DJ Mick Batyske On Stoicism, Shifting His Mindset, And Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

When you think ancient philosophy, you might not also think DJs, loud music, and partying but the two are more connected than it may seem. At least, the two are connected when it comes to Mick Batyske. Mick Batyske never expected being a DJ would become his full-time career, let alone that he would spin private events for some of the world’s most prominent celebrities, brands, tech companies and philanthropic organizations including Beyonce, Bravo, Cadillac, Entertainment Weekly, Fast Company, Gary Vaynerchuk, Hillary Clinton, HBO, Instagram, Interview Magazine, Jay Z, Jimmy Kimmel, LeBron James, Michelle Obama, Miguel, Misty Copeland, Nike, NBC, Pencils Of Promise, Pop Sugar, Prince, Rihanna, Samsung, Sotheby’s, Spike Lee, Spotify, Target, Twitter, Under Armour, WeWork, Vanity Fair, and Yahoo. He also happens to be a practicing student of Stoic philosophy. He credits The Obstacle Is the Way for shifting his mindset on handling problems and, in a recent speech at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship this year, he told students his goal for 2019 is to “adopt a more stoic, balanced approach to things that happen to me, both personally and professionally.”

We had the opportunity to chat with Mick about channeling philosophy when he performs, some of the ways he’s seen wealth and fame corrupt individuals, the traits that have helped him find success in a wide variety of careers, and much more. Please enjoy our interview with Mick Batyske!

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At first glance the world of DJing (partying, egos, money, fame) and philosophy couldn’t be further apart. What parallels have you found that aren’t obvious from the outside looking in? How has philosophy fit into your life? 

For me, it’s about finding calm and peace in the middle of the storm. This storm could be dealing with an unruly client. Dealing with travel delays. Dealing with equipment issues in the middle of the set. Having the right attitude about these temporary problems allows me to put the focus back on what I can control: my reaction and ability to solve the problem.

Beyond that, I’m often in situations and around people that are highly entertaining, but maybe they don’t fit my personal moral compass. In these scenarios, to keep this on brand for you, other people’s egos are definitely the enemy. However, the key is to not judge and not criticize, but instead control my actions within those scenarios.

Do the work the best way I can. Be proud of what I do. I play the same whether I am in front of 100 people, 1000 people or 10,000 people. I am proud to do the work – because this is how I support my son. Even before I knew about Stoicism, I was unintentionally channeling the philosophy in the way I perform.

You’ve said that The Obstacle Is The Way shifted your mindset. Was that your first exposure to Stoicism and practical philosophy? Why do you think the book worked for you?

Yes – it was.  It kind of came to me in a really random way.  I had read Trust Me, I’m Lying as I’m a bit of a marketing nerd.  I have an MBA in Marketing, and I thought that’s where my career would end up…although you could make the argument that how I market my self-managed career has a huge key to my success.

When I finished that book, the magical algorithms of Amazon suggested Obstacle. It found me at the right time, as I was in a bit of a tailspin personally and professionally. I personally carry a lot of burden and responsibility that is slightly abnormal, and thus, I have been always looking for better ways to contextualize the things that happen to me and around me.

The minute I started reading it, I felt like it was speaking directly to me.  I now had a set of tools I can employ to deal with ANY situation. It instantly improved my life. Like I mentioned earlier, there were times that I was already doing this in my subconscious. But to now be able to respond to any situation in a way where I can swim and not sink – it’s priceless.

The Stoics, particularly Seneca, talk a lot about what fame and power and success are really like—how corrupting these things can be for people. Curious what you’ve witnessed in your fascinating career which has included being a lot of big, exclusive, private events for famous people. Has that changed how you see these things?

Oh man. You can’t even guess. I’ve seen people who have accomplished literally nothing act like they have Obama-level of importance. I’ve seen people speak to their “staff” in a way that makes them feel less than human.  But I’ve also seen people show amazing acts of kindness, regardless of their celebrity and power.

