What does the world’s most successful YouTuber have to teach students and teachers about creativity, learning, and education?
Meet Mr. Beast, the most successful individual YouTuber in the world. With 140M subscribers on his main channel and dozens of other channels in operation, Jimmy Donaldson’s life has been defined by his creative work on the platform.
His videos earn billions of views annually across multiple languages, and his first retail products have met with mind-numbing success.
The scary thing? He’s only 24 years old.
I have questions.
As an educator and creator, I’ve been intrigued by Jimmy’s story for some time.
How does he view formal K-12 and college education?
What’s his approach to learning and creativity?
What can we take from his story as creators, learners, and educators?
Several videos and documentaries later, I’ve got some answers and takeaways to share. Some surprises, too.
1. Extreme learning guarantees extreme results.
“I would say since I was eleven years old, almost every waking hour of the day I’m thinking about YouTube in some form or capacity.”
One thing that becomes quickly apparent in Jimmy’s story is his absolute obsession with learning more about the YouTube platform and the art of video production.
It’s manic. It’s compulsive.
He’s been continuously learning about YouTube content creation for over 13 years and he just refuses to stop.
It’s a kind of frenzied focus that we’re not sure we’d recommend for our own students or children. As educators, we’re in the business of developing the whole child, but to hear him describe it, Mr. Beast-style obsession doesn’t leave much room for other life priorities.
Still, Donaldson seems to have a good relationship with his mother and brother. He has a girlfriend and enjoys long-lasting friendships. He’s a renowned philanthropist and seems driven by opportunities to help others. Balanced lifestyle or not, the world could use more Jimmy Donaldsons.
There’s a clear takeaway here: extreme learning leads to extreme results. Mr. Beast’s level of obsession isn’t the path for everyone, but there’s a powerful principle at work here that is worth emulating.
2. It’s still possible to start at zero and become a master artist.
“I had no idea what worked. I had to teach myself everything.”
Watching Donaldson entertain millions of global viewers each month, you might be forgiven for guessing that he grew up in wealthy suburbia, enjoyed the stability of a nuclear family, attended elite private schools, or was given the financial resources to acquire cutting-edge equipment as a teen.
That’s where you’d be wrong — on all counts. He enjoyed none of those advantages.
He started at zero.
Jimmy grew up in lower class neighbourhoods of Greenville, North Carolina with a single mother. His first computers and cameras were giveaways from friends and family — some of the lowest quality gear possible. He never attended a formal course or received specialized training.
He’s entirely self-taught. He scratched and clawed and experimented and failed and learned and failed again and learned some more to become the creative genius that he is today.
He’s another testament to the 10,000 hours hypothesis popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. Put in 10,000 hours at just about anything, and you’ll become an expert.
It’s an incredible story, and the takeaway is powerful: you don’t need a single external factor or advantage to become skilled in a creative field.
You don’t need a head start. You just need to start.
3. Accelerate your growth by learning with others.
“Most of my growth came after I graduated high school. Basically what I did was somehow I found these other four lunatics … We were all super small YouTubers and we basically talked every day for 1,000 days in a row and did nothing but hyperstudy what makes a good video, what makes a good thumbnail, what’s good pacing, how to go viral. We’d just call them daily masterminds … We were very religious about it. That’s where most of my knowledge came from.” How Mr. Beast Became Successful on YouTube (PowerfulJRE)
Think carefully about what he just described.
A group of teenagers decided to collaborate — in person and online — every day.
All day, every day. To learn.
And when he says “all day,” he means it. Jimmy describes connecting with his friends on Skype in the mornings and remaining in the calls for literally the entire day.
Daily masterminds. For years. That’s a lot of learning in community.
Here he describes why this level of collaboration is such a powerful hack.
“It’s like, if you envision a world where you’re trying to be great at something … and it’s just you learning and [messing] up and learning from your mistakes, in two years you might have learned from twenty mistakes. Where if you have four other people who are also messing up, and when they learn from their mistakes and they teach you what they learned, hypothetically two years down the road you’ve learned five times the amount of stuff. It helps you grow exponentially way quicker.” — How Mr. Beast Became Successful on YouTube (PowerfulJRE)
He’s right, of course. This perspective matches everything we know about the powers of collaborative learning, peer assessment, and the iterative design process.
