Brett Lucas of Education Connection: Optimal Performance Before High-Pressure Moments;
How To Relieve Stress, Clear Your Head, and Prepare Yourself For High Stakes Business Encounters
Stretch — The body needs to be in premium condition for anything. I am not saying that we need to be an elite athlete; however, like an athlete, stretching limbers up the muscles and prepares the body for anything. Stretching also moves the blood flow through the body, more importantly, the brain! It also carries the endorphins around our body that reduce pain and boost pleasure, resulting in a feeling of well-being. Therefore preparing the mind to focus on the challenges.
Asa part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High-Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brett Lucas.
Brett Lucas has been involved in the arts since he was a child, attending Victorian College of the Arts and performing as a freelancer performing with the Melbourne Symphony, State Orchestra of Victoria, Australian Ballet, Australian Opera and many other professional Arts organizations, all before the age of 19. After getting his degree in performance, he went on to complete his teaching degree, where his passion for performing soon developed into inspiring and encouraging the next generation to go after their dreams.
In 2009, Brett realized the corporate lifestyle didn’t give him any value and he didn’t feel like he was helping people to the best of his ability. He put his MBA on hold and began working as a social worker, where he was able to develop a better understanding of social change and how he could be a part of that change. Brett went on to complete his MBA but this time with a focus on social impact. With such a broad range of experience, Brett is able to use his skills to create a well-rounded experience for his students. Since taking over The Academy of Music Dance Drama in 2018, Brett has completely reinvented the school. Enrollment has more than tripled, class offerings have expanded, and a large focus has shifted on growing the confidence and creativity of each student. “I am on a mission to empower the creative minds and create more creative markets,” says Brett. “It’s not just the promise of the ‘belting out the ballad’ Celine Dion-style or making it on X-Factor. I want performers to make a difference to their own happiness whatever it may be, through developing their own values and being part of the community.”
Now that the success of The Academy of Music Dance Drama has taken off, Brett has launched Education Connection (EC). It is a consulting and development agency that is aimed at taking individuals or organizations to the next level. EC creates customized plans and personal brand strategies, offers complete development and personal management, and provides extensive industry contacts and life-changing opportunities.
This multifaceted man is always learning, not just from his schooling, but from his students, and is always trying to be the best that he can be.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory? What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
Asa child living in a small town outside of Melbourne, Australia, my parents owned a health food store and a café for some years. My brother, sister, and I were always on hand to help out and learned at a young age the importance of developing relationships with customers. Pakenham had a population of less than 2000 at the time (the 70s); everyone knew each other and it was a great community to grow up in. I was fortunate that my parents ensured we were given the opportunities to learn, play sport and learn creative art.
I later attended one of Melbourne’s better private schools. I struggled to achieve the high expectations academically but found my growing interest in performing ignite. I had brilliant music teachers that identified my talent, and my English teacher Mr. Collins, also the school organist, inspired and encouraged me to pursue my passion for music. I then auditioned and started attending the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School (Melbourne’s version of Fame) and then later completed my performance degree.
Now, I am ready to take on the world!
My short stint as a full-time professional musician made me realise that performing behind a tuba was not enough for me to make a difference to others. Inspired by some of my teachers, I started a journey of self-discovery about spirituality and purpose. I then completed another degree in education where I felt I could inspire and influence the minds and aspirations of young people. I was fortunate to be in a role where I could learn and hone my leadership skills and discover my capabilities in creating opportunities and events that had a creative purpose and were financially sustainable. I also had a great mentor who was a regional director for the Department of Education. He supported and encouraged me to learn and develop my skills, which I now reflected as the beginning of my Entrepreneurial discovery!
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
There is no one person! I have had many people who have influenced me and made me who I am today. I have a great need to soak up as much knowledge and feedback from many. If there was something I needed to learn, I would find the right person for the job. I am a very sociable person and love exploring connections. It’s more the ‘feed me feed me’ philosophy of learning, self-discovery, and, of course, learning from my failures.