Here’s a story about a fame-corrupted individual. There was one celebrity I met at an event, who completely treated me like shit. We both ended up on the same red-eye from LAX – NYC that night, and I was sitting across from him. But because he now saw me in Business Class, he felt like it was ok to now be cordial. To be my “peer.”  I’m like c’mon dude – these seats are comfy but my music was WAY better than this fake airplane salmon and shitty wine, and you were just a complete dick. So, I just smile and keep it moving.

I think, if anything, being around these people has helped me set a blueprint for how I will act as my career continues to grow. Enjoy the process, enjoy the spoils, but remove the ego and don’t take yourself too seriously. I want to be the guy who somehow becomes a zillionaire but still buys his own flushable wipes at Whole Foods.

You’ve been a solopreneur across a wide range of industries for essentially your entire professional career. Can you talk about how you’ve dealt with the adversity you’ve faced? Do you have a favorite failure—an obstacle that became the way

Yes – so many stories actually. My life has been a series of unfortunate events that ended up becoming THE most fortunate scenarios one could be in.

As a little kid, I wanted to play the oboe (I know, WTF… lol) but they moved me to drums.  I was pissed but decided to roll with it. Those same drums gave me the percussion skills I needed to teach myself how to DJ when I was a teenager.

As an adult, I got turned down (many, many years ago) by a huge management agency who didn’t think I was good enough for their roster, and that ended up shaping me to become highly successful at being self-managed.  It made me into an entrepreneur, not just the “talent.”

To take that even further, that same ability to run my career—essentially as a start-up—taught me the skills I needed to become an investor, an advisor, and even a public speaker.

My favorite obstacle story happened when I was in grad school. Close to graduation, my professor told me–in front of the ENTIRE CLASS–that I couldn’t combine my creative side with my business acumen to make a successful career.  He thought my plan was a complete failure. Obviously, he was full of shit–and who knows why he said that–but it embarrassed me, affected me, and most importantly, challenged me.

That became my Michael Jordan moment, to reference when he got cut from his high school team and then became THE Michael Jordan that we all know and love. I walked into the parking lot that night determined to prove that teacher wrong, and I did.  Ironically, I got to speak at my alma mater last year and referenced this story.   I definitely got a few embarrassed smirks from the faculty, which made me laugh.

You said your goal for 2019 is to “adopt a more stoic, balanced approach” in your life. How do you plan on doing that and why has it become a priority?

A priority AND a necessity. I spent 2018 in disarray, although you wouldn’t be able to tell this by following me on Instagram. My career was on fire, but personally I just didn’t feel like me. 2017 was even worse. I went through a dark (private) depression, and thankfully came out on the other side.

For 2019, I’ve decided to take control.  I made a vow that the situations and drama other people create are NOT going to affect me. I don’t have to argue incessantly to prove a worthless point. That’s time I could be spending making myself better. I don’t have to be anxious if a client decides not to use me. That just means a better opportunity (even if that opportunity means I can actually take some well-deserved rest). And (this is the one I still fail at–thanks to my son’s love of graham crackers), I don’t have to emotionally eat to solve the stresses of the day.   I can deny myself short term pleasure for long term success.  Usually.

Beyond not letting external stimuli affect me, I have also developed a renewed trust in myself.  A renewed trust in my inputs leading to a desired outcome. A renewed belief that I can adapt to any new situation and do well.

I know that the way my soul and brain combine will always lead to a successful formula for me.  If I’ve made it this far in life—while allowing the world to distract and disrupt that—I want to know how much further I could go if I had a more balanced approach to life.

That was my gift to myself for 2019 – and, being honest, this year has brought more challenges than EVER before.  However, the way I am navigating them is different, and so I thrive.

You started out as a DJ but continue to sort of shift careers and reinvent yourself. What traits or skill sets do you think have helped you to do that? What would you recommend to people who maybe feel stuck and want to make a change in their careers?