Simply put, more brains are better than one brain. Accelerate your learning by learning with others.
4. For significant results, action is everything.
“Like, the entire room is a huge LEGO fort. He was intense, and he was passionate about what it was that he was working on at the time.”
We’re all creative beings. For many, the trick is simply to identify their passions, unlock them, and give them the opportunities they need to blossom and flourish.
And by “opportunities,” I mean taking action. I mean creating. Publishing.
This bit about action isn’t automatic. Lots of people have dreams and ideas of creative work. But few people act on them.
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes: “This is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”
I like the scene of the little LEGO builder told by his mother in the excerpt above, because it gives us a valuable snapshot of Mr. Beast before YouTube.
He was a builder. He was an experimenter. He was a creator before he was online.
From LEGO to videos to businesses, Jimmy has had the courage to bring forth the treasures hidden within him.
His creative passions have led to consistent action.
And when it comes to results, action is everything.
5. Proficiency requires resilience through adversity.
“Every night before bed, I’d just be like, it sucks. It’s a lot of work. And I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, but if I just do it long enough, eventually it will click. Eventually, I’ll figure it out.”
Every successful creator has experienced discouragement and dark days.
Days when nothing seems to be going right. Days when it seems like the only ones who even see the work are laughing.
They’re going to happen.
Most creative spaces require considerable investments of time, patience, and focus in the face of difficulty. Quality content — regardless of the medium — doesn’t happen just because you’re present.
Mr. Beast doesn’t talk about his lows often, but listen to his story enough times and you’ll realize that he’s dealt with more than his share of adversity.
From equipment fails to editing disasters to dismissive comments to the theft of all of his gear, there were many moments when he could have thrown in the towel and moved on to other hobbies.
But he refused to let problems, setbacks, or failures defeat him. Refused.
And fifteen years later, he’s enjoying the results.
6. Failure isn’t just something to survive: it’s an essential part of the creative process.
“Just fail. A lot of people get analysis paralysis and they’ll just sit there and they’ll plan their first video for three months … Your first video is not going to get views. Your first ten are not going to get views. So stop sitting there and thinking for months and months on end. Get to work and start uploading. All you need to do is make 100 videos and improve something every time. Then on your 101st video we’ll start talking about maybe you can get some views.”
In Mindset, Carol Dweck taught us the importance of a growth mindset in learners of all ages.
Those with a fixed mindset view new learning and potential failure as a threat to identity. If X doesn’t go well for me, it will mean I’m dumb or a loser or both.
In contrast, those with a growth mindset embrace the challenges of X precisely because it represents new territory. Failures are interesting to those with this mindset. Failures are viewed as opportunities to learn.
“Make 100 videos and improve something every time.” For me, that’s the key phrase in the quote above.
Yes, we will make mistakes in the creative process, but that’s actually the point. Austin famously took six tries to draw a butterfly, but he never would have achieved proficiency without trying for the first time.
“That’s the beauty of content creation online. There’s literally infinite ways [to improve]. Every little thing can be improved and they can never not be improved. There’s no such thing as a perfect video.”
Weightlifters welcome muscle failure because it means they are pushing their limits.
Creators should be no different.
Try, fail, learn, and improve one more thing every single time.
7. Traditional schooling isn’t a required path to success. For some students, it’s the obstacle.
“Even in high school, I never once studied. I literally wouldn’t even take my books home. I legit don’t think I studied once for all of high school at my house … I didn’t have the best grades … I hated school with a passion, but [my mom] forced me to go to community college. That was the worst thing ever. That made me hate life, like borderline suicidal. I just can’t stand having to just sit there and listen to this dumb stuff and listen to some teacher read out of a book.” — How Mr. Beast Became Successful on YouTube (PowerfulJRE)
As a committed educator, this one hurt.
“I hated school with a passion.”
“That was the worst thing ever.”
“That made me hate life.”
Mr. Beast doesn’t hold back when it comes to his school and college experiences.
Listening to this brought up all kinds of questions for me.
Did he ever enjoy any of his teachers in K-12 education?
Did he ever get any opportunities to experiment with media creation in school?
