45. Mykel

Last year I was fortunate enough to travel to Portugal for the House of Beautiful Business (see photo below!) In the interests of securing at least one familiar face before diving into four days and nights with hundreds of strangers on the other side of the world, I reached out to the handful of others attending from Melbourne. Lucky for me, Myke was one of them. After failed attempts to meet at three airports and on two long haul flights, we shared a very jet lagged and very ‘Melbourne’ brunch in the middle of Lisbon. Chatting about our intentions for the week ahead and learning more about his work, I was struck by Myke’s ability to genuinely listen, to immediately delve beneath the surface, to bring people together and to create a special kind of vibe. Back on home soil a few months later it was a pleasure to learn more about Myke’s story over a cucumber mocktail. And it’s been exciting to watch him adapt his work around the craziness of 2020 (including a 24 hour virtual book launch and a live stream TV show). Love your work Myke!

We’re all products of an institutionalised education system that was developed well over a century ago. What we’re taught might have changed but how we’re taught is largely the same. We learn to conform, to be compliant, to memorise information and to compete with one another. It’s an efficient and productive way of learning that spits students out the other side of a HSC examination, with an accreditation that often sits on the shelf. 

When we’re children, creativity is so natural and so accessible to all of us. Unfortunately, as we grow into adulthood and move into our professional lives, our creativity is often lost, diluted or suppressed. It’s heartbreaking but unsurprising.

We’ve become a generation of well-educated people who are terrified to take risks, share our ideas, look foolish or raise our hand before we have a question – all prerequisites for the emerging economy and fundamental to creative living.

We‘ve forgotten that behind our job titles, portfolios and bank balances, we’re all born to create – it’s not just something we do, it’s something we are. We are designed to reimagine and reinvent the world around us. 

Luckily, my parents were both pretty rad – I was supported to pursue the arts and empowered to make my own choices. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to retain my creativity. It’s served me to no end throughout my life– giving me not only my career, but half of my closest relationships.

I started playing piano at the age of five and had an incredible jazz piano teacher, Kym, who was a musical prodigy. He would give me a mixed tape at the end of every lesson, opening up a completely new world to me. While my peers were listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana, I was listening to Oscar Peterson, Betty Green and the Ray Brown Trio. As an impressionable teenager, I was going out mid-week with my folks to watch Kym play. He’d often get me up on stage to play with his band.

If I didn’t practise between lessons he wouldn’t teach me. Instead we’d bake a chocolate cake or discuss how to approach venue operators. With Kym, it was never about doing exams or being technically proficient. It was about falling in love with the idea of music – being fascinated with the musicality of life, the rhythm and timbre of good conversation, the ambience of an environment, moving energy among people. When you can get excited about that, the world opens up and you start dreaming about what you can do with your music. 

Kym left Australia, moved to Vegas and eventually became a musical director on 42nd Street. A few years later, I had every gig he’d had in Adelaide and felt as though I was continuing his local legacy. 

I studied jazz at university but dropped out in favour of traveling and touring. Initially in Brisbane and then America, South Africa, Europe and North America.  Throughout my 20s, like most young musicians, I dreamt of getting on the radio and securing a million dollar record deal. 

When I hit 30 I questioned what was next and soon found myself packing my bags again, traveling around India, Nepal and Thailand, and I had plans to write electronic music in a basement in Berlin. 

But in a strange turn of events, I wound up buying a beach bar-cum-Mexican restaurant in Cambodia. It seemed like a completely bizarre departure from live music but there were many similarities. I was still bringing people together and trying to create an atmosphere that would change people’s emotional state. Getting a group of strangers who may not speak the same language to feel safe enough to share stories and open up led to more money spent at my bar. I found it amazing what could happen in six hours between strangers with a combination of music and tacos. 

An opportunity presented itself to live in a geodome on a bit of land in Otres, in Cambodia and spend a year writing songs and poems – the artist’s dream. I loved it – swimming in the ocean with my dog, doing yoga on the beach. I was offered a 99-year lease to live out this dream forever. 

But at the end of a year, I realised I was hiding. I was living alone, creating content that no one else saw. I wasn’t contributing to the planet and it dawned on me that I had more to give. I felt compelled to come home. 

The last thing I wanted to do was reveal myself so that’s exactly what I did. I started a project called Songs where I’d write, produce and publish a song each week for 50 weeks – regardless of the quality. Of course many of the songs were shit but it forced me to create. I started to build a deeper relationship with my own self expression and learnt not to judge my worth based on what I’d created. 

I then had the opportunity to work for Inspire 9, a co-working space that was home to a lot of startups. My role was to get all of these small organisations – who were focused on their own thing – to look up, connect and exchange value. 

Taking inspiration from this, I started writing content about teams and culture and before too long I was asked to talk to organisations and at conferences. The world of speaking and consulting opened up to me. 

I could apply all I’d learnt from prior experience – the live music from my formative years, creating a vibe in a beach bar in Cambodia and connecting people in a coworking space – to help businesses think differently about how they do things. 

Now, I use music – a live band and a grand piano – to help organsiations move beyond the transactional. I help leaders and their teams re-imagine their experience at work, rebuild trust and rediscover their appetite for creativity. To me, it’s the strongest economic currency and the purest form of human expression and potential.

Returning to your creativity is less about becoming something new and more about remembering who you are. Many people who participate in my programs realise the creative space is one that they’ve been missing in their lives but a space they don’t quite know how to access. 

I hope that people walk away from my sessions inspired to align to their own unique expression and willing to see every moment in their short lives as a possibility to express themselves, be vulnerable, experiment, try, test, fail, sing in the shower, dance when they’re driving, write letters, draw, get out the lego. If everyone could embrace these moments of serendipity, beauty, intimacy and magic, imagine the music we could make together.”

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