E18 Ryan Michael – The Creative Healing Process

Back of House, Front of Mind

“Back of House, Front of Mind” is a podcast presented by Healthy Mind Menu, an industry-led initiative that aims to improve the lives and normalise conversations around mental health for those working in the hospitality industry.

Welcome, Ryan

Ryan Michael is a burgeoning artist based in the vibrant city of Perth. His artistic journey has been anything but conventional, starting from humble beginnings as a cook and culminating in a degree in Hospitality Management, followed by a career in banking that spanned a decade. However, after a decade in the corporate world, he came to the realisation that he was living a life devoid of passion and purpose.

In a leap of faith, Ryan made the decision to bid farewell to a well-paying job and returned to university to forge a new path that truly resonated with his heart. This pivotal moment in his life led him to pursue his first degree in the Arts, with a specialisation in Photojournalism, focusing on conflict photography. After a year spent documenting the turmoil in Myanmar, he came to the profound realisation that this thrilling yet tumultuous lifestyle was not conducive to his long-term dreams of starting a family.

Determined to find a more harmonious balance, Ryan once again returned to university, this time earning a degree in Teaching Art. Over the past decade, this teaching journey has not only honed his skills as an educator but has also provided the fertile ground for his artistic growth. It was during this time that he cultivated his distinctive style of Fauvist Portraiture, allowing him to express himself through the vibrant colors and bold strokes that define his work today.

Have you ever worked in Hospitality?

My links to hospitality started at a young age, having immigrated to Brisbane with my mother at the age of 12 it was paramount that I started to make some money as soon as possible. So at age of 14 I got my first job working at McDonald’s, working the midnight to 5 am shift on the weekends cleaning up after drunken club goes getting some food after a big night out, this was quite an eye opener for a naive 14 year old. Subsequently I worked a variety of roles in fast food at KFC, Pizza Hut, waiting tables, and even starting a chef’s apprenticeship after high school. However, after a year I realised that the working hours, pay and environment didn’t align with my goals. This prompted me to pursue a Bachelor of Business with a major in Hospitality Management, although my career ended up taking a different path. Despite this deviation, my culinary skills became valuable during a year in Sweden in my early 20s, where I worked as a cook at a high school, responsible for cooking 1,500 student lunches daily. This experience added a unique dimension to my hospitality journey, blending enjoyment with a demanding role.


Explain the reasons why mental well-being has become important to you.

Mental health and wellbeing is a priority to me as I was diagnosed with depression in 2015, which was much to my surprise and also to everyone around me. I was always the life of the party. At that time I was working at a good job making good money, in a good relationship with my partner who is now my wife. We had money, we were traveling to exotic destinations, and on the outside everything probably looked very good.

But for reasons I cannot explain I started to feel depressed. I lost my zest for life and even flirted with the idea of suicide. However, my wife who probably knows me better than I know myself said that something is wrong here and we need to seek professional help straight away.

With counselling and medications over time, I started to improve. But the depression stuck around for four years and still pops up from time to time like waves. To this day I see a psychologist on a monthly basis as a preventative measure much like the way one might keep a car serviced. I realise now with the benefit of hindsight that my depression is genetic and it’s likely that my mother also has depression I probably need to be more aware of signs that I might be having depression symptoms and take positive steps to reduce the depth of the lows rather than prevent it altogether.

How do you prioritise self-care and balance it with other responsibilities in your life? Work-life balance. (Sleep, nutrition, connectedness, physical activity, downtime)

In my particular case it’s very important to stay active, and work on my painting, no matter how I feel I know I feel happier once I have painted at least a little each day. I enjoy my work teaching art to teenagers, their energy is very infectious and even though they are very challenging at times they are the most fun as well. So even if I did not need to work as a teacher to supplement my income I would still want to involve art and working with youth to keep that balance in my life.

What is something you’re currently working on that you’re excited about?

Having just returned from a Trip to South Africa I have taken about 1,500 photographs of everything anything that caught my eye. This is the raw material that will turn into the paintings I will be painting for the coming 12 months. I am very exited about all the art I found in Capetown. Every restaurant , hotel, winery and public space is filled with local artist work , a lot of which is daring and it really got me exited about the direction my work will take as a result of this trip.

If you could simplify your philosophy on life, how are you living? What do you tell yourself each morning when you wake up?

I heard this saying by the legendary Brazilian footballer Pele a few days ago that really resonated with me about my life and career “Success is not by chance, it is hard work perseverance learning, study, sacrifice, and above all love for what you are doing or learning to do“. I feel I am finally following this principle and if nothing else I am satisfied with where things are going in my life currently.

How do you inspire wellbeing in those around you? 
Since I spend most of my days with teenagers, my goal is to visibly show my students the excitement and passion I have for art. Excitement is contagious and when someone is genuinely exited about what they are talking about it inspires others. I want my students to find something in their life, art, and future careers that gives them that kind of excitement.


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