Mathew Joseph was born in central Kerala and after having lived and worked in most parts of India, he has moved to Bangalore where he lives currently. He spent his teenage years aspiring to become a Carmelite monk, before embarking up on a career in civil service. He holds two degrees, one in philosophy, and another in psychology in addition to a master’s in business administration. He is a former civil servant and an ardent nature lover and avid traveller.
TBE: Can you tell us a little about your memoir, ‘THE ASPIRANT: Memoirs of a Monk Turned Civil Servant’? What prompted you to write this?
Mathew Joseph: ‘The Aspirant‘ happened mainly because of the persuasion of my friends who found the stories I shared with them on social media platforms interesting as well as invigorating and insisted that I should write a book to make those stories available for a wider audience. My friends not only liked my stories but also enjoyed the way in which they were narrated which, according to them, had a film-like quality transporting the reader to the time and place where the story unfolds. Gradually, I started putting those stories together and ‘The Aspirant’ was born.
TBE: During your journey from the idea of this book to the publication, what was the most difficult thing you faced? Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Mathew Joseph: Writing the book wasn’t all that difficult. After all, it was about my own experiences and my way of looking at life. But as a first-time author, getting a publisher interested in your book is the most difficult part, according to me. Thankfully, in my case, Leadstart was quick enough to find merit in my book.
TBE: How was your publishing experience with Leadstart?
Mathew Joseph: It was a smooth journey. I had no difficulty at any point in the publishing process. Everyone I interacted with was helpful. I find that Leadstart has a transparent evaluation process for selecting the manuscript. In fact, they shared with me the detailed guidelines that they follow in the selection process. There was a dedicated project manager for my book who was very prompt and responsive. In short, it was a great experience publishing with Leadstart.
TBE: Why did you decide you wanted to be a monk in the first place?
Mathew Joseph: I have explained this towards the end of the first chapter of my book. In the traditional Syrian Catholic families, like the one I grew up with, monks and priests are held in high esteem. They are treated as the chosen ones and role models. Moreover, there were cousins and uncles from the extended family who had already chosen that lifestyle. All these factors influenced my decision to join the Carmelites.
TBE: How do you incorporate your monastic studies into such a bureaucratic lifestyle?
Mathew Joseph: Many monastic practices like meditation, leading a simple life, following a regular routine, being patient and kind etc., become a way of life even after one comes out of the confines of the monastery. The experience of monastic lifestyle had its salutary effect in my life as a bureaucrat.
TBE: After spending some time studying at a monastery, you returned to what we think of as general society. How did you make the decision to leave?
Mathew Joseph: The monastic life I came across was much different from what I thought it would be when I joined the monastery as a youngster and that led to disillusionments. As explained in the second chapter of my book, there were many questions for which I didn’t get satisfactory answers. When the disenchantment became overpowering, I decided to quit halfway through.
TBE: How did that lead to you building a career around sharing those principles learned as a monk, with everyone else?
Mathew Joseph: In my career as a bureaucrat, I tried to perform my duties without fear or favor and by following the rules and regulations scrupulously. The formative years in the monastery made it easier to put up with difficult situations and to take setbacks in stride.
TBE: As we move to the second part of the book, we saw your idea of the “service mindset”—committing to a life of helping others however we can manage it, as opposed to just doing a couple things and then losing momentum. How can we start to live our lives in service of others?
Mathew Joseph: I believe that any authority that is vested with anyone is for serving the people. A civil servant, as the name suggests, has to be the servant of the people, not their masters. Once that fundamental truth sinks in, one would find it easy to live life in the service of others.
TBE: Do you think that the onus for service should fall more squarely on those who have the time, the means, and the power to carry it out?
Mathew Joseph: I think everyone, irrespective of their position or possessions, needs to serve those who are around them. All of us can extend a small helping hand to others which would make a difference in their lives. And, that is what makes our lives worth living.
TBE: One element that really sets you apart as a human is your emphasis on service and giving back. Did you have a sense of how important that was before you became a monk?
Mathew Joseph: There are many people who make conscious efforts to serve the people around them. I too did my bit. As mentioned earlier, my monastic training has its beneficial effects on my way of doing things and looking at life.
TBE: What is the message you want to share with the world through your book? (In other words, what do you consider to be your life’s work?)
Mathew Joseph: I have not tried to expound any message through this book. Mine is a simple story of an ordinary man who willingly accepted whatever life has thrown at him and remained ever grateful while striving to be happy in helping others. If such an approach to life has a message, then, that is the message.
TBE: Often in life, it’s our greatest challenges that make or break us. What do you think is the determining factor between whether we grow by our adversity or are destroyed by it?
Mathew Joseph: The willing acceptance of whatever happens is the key. By this, I do not mean a fatalistic approach to life; but doing the best one can and then accepting whatever result that comes out. In other words, adversity can never destroy the one who adheres to the principle of ‘nishkam karma’.
TBE: What would be the number one piece of advice you’d give to someone who is currently struggling with life?
Mathew Joseph: Try your best and hope for the best. Whatever happens, happens for your good.
TBE: We live in what often feels like a crazy and stressed-out world. What do you think the world most needs today?
Mathew Joseph: Peace. Peace within oneself, peace between people and nations.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Mathew Joseph: I am currently working on an assortment of stories from my childhood – simple stories set against the backdrop of rural Kerala from a bygone era. I am also doing a bit of research on a topic for attempting a novel at a later date.