Without sounding corny, I do have my family as the most significant influence. I have always had a home to return to if I need respite and support. My poor parents have seen me go through trauma, success and failure! But they have always been there, even if they did not agree with my intentions. I feel it is so important to know that you have somewhere to go or someone to rely on when things get tough. It’s a safety net to take a breather and a sounding board to reaffirm who you are and why you are here. Purpose!
My family is my great inspiration! My mother has no partner as my beautiful father passed away 20 years ago, but she is always my best support and fan! I have a daughter at 32, a son at 30, a daughter at 6, and another daughter at 3. I have a grandson at 9 and shortly a granddaughter at 0!! I love my family no matter what!! I wake up in the day and look at my wife and feel blessed. How beautiful is she!. I see my younger daughters and feel their admiration whilst jumping on me as I wake up. I speak to my older kids and feel such accomplishment!! We sometimes doubt the power of being a parent but to see their growth is the best success of all time!! This is what it’s all about!!! Family!
I guess this is why I am so driven to provide safe and creative environments for anyone in contact with my businesses and me!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?
I remember starting as a teacher in Melbourne and interviewing for a reputable Catholic school as a brass teacher. The interview went well, and I got the job! The position was to start in term 1 in the new year. I received the offer letter and was so excited that I had my first official ongoing role in a school. Before the starting day, I was excited and ready to pass on my skills and knowledge…well, I thought so. I rocked up on the first day only to be told at reception, “I thought someone had called you as we ended up going with another teacher as they are catholic.” I’m not catholic. I went red with embarrassment, I could feel the anger rolling in but I also needed to keep my dignity! I said thank you, turned around and walked out with my chin up! Got in the car and started yelling some expletives and drove home with loud music to cope!
Lessons learned. 1. Make sure you check in with the employer before you start any role 2. Always be polite, even if you have been treated very poorly or unethically 3. The biggest lesson is what I carry to this day, always treat everyone how you would like to be treated. With respect and empathy. You never know, Karma can bite you on the bottom!!
I also had an Interior design business in the 2000s where I employed an architectural representative. We had to let go of this person and as a result, this person was very nasty and threatening. A few years later, I was a state manager for a company, and I was to move on to another role. My general manager asked me what I thought of the candidates as my replacement, and the person was on the list. I let my GM know what had happened, GM had some fun interviewing, but the person didn’t get the role. Karma!
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Learn, learn, learn. Oh and network, network, network! As an entrepreneur, leader, manager, teacher and lecturer, sometimes I get disappointed that young people expect the big bucks or the roles of responsibility as soon as they leave school without initially doing the hard yards. It is so important to learn the ground-level roles before you can really lead well. Someone told me ‘you don’t know how someone feels or works in a role, if you haven’t experienced it first-hand yourself. I had a potential young teacher come to me offering his services but demanded to start with 10 students or he won’t take the role. I hadn’t even offered him the role, well let’s just say… he isn’t working for me. On the other side, I had a young 18yr old singing teacher start with me over three years ago with 2 students and over the years put in extra time and effort, kept offering to do more, well let’s say…she is now working full time with the best conditions for any teacher in Australia!!
I remember as a freelance musician in the 80/90s, many of my colleagues would sit beside the phone all day waiting for it to ring (pre-mobile phone). I wouldn’t do this, I learned early to make your own opportunities. I would create networks and arrange events to offer to my small group that eventually become a group in demand. This advice is ongoing, don’t wait for the opportunity, you create and develop your own and it also will be the most satisfying!!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Ok, the nerd will come out!!! As a child, my parents bought the whole set of World Book encyclopedias. I read every single page of the 22 volumes. I loved the discovery of cultures, countries and people who made the world go around. I could, at one stage, recite all the states of the USA. How about that for an Aussie!! The impression of this has served me well in the future as the information helped me network through conversation topics in social and business events. I also started reading and learning about Buddhism that aided me in coping with many challenges in my adult life. Another book that influenced my style was ‘The Art Of War’ by Sun Tzu. Learning about going into battle knowing and understanding your enemy (competition) is essential. It’s also about limiting conflict and the beauty of negotiating, strategising without loss of resources. The book became more significant later when I completed my MBA in Social Impact. The focus on respecting competition, working in the conditions, adaptability, Creating Shared Value and collaborating are drivers in my business activities.