1) Develop a strong belief in yourself.  Find a way to increase and enhance your confidence.  I have a high degree of confidence in my abilities – meaning, I truly believe I can do anything if I work hard enough.  I mean – there are outliers, of course.  I probably would be a bad airplane pilot, Navy SEAL, or heart surgeon.  But most other things, I think it’s just combining creativity, belief and hard work.

2) Find a correlation between what you’re doing now and what you want to do.  And connect those dots.  I was super nervous the first time I got on stage to speak and then I realized I’ve been on thousands of stages before as a deejay.  It’s the same process, but manifested via a different lens.  Change how you perceive it.

3) Seeing the big picture but being able to course correct and pivot.  This is something successful start-up founders do well, and it’s something I’ve been able to access as well.  I have always had a loose blueprint about where things should go, but I’ve been open to the opportunities new relationships, new technologies and new education can bring. Ironically, it’s this same skill that has helped me plan out my sets as a dj.  Have a plan, but always be open to the surprise and delight of the moment.

4) Keep educating yourself. Learning doesn’t end after your 20’s. Read tons of books. Meet tons of inspiring people. Take classes in things that interest you, even if it’s online. I mean – worse case, watch some YouTube tutorials instead of spending all day on Instagram. And then act on them.

One thing philosophers and creatives all have in common is rituals and routines. Can you tell us about yours? 

My routine varies depending on the time of year but there are definitely some common threads that define me.

1) Morning run.  This is much easier to accomplish on a warmer day, but I am 10000% more productive in the AM when I get my heart racing ASAP.  It’s also where I get “unstuck” from the ideas and problems that may be bogging me down.

2) Spiritual peace.  I try to find 15-20 minutes a day to ground myself.   Sometimes this can come via Transcendental Meditation (which I’m still learning and I kinda suck at, but all in due time).  Beyond that, I’m a Christian and I also value the Stoic philosophy.  And while there are differences, it’s been fascinating noting the similarities. For example, Paul said in Philippians: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

3) Time with my son. Myles is almost 4, and he brings a light to every room he is in. Always happy.  Always smiling. Always curious. Learning to see things via youthful eyes—to experience things with wonder and astonishment–gives you great clarity about how big our world is.  And how small our problems are in the big scope of things.

4) On a more fun and less deep level, I do my best thinking and strategizing to mellow 90’s hiphop (think Pete Rock or A Tribe Called Quest) or early Seattle grunge (especially Soundgarden and Temple Of The Dog).  I think the nostalgic vibes somehow connect nerves in my brain that aren’t usually on.  Spotify totally thinks I live in 1993.

We know you’re a big reader. What books and writers have had the biggest influence on your thinking and how you live your life?

Yeah, I definitely love to read.  Some recommendations would be:

1) How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen.  Great perspective on what actually matters.

2) Super Mind by Norman Rosenthal.  A great intro to Transcendental Meditation.

3) The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo.  You are what you say you are.

4) Good Is the New Cool by Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones.  How to live well and not be a dickhead.

I also read tons of business and marketing titles as I’m currently in the preliminary outline stages of my first book. It will be a combination of creative and marketing tactics from my really strange but fun career as a DJ and entrepreneur, alongside insight from some amazing people I’ve worked with in my career. I’ve accomplished some crazy things, seen even crazier things, and met interesting folks along the way. Books and “manuals” like Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris and some of the Gary Vee stuff really inform the way I am going about that process, as well as just inspire me in general.

Could you leave the Daily Stoic community with one message or piece of advice? It could be a question to journal on, a philosophical practice to try, or just something to think about as they go about their day.

Always remember that there are people who would love to have your bad days. It’s kind of cliché and sort of an Instagram meme, but it’s so true. Acknowledging this puts you in a position of gratitude and astonishment, rather than greed and disappointment.

I have more going on in my life than ever, and with that, more problems than ever.  New opportunities create lots of challenges. But I would never want to go backwards. I choose to welcome it and embrace it.  I suppose that’s why the The Obstacle Is The Way and Stoic philosophy has been so valuable to me.


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