One thing becomes crystal clear here: the traditional K-12 school experience is not a required stop on the highway to success.
And by “success,” I’m not just thinking of financial freedom, although Mr. Beast certainly has that. I’m thinking of self-actualization, the ability to cultivate quality relationships, becoming a contributing member of society, and the practical power to make the world a better place.
Mr. Beast is just one of millions of creators, entrepreneurs, and leaders who didn’t need traditional education and never once saw value in it. He saw school as something to survive, to outlast, to get away from.
As a teacher, this is a little discouraging. But I also find it liberating.
You know that seventh grader who refuses to finish assignments and obsesses endlessly about creating games on Roblox? Yes, do what you can to push, support, and hold him to high standards. Encourage him, love him, let him know that he belongs and that he matters.
But once you’ve done all that, don’t lose sleep over him.
Chances are, he’s going to be fine.
8. Creative work can thrive where friendships fail.
“I was really shy, especially when I was younger. I really didn’t like being around people … Outside of sports, it was just literally YouTube. That was all I watched. No one in my school watched videos, so I kind of just felt like an outcast, ’cause I was just hyper obsessed over it.”
“I kind of just felt like an outcast.”
If you’re a teacher, you know these kids.
They’re present in our rooms and in our halls. But they’re disconnected. And as much as we try to do to include them, connect them, love on them, and help them engage in the life of our learning communities, we’re not always successful.
Here’s the thing. Friendships and relationships are incredibly important. But they’re not everything in a child’s life or development.
The story of Mr. Beast reminds me that in the absence of busy social lives, some students will dive deep into creative pursuits. I find that comforting.
Where does that leave me as a teacher? No, I can’t actually make middle schoolers build deep friendships with other middle schoolers.
But I can get to know the creative impulses of my students. Curiosity and encouragement from adults that students know, like, and trust can go a long way to fan those flames of passion.
We’re not giving up on relationship-building. But just maybe, while some of these students struggle along, we can help them develop a life-giving world of creative work that will boost their self-confidence, define their identities, and introduce them to others who think like they do.
In a world of obsessive gaming, vaping, drugs, and TikTok consumption, the path of creative work can be one of the healthiest for our students to walk.
Let’s cheer them on.
9. A creative life is a fulfilled life. Take time to create.
“If I’m not creating, then I don’t feel fulfilled, I don’t feel like I’m progressing, and I feel like I’m wasting my time.” — How Much Money MrBeast Makes | The Full Story (Graham Stephan)
Adobe released a report in 2022 that confirmed what many of us already know: the more we create, the happier we feel.
Every human being has a creative impulse inside of them.
I do. You do. Everyone we know does.
Fulfillment in life comes in many forms: meaningful faith, family, friendships, generosity, gratitude, service, and alignment between values, identity, work, and play.
For an increasing number of people, including Mr. Beast, fulfillment is also found in creating.
There are a couple of important takeaways here for educators.
One is to weave as much creativity into our instruction as possible. Give students the tools and opportunities to design and express and create multimodal representations of their learning. There are a host of good reasons to do this.
The second takeaway is more subtle, and I don’t want to pile another should on already-tired teachers. But here it is.
Do you want to go from burnout to on fire as a teacher? Try taking some time to indulge your creative side.
Explore. Experiment. Draw. Write. Photograph. Speak. Share.
Punch fear in the face and hit publish.
When you share your creative work with the world, you’re giving us all a gift.
But you’re also developing yourself. You’re taking another step toward self-actualization. You’re building confidence and competence with every rep.
You’re hopping on an upward trajectory that will make you a better educator and increase the value of what you have to share with the world at the same time.
Creative work is fulfilling.
Mr. Beast’s story makes me sad and glad at the same time.
As an educator, Mr. Beast’s story is both saddening and inspiring. He’s experienced phenomenal creative success despite his education experience, not because of it.
But his story has a lot to teach students and teachers about the nature of learning and creativity. Whatever your role in education, there are powerful lessons to be taken from his journey.
Self-directed learning. Collaboration. Resilience. Multiple iterations of work. Excellence. Generosity. Finding joy in the creative process. These are all values and practices that are easy to see in the journey of Jimmy Donaldson.
From student to teacher, classroom to district, we could all use a little more Mr. Beast.