Can you share your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I do refer to the Nike line, ‘Just do it. Simple and a great call to action. Sometimes you have to call yourself out and really get on with it. Fear takes over, and opportunities are missed. Regrets are so hard! I also remember a music teacher telling me, ‘go for it! If you are going to stuff it up, stuff it up with confidence! People prefer to hear someone with determination with 120% effort than a mediocre 50% effort and understated. With that attitude, you’ll eventually get it right.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
When you build it, they will come!! I have been building my Academy of Music, Dance Drama for more than 3 years, and when I need to grow, the right people come knocking on my door. I was contacted late in 2020 by Dead Horse Branding, reaching out to see if we need help in branding or PR. Their timing was perfect but, Dead Horse Branding?? I sat on it, looked at their website and wondered if this could work. Dead Horse and Academy…Mmmmm, well, to cut a long story short, Mel, Rick and I connected, and then I was convinced that they would take on my PR. Not only that, but we have now joined forces for what I will describe as ‘the great connector’ for people who need fast-tracking into industry networks. The platform is built of combined experiences, DHB capabilities in PR and branding and my ability to connect resources through education and business practice.
Education Connection (EC) is a consulting and development agency that is aimed at taking individuals or organisations to the next level. EC creates customized plans and personal brand strategies, offers complete development and personal management, and provides extensive industry contacts and life-changing opportunities. We develop a blueprint to look for gaps and improvements to take the individual or organisation to the next level and beyond. More like a one-stop-shop for measured success, whatever that might be.
In my experience, I find those who are not willing to invest in their brand will more likely struggle to find their niche. I have also learned the hard way myself. We think we can do it all ourselves. 80% of start-ups in Australia fail within the first 2 years. Research and data suggest that developing your purpose, branding, message and teaming with the right resources gives you a better chance to survive and be sustainable in your target markets. That’s where EC becomes a necessary and valuable tool.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
Stress is what you make it out to be. Runaway or embrace. I have been guilty of running away, but eventually, the pressure needs to be dealt with. I have experienced losing everything, also short-term homeless, and times with lack of finances. There is a broader world out there!! I think the older or more experienced you are, impacts the way you deal with challenges.
Here are some of the ways I deal with stress
1. If it’s a short-term challenge, e.g. finishing a report or a quote deadline. Walk away, find something active to distract eg. Go for a walk, gardening or even some chores. Even make your bed as you have proven you can finish a task. Just find something to clear the mind and then come back after 20mins with fresh eyes.
2. If it’s a long-term challenge e.g. Business performance, financial concerns, marriage breakdowns (yes, I have had two divorces). Seek help and learn to trust that there are people to talk to. Don’t cope alone! You will learn tools to deal with these challenges and learn for next time. I’ve always used the mantra, tomorrow will be better, and you still are breathing.
3. Anxiety and fear — the fear of people or completing projects. Take small steps and gradually over time, challenge yourself to confront your fears. As a young performer, I was reluctant to be on stage by myself. My nerves sometimes got the better of me. I was fortunate to have support around me and therefore, I started to feel safe and productive on the stage. The more I experience success in my performance, I also built enjoying the feeling, I began to embrace it more, and it became the ‘norm for me’.
4. Keeping yourself in check and learning about yourself!!! We sometimes don’t realize how resilient we are. There are many tools online to read and learn. Self-help is also a great strategy. You will build your resources available when something jumps out and challenges you. Pick a time or day where you can sit and write or record yourself talking about your experience (a bit like the ‘Dear Diary’). Read or playback and ‘check in’ as a 3rd party and counsel yourself. From this, you can work out if you need help or find a tool to cope!
Aside from dealing with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers five strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high-stress situations?
1. Stretch — The body needs to be in premium condition for anything. I am not saying that we need to be an elite athlete; however, like an athlete, stretching limbers up the muscles and prepares the body for anything. Stretching also moves the blood flow through the body, more importantly, the brain! It also carries the endorphins around our body that reduce pain and boost pleasure, resulting in a feeling of well-being. Therefore preparing the mind to focus on the challenges.
