At a recent We Day event, the incredibly talented Katherine McNamara and Jay Shetty carved out a few minutes to catch up. Both spoke at the event, which was held to empower and celebrate the multitude of young people doing remarkable things in this world.  

Best known for her role in the teen drama Shadowhunters, McNamara has received fourteen Choice Awards and two People’s Choice Awards. She was also named People’s Choice Female TV Star of 2018. She now stars in the DC Comics series Arrow and was recently caught in the Stephen King mini-series The Stand. 

McNamara is also deeply passionate about charity. She actively donates to the United Nations Foundation’s Campaign, “Girl Up,” and has helped raise two million dollars for Children’s Mercy Hospital. McNamara supports several causes, including health, human rights, environment, peace, children, and women

McNamara is passionate about education and believes the most effective way to learn is to discover the excitement and joy in learning. She was taught from a young age to find the laughter amid the chaos, and she applies that strategy to her life today.

In this article, Jay Shetty and McNamara take a light-hearted look at how you can let your curiosity guide you to find purpose. They also break down strategies you can apply to your life to find the joy in learning and the laughter amid chaos.

Early Life

Growing up in Kansas City left McNamara with many fond memories of the times she would spend at her grandparents’ house. 

“They have this house in this beautiful wooded area,” McNamara shares with Jay Shetty. “It became my nature’s playground in their backyard. They had all these woods, hills, rocks, and things that I could climb around and look at the wildlife. I could be alone in my imagination. That is what started in me a lot of my sense of make-believe, which I believe led me to be an actor.” 

McNamara admits to Jay Shetty that growing up, she wanted to be an economist. Coming from a medical professional and scientist family, Mcnamara was not aware that acting was a job. 

“I was always a huge math nerd,” McNamara explains. “To this day, I love economics because it’s the real-world application of the math that I love so much. I was just so fascinated by the fact that these formulas and graphs and the complex math that I learned so much about could be used to predict and explain things that happen in the real world.”

McNamara became focused on developmental economics. She loves the anthropological aspect involved when trying to find ways to help developing countries exist in the world so they can grow to their full potential.

A chance encounter with a family friend who was directing a community theater production changed McNamara’s life trajectory. Ballet is something McNamara did as a hobby when she was younger, and the friend was looking for a dancer to be in the production. McNamara jumped on board. 

“I will never forget walking on stage on opening night,” McNamara expresses to Jay Shetty. “You have these moments of clarity in life. I walked on stage and something hit me like a brick wall. I just knew at that moment that I was put on this earth to tell stories, and I was put on this earth to create characters and to be a part of this communal entertainment form.”

Jay Shetty agrees that if you can slow down and pause to take in different experiences, you can present opportunities that you could have missed if you didn’t try something new or reflect upon the things you have done. 

McNamara is making an effort to be vulnerable to joy in lessons learned or wherever it can be found.

“I heard somebody give a talk earlier this year about being vulnerable to joy,” McNamara explains to Jay Shetty. “There is something I thought was so beautiful in that. So often, we’re focused on the next thing that we don’t allow ourselves to be open to whatever it is that’s coming our way. We miss out on so much.”

McNamara’s time spent daydreaming at her grandparents’ house turned into a lucrative career that she jokes she fell backward into, but being open to opportunity led her to find purpose.

Importance of Education

McNamara graduated from high school at 14 and received a degree at 17. She credits her preschool teacher for taking the time to foster her love of learning. Her family and teachers always presented learning and education as discovery and joy. They challenged what she figured out about the world.

“It was never a chore,” McNamara tells Jay Shetty. “It was never something negative. It was never presented as work in a sense, so that’s how I’ve always approached learning.”

McNamara participated in many online correspondence programs that allowed her to learn and progress at her own pace. She also attended school for art, music, recess, lunch, and all the fun stuff. It was the best of both worlds and allowed her to enjoy and value her education. 

Not everyone is fortunate enough to share that same experience. Jay Shetty explains that his years of schooling looked much different.

“In my case, it was about performance, getting top grades, and doing well on exams,” Shetty explains. “That doesn’t leave a good impression for kids because it becomes pressure and pain. You’re now just trying to catch up with this metric to show your parents or compare yourself to someone else.”

McNamara feels that too many kids take education for granted or don’t see it as something that can be joyful. Her message is to try and find joy in learning.

“There are going to be assignments, classes, and things that are going to be difficult and are not going to be any fun at all,” she said to Jay Shetty. “It’s all about finding the fun. You have to Mary Poppins that a little bit. Make it something that you can enjoy because you have to do it either way.”

Life is about perspective. When you wake up in the morning, you choose how you are going to approach your day. You can choose to have a great day or a terrible day. It is all about how you view things. The same applies to your education.

Laughter Amid Chaos

How do you handle the stress and chaos of your day? McNamara looks for the good amid the chaos. She tries to focus on something that can make her smile or laugh through the mess.

“I always try and find something good,” McNamara tells Jay Shetty. “My entire family is of the mind that you can make anything silly. You can turn it into laughter. I try to carry that on and spread that around as much as I possibly can.”

Preparing For a Role

McNamara claims to be a huge nerd when researching for a specific role. She clings to the theory that if she has all the knowledge about a role that she deposits in the back of her brain, she can pull from it when she needs it. She likes to read about and watch movies or TV shows that contain information that will elevate her in the role. 

“I love Pinterest,” McNamara explains. “I’ll go on Pinterest and look up different clothing or different hair and makeup to see what I can piece together. I might see something that I might not have thought of. I just try to get as many ideas as I can.”

McNamara uses the 50/50 approach when it comes to a new role. She does 50 percent of the work before, and the other half happens the day of shooting. This approach allows her to be prepared for the role yet flexible at the same time. 

“So much of it depends on the director and the other actors in the scene,” McNamara tells Jay Shetty. “What is the set and the environment like? Half of the acting is interacting with other people and the environment around you. If I come in and I’m solidly set in what I’m going to do, I don’t have any flexibility, and there’s no room for play.”

Jay Shetty agrees the 50/50 rule is excellent and adds you can paralyze yourself when you’re in the zone. You just can’t be playful.

A lesson that McNamara recently learned is the importance of taking a moment and a breath to sit for a moment and be present, absorbing what you’re in the midst of.

“It’s so important to think beyond yourself and beyond your own life,” she tells Jay Shetty. “Take care of everyone in the world that we live in. If everyone took just a couple of seconds every day to think of someone else and to do something kind for somebody else, the world would be a lot better place.”

More From Jay Shetty

Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode with Katherine McNamara “Centering on Joy Amidst Chaos and Finding Purpose Through Curiosity” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at

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