the test of time. It has to be deeper and more real than that.”
Living With Grief
One of Legend’s new songs is about grief. When his wife lost their third child late during the pregnancy, it was not easy for their family. One lyric that caught Jay Shetty’s attention was, “let your broken heart learn to live in pieces.”
The musician admits that such a loss will accompany him for the rest of his life. However, it is crucial to learn to embrace and live on while accepting this painful experience as part of your being. He believes that healing doesn’t mean forgetting something terrible happened but how you manage to move on after a traumatic experience.
Jay Shetty observed that many couples tend to drift apart after child loss. However, Legend and his wife remained strong. The experience became a part of who they are now.
But the musician believes their experience kept them together because they already had a solid foundation. They had two other children and a long history together, which helped maintain their strong bond, even during the most challenging times. Moreover, they both committed to working through their pain. In doing so, they moved on and embraced the loss of their stillborn baby as part of their journey.
Starting A Family
Legend strongly believes that one needs stability from a familial and financial perspective before having children. He was fortunate to be able to afford to fund a carefree childhood for his children. Moreover, he had family around, especially his mother-in-law, who would spend time with them. But, as he mentioned to Jay Shetty, it takes a village to raise a child, and many families are not in this fortunate situation.
However, the musician is adamant that American families need much more support from the government. He believes investing in families and meeting their basic needs, such as free child care, should be a priority instead of funding prisons. In Legend’s opinion, fewer families have children because they can’t afford them.
Legend told Jay Shetty that he gets his inspiration from his personal life, random encounters, movie lines that caught his attention, and other songwriters with whom he worked. When asked who he would love to collaborate with, two people who came to mind were Nina Simone and Kendrick Lamar.
After years of songwriting, producing an album every two to three years has remained a constant in Legend’s life. He believes that inspiration only comes sometimes and that it takes time to produce a quality product. However, he doesn’t wait for ideas to come to him. Instead, he seeks them and purposefully designs an environment where he can create. Therefore, the structure is an integral part of his creative process.
To the musician, coming out of the studio with a final song is the reward for his hard work. “It’s a very amazing sense of gratification that you get when you walk into a room, and nothing exists except for loose ideas in your head. And then a few hours later, you walk out with this new thing that exists; it’s a song,” he explained to Jay Shetty.
John Legend is constantly looking to make an impact in people’s lives. Coming from a troubled family, he found support in his extended family and his school counselor, who believed in him.
Now, he channels his energy into his music and family. He and his wife ensure that their children grow up in a loving and safe environment and have everything they need. And he is also a philanthropist, helping others in need as much as possible.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “Growing From Grief & How To Turn Childhood Adversities into Fuel for Your Passion” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.