2. Breathing — Well if we don’t breathe, we die! Then no work will be achieved! I learnt as a brass musician the impact of breathing is just as much a part of the music as creating a sound. Breathing creates a rhythm. The average heart rate is between 60 (around resting) and 100 (active) beats per minute. Keeping a constant heartbeat correlates with breathing at regular intervals. The quicker we breathe the faster our heart rate, and then sometimes panic sets in and we lose control. Controlling the rhythm is so important. I sometimes refer to a calming playlist and breathe to the music. When the tough gets going, it’s something you can use to keep control, keep a nice steady tempo, breathe in for four counts at 60 beats per minute, and breathe out for the same. Do that a few times.
3. Mantra — I had a music teacher who instilled this in me early. The best one that’s been with me is simply ‘I am OK’. I read the self-help book by Thomas Anthony Harris called ‘I’m Ok You’re Ok’ at a young age that gave me the understanding thoughts that I’ll be fine dealing with anything. I’ve sometimes used the Lord’s Prayer when traumatic events have happened to me, I am not a religious person, but I have my spirituality to support me through a crisis. I do also use some Buddhist idealism also. Affirmations are awesome! Stick them on your desk, bathroom mirror, dash in your car. Before an important meeting, I have ‘Go For It’ as my affirmation. It all depends on where you are and what you need support with.
4. Focus — Keep on task! Remember and reflect on your purpose and the strength in your values! Don’t be swayed by others, and that includes your family. I had a great teacher very close to me who kept citing Paul J. Meyer “What you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass.” In my experience, the greatest test was when I was involved in a dreadful domestic violence situation some years back. I had to walk away with only my clothes, laptop and tuba. Yes, this happened to me. A 6-foot tall, Anglo privileged, educated man. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I remember that I had to use all the might of my character, resilience and even humour! It has taken 12 years to return to my vision, but I am now more robust and more focused.
5. ‘Cop This’ — Be positive, take ownership! Even in your mistakes or wrongdoings. Don’t blame others or wait for a calling! I used the ‘Cop This’ as a mantra from my brass band competition days. I used to play for one of Australia’s best brass bands and a conductor used to start the performance with left foot stomp and a right foot stomp and bleated, ‘Cop This’. It sounds aggressive but it works as a springboard into the unknown .
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
I do! Often. As a child, I was the one who was told off by the teacher for ‘daydreaming’. Visualizations are an important part of a self-purpose journey. The Paul Meyer quote mentioned earlier describes precisely that. I would not be here if I hadn’t dreamt of making a difference. As a child, I used to say to myself that I want to experience absolutely everything I can possibly do! I would visualise being on stage winning solo competitions; I did that. As a 16-year-old, I dreamt that by 18 I would be playing professionally with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I did that! However, it happened because of the tremendous amount of drive and hard work. I literally practice for up to 10 hours a day, travel over 3 hours to and from my school and attend my classes. I achieved it and it felt so good.
My music is my tool for meditation. Performing is my escape! It gives respite from the stresses of business and home life, it also helps me visualise simple solutions to complex problems that I need to solve. It’s my happy place. I don’t have any other special techniques. The best advice that I would offer is to find your happy place and be you. Surround yourself with positive people and people that share similar values. Draw on your individualism but be prepared to share your experiences with others in your groups. Participate in positive activities and support others through your journeys, however successful or traumatic. I believe this community is the most powerful, collaborative, supportive, reflective personal growth strategy you could use to optimise yourself.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
Belief! If you don’t believe in what you are doing or working on, it would be challenging to stay focused. Always keep reflecting on the why, how and what you are doing and where it relates to yourself professionally and/or personally. If you work in a role that you may not like, focus on where that role may lead you to achieve where you want to be. Believe in the pathway, identify the gaps in knowledge and skills you need to get your role.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have practices played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Good habits are essential. Simple practices such as getting to work on time, using appropriate language, hygiene etc., are all basic but essential. As an employer, these should never be overlooked. We have the technology to help our essential habits such as phones with reminders, able to communicate with others effectively and access to sanitizing (especially in covid times) but I feel the need to focus more on values and morals. Unfortunately, the workplace can invite bad habits such as fraud & corruption, deceit or bullying. There is a drive to align values representing the organization and its stakeholders
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
I remember a teacher correcting me when I said, ‘practice makes perfect’! He would almost yell at me with the response, “NO! perfect practice makes perfect”! It’s so true. A skill is not inherent; it is learnt and needs to be perfected. I don’t believe in perfection; however, my Virgo in me tells me otherwise. EG, learning a difficult passage of music, needs to be broken down, connected and formed. After a while of ‘correctly’ practising, it then will become natural and make sense. When you hear an accomplished soloist, it seems so easy and carefree, but really, the effort and discipline to get it right would have taken some time and effort.
