I met Mike in 2007.
He was, at that time, an angst-ridden adolescent. It wasn’t that Mike was unfriendly; he just was ready to be somewhere else. Doing something else. With some other people. I guess, when you think about it, that’s not so different from many teenagers.
But Mike was different. Each day, he was dropped off to school by an old van along with a handful of other students who clearly were not his biological siblings. You see, Mike was part of Florida’s foster system, and the closer he grew to age 18, the more ready he was to spread his wings.
Not every product of the foster system feels this way. Many, understandably, approach their 18th birthday with overwhelming anxiety. With no family support, what happens when life gets hard? As if it wasn’t already challenging enough…
Mike, though, had his sights set on something bigger. He was a musician. And he’d be damned if he didn’t pursue his dream of doing so for a living. So when house parents, teachers, peers, and others rolled their eyes as Mike spoke of his lofty aspirations, he just kept plugging away.
Mike graduated from high school in 2009. I was proud to be on stage with him when he marched across and received his diploma. Even now, I’m still not sure whether the grin I observed had more to do with his satisfaction of completing high school, or because he knew a secret about his future no one else yet understood.
I’ve seen Mike a couple times the past few years. He’s undergone the kind of maturing most twenty-somethings do. And while I’m not sure what every step of the way has looked like for him, there is something I do know….
It’s pretty typical to grow up with hopes and dreams. Many students openly share what they expect to be doing in five, ten years’ time. Educators are used to hearing the stories. What’s rare though, what’s truly special are those few who possess the gritty resolve to keep going when things get hard. Really hard. What makes Mike’s story special is how he didn’t allow obstacles to stop him from becoming the man he believed he could be.
Not everyone does odd job after odd job to make ends meet. Not everyone plays until their fingers callous over because they love it so much. Not everyone uproots their life, moves to Nashville, and announces their arrival – ready to play, ready to sing – without the security of a back-up plan.
But Mike does.
These days, Mike is known, by many, as Van Soest. Recently, he shared some perspective with me from his adopted home in Tennessee.
Well… I think that the first time I felt like I had my own identity… or “spot” in the world was when I was sitting down and playing… I don’t know… like a Radiohead song or something, haha. Music has a way of doing that…ya know? Giving difficult times “color” or purpose. To me, it wasn’t much of a choice after that.
I don’t think it’s ever simple. I mean life is freaking hard… ya know? I totally understand why people choose 8-5’s and traditional careers. To be completely honest, I was so young when I decided to do this… that by the time I blinked and looked back, I had already devoted so much time, effort, and persona to music that it was more terrifying to start anything else…and I had no interest in doing anything else anyway.. haha.
On getting help from others:
Relationship’s are invaluable. I would never have had any of the opportunities I do now without people in my life that encouraged and disciplined me. If your putting in the work… like real work… never be afraid to ask for help. Be bold… and always hold up your end of the equation.
On the past five years:
Well in the past 5 years I have gone from Lynchburg to Palm Beach… to Nashville. From a dorm room to an intern house… to a spare room. From Salary to washing dishes…to waiting tables… From playing for thousands of people a weekend to playing in small bars, haha. Ya know… people get it wrong most times… like the “ living your dream” thing. The dream isn’t achieved when you’re headlining Madison Square Garden… it starts when you give up everything for just the chance of success…
Check out Mike on Spotify:
Recommended Reading: How Music Works by David Byrne
Follow Tim on Twitter @Tim_G_Holland