Q&A - “You can go anywhere with your imagination”: Mike Stewart on mapping out a path in life.

IN{TV}

Posted 22nd April 2020

Waves rising and rolling endlessly in perfectly formed curls of blue, mesmerising tunnels of translucent water curling over tiny human figures, bodyboarders gliding and looping in an effortless choreography with the ocean. This is the universe of nine-time World Champion bodyboarder Mike Stewart, one of the pioneers of the sport. Ever chasing perfection, he has developed a trio of boards with his brand Science BodyBoards that he describes as the “three best performing shapes for the three principal approaches to bodyboarding."

Mike will be giving the keynote on IMAGI-NATION {TV} tomorrow. He catches up with the show’s Founder and host, Jack Manning Bancroft, and AIME's Global Head of Partnerships, Parul Punjabi Jagdish, to talk about imagination, daydreaming as a superpower, and the hardest lessons of his career.

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Mike Stewart, Sept. 2017, Shipsterns in Tasmania. Photo by Andrew Chisholm

Parul: How do you achieve what you have achieved in your field thus far? How do you go about doing what you do?

Mike: The first thing is to really pay attention to your mind and direct your thoughts to where you want to go. Not just an idea of goals… but an actual visualization of where you're going to be. That's where I start things, always with my mind… It's important to have that map. Make sure you have a robust curiosity. You want to be curious about everything, learning about everything, and imagining about everything. You can transport yourself anywhere you want to go in terms of realities or places, or you can imagine winning multiple world championships. You could imagine being on the other side of the moon in some sort of dome. You could imagine the outer reaches of another universe. I mean, you can go anywhere with your imagination, so it starts with your imagination. And I have a robust imagination. I really think a lot, maybe less now as we get boxed in by the confines of reality, but I think it's really important to have an open and active imagination. Just imagine, dream, drift. From that, you can start to develop ideas on how to get to those particular places.

Jack: A lot of kids in school, the kids we work with around the world, they don't fit into the mainstream. Kids from Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, the Indigenous kids we work with in Australia, and marginalized kids across the States. I picture these kids sitting at the back of the classroom and often daydreaming, because they feel like the syllabus doesn't talk to them. What you're saying is that daydreaming is potentially like a superhero strength?

Mike: Absolutely. It's a super power. It will take you wherever you want to go. My son, he'll daydream. I don't interrupt him, I just let him drift off and go, because the deeper you go out there, the broader your reach is, and I think that that is really productive to development of your thoughts and development of your ideas. Obviously, there are things you’ve got to get through and you’ve got to do, and you just have to bear down and get them done. But when it comes to talking to yourself - or not even necessarily talking to yourself, but just visualizing for yourself (it doesn't even have to be verbal) - you can transport yourself mentally to places that aren't necessarily confined to vocabulary. Ever since I was young, as far back as I could remember, [I’ve had a] dialogue with myself [and I’ve tried to] talk my way through or think my way through certain situations. For whatever reasons, I found myself a lot of times being challenged in not having that particular guidance. And so I just created different ideas and thoughts on my own, and just kind of let it drift and go off into different tangents. The solutions to the problems of the future are going to come from creative individuals… and they don't necessarily have to be someone that has a common path. These can be from anyone. Imagination is broad, and everyone's got the capacity to think. So open that mind up. [And] maybe if the whole day is busy and you can't find time, then right before you go to sleep, drift off thinking like that.

Jack: What's the worst lesson you've ever been taught?

Mike: On the one hand, the worst lesson I’ve ever been taught was winning the world title, because I had dreamt of getting to this particular place for my whole young adult life, and I ran chasing this dream up this hill. Then when I finally reached it and I got there, I just fell off the backside of it and went into a... Not necessarily a depression, but it wasn't uplifting. Because that sense of achievement, a lot of times, is fleeting. You get to that particular spot where you reached your goal. There's a culmination and a climax in that moment. But then after that, you have to make sure that you have some sort of idea of where you're going after. [You have to] make sure that your goals and your aspirations are big. Once you do reach that first step, you want to make sure you have another step to go after that. So all lessons are positive. The best lessons are the hardest ones.

Coming runner up after a hard year of training and just falling short of [my] goal [was also a great lesson]. I think that the fact that [I didn’t win] the first contest that I entered in bodyboarding was good. It gave me room to keep going "Okay, I'm not good enough. I've got to keep doing this. Where do I adjust? Where do I make the change?". The adage that [I give is that] if you're walking along the beach or you're walking through snow [towards a destination, when you look back] to see where your track has been, you'll see that it's not a straight path. It's basically a path that goes like [a zig zag] because what you're doing the whole time is adjusting. You think you're on track, and then all of a sudden you might be off a little bit. "Oh, I’ve got to get back over this way." [So your path is] like a snake weaving... As you go through life, you're going to learn these different lessons. The main thing is that you learn the lesson and then from that you can grow and move on. But if you don't learn it, you're going to have to experience it again until you do learn it.

Parul: Any closing thoughts from both of you? Six words or less.

Mike: Don't get too hung up with constructs or ideas on how things should be. It's okay to let your imagination drift.

Jack: I think hope is a virus; spread it!

Parul Punjabi Jagdish x
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