You cannot stop bad habits until it’s identified by yourself or others. This is where reflection, learning and feedback are so critical. I have had students refuse to change and keep to the same behaviours and question ‘why am I not successful’? I call it the ‘deerrrr factor’. The no-brainer that we all need to accept feedback and learn. Don’t be defensive, it’s ok to be wrong. Learn from this!! I do believe that this is the business case. In modern-day best practice, businesses that are adaptive and always looking to improve their systems and culture, are more likely to survive. I think Covid demonstrated this.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
As soon as I hear the word flow, I immediately visualise the orchestra playing a Rachmaninov Symphony where connection of the strings, woodwind brass and percussion sections and the individual soloists creates shape and flow. The toing and froing, the passing of the melody from one instrument to the other, the texture or harmonies collaborating to the wall of sound. So beautiful.
This is my reference to anything in business and personal life. The composed symphony (strategy and planning) has been prepared. You are the conductor (leader), and it is your role to bring the plan to life and engage the business units like the orchestra sections as they interact in an ecosystem. You also invite individuals to shine like the soloist.
My flow is validated when I consult or present to individuals and groups. I feel I am the facilitator, as the conductor. Recently, I ‘conducted’ a workshop on ‘collaborating in the workplace’. Well, this is now the name of my symphony! The symphony is made up of movements (my program notes) that have already been prepared (composed). My attendees (musicians) warm-up and greet each other at the beginning, my baton raises and I commence the symphony; I ask the question, ‘what is collaboration?’ and the symphony starts!! My musicians fire questions and experiences; we intertwine information and create great harmony in sharing ideas and solutions, and finally, the coda. Reflecting on our achievements and leaving the performance (workshop) with a great experience and something to take home or to work to share with others. The reviews were positive and engaging as the musicians want more!!!
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Purpose!!!! However insignificant we may feel, we have an integral responsibility to keep this world spinning. Once again, like the ‘Orchestra’ symbolism, if an instrument is missing it affects the overall quality of sound. I find young people discouraged with unrealistic expectations, lack of opportunities and the fear of not ‘making it’. It comes down to learning your purpose. The purpose needs to align through connecting the environment, economic and social change. It hurts me seeing activists demonstrating change and the system not adapting or committing to change. The world is more significant than the person. As a community, we need to look after it. As an individual, we need to support looking after it. I am always an advocate that the community is more significant than the individual. No individual should dictate or judge the conditions. A community needs to be led by a common purpose and driven by people who have the passion and drive to make this a better world.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them
I have many openings in my social calendar and invite many leaders in our world. There was one person I so wanted to meet before they passed away. Ella Fitzgerald. She gave me a sound I wanted to emulate as a musician. The physical, vocal sound but also a voice of empathy and caring and a melodic sound that had purpose and direction. A living entity for my lunch would be Barack and Michelle Obama. Not only because he was the leader of the USA as I am sure probably the easy bit. They both worked as a team, and both made an impact on many people’s lives. I would like to talk to them about how they both manage to combine the pressures of leading and enduring significant challenges in their roles whilst remaining decent humans with dignity, pure class and kindness for their fellow people.
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Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.