IF youth is wasted on the young, as playwright George Bernard Shaw said, then no one has told Matt Purcell.
Barely into his 30s, Purcell wears not just an on-trend haircut and ear studs but also the hats of businessman, life coach, podcaster, musician, husband and father.
“I do think there is a shift in the generation I grew up in, to be able to challenge the status quo, and to be able to say, ‘You don’t have to be a jack of all trades, a master of none'," Purcell declares. "I think I can be a master of about three things."
Purcell is determined to make the most of time. As he orders a lunch of chicken stir-fry at Table 1 Espresso at Warners Bay (seven minutes' walk from his home, he tells me), his phone regularly flashes messages. He glances at the phone as he talks about his crowded life.
On official forms, Purcell writes “self-employed”, but if he had to elaborate, "I’d say I help the doers think and the thinkers do”.
"I WAS born on a barn floor," Purcell says.
The boy given the name Beong-Dong Kyoo was born in March 1988 in a rural area of South Korea. His unmarried mother gave birth with no support.
“She kept me secret for about three weeks and then handed me in for adoption to an orphanage,” the son says.
Purcell knows very little about his birth parents - "I've never met them, I've searched for them and I can't find them" - but that beginning helped chart his life, particularly with his ideas of identity and belonging.
“Belonging, to me, is 'Who you are is whose you are'. Who you belong to, who you associate with. There’s two ways of belonging. Someone has got to accept you to belong, and you’ve got to accept whoever is accepting you," Purcell explains. "I belong to the people who have chosen me before I chose them.”
He was about four months old when he was adopted by Wayne and Jan Purcell, a Lake Macquarie couple.
“I’m Matt Purcell. I’m what my Mum and Dad who adopted me have chosen for me. I identify as Australian, not Korean.”
Purcell's parents separated when he was six. The split, Purcell says, made him feel insecure and "I started asking questions about myself. I became quite a deep kid".
To help their son answer those questions, when Matt was about 12, his mother introduced him to a church youth group in Charlestown, and his father gave him a guitar. Faith and music became keystones in his life, giving him platforms to express himself, to share ideas, and to find meaning.
Music provided Purcell with an income while he was still at school. He recorded his first EP at 16, and the student also began a music tutoring business. Once he finished school, Purcell toured in Australia, supporting major acts such as Jimmy Barnes and Thirsty Merc, as well as playing and releasing his recorded songs in South Korea.
By his early 20s, Purcell felt "stuck" in music. He missed his family, his friends, and his high school sweetheart, now his wife, Courtney.
"I was miserable," he reflects. "Part of me was not satisfied being on the road, being a full-time muso. That's when I discovered I'm more than a muso.
“If something, even a good thing, makes you compromise your values of health, of family, whatever it is for you, then you’re going to end up pretty unhappy.”
Before music took most of his time, Matt Purcell had been a performer and public speaker with a group called Your Dream, going into about 100 schools in a year to help young people.
As a music tutor, he had also noticed that students were "opening up" to him about their lives, their plans and worries.
"A lot of kids don't tell their parents what the hell is going on, a lot of kids aren't telling their friends what's going on," Purcell says. "They're getting their advice through social media, or from people they don't know."
Stepping away from music, Purcell saw his future in helping young people with their future. He set up his business, The Green Room, in 2013. It offers music lessons, academic tutoring, and life coaching, so, according to Purcell, students can go from one door to the next to address the main needs in their lives: a creative outlet, academic pressures, and "the emotional and social struggle of belonging and identity and confidence".
I wonder if parents question how a person who is in his early 30s and still has a lot of living to do himself goes about coaching others on life.
"I haven't had too much of that, although I do look 12," he laughs.
These days, he says, it's not just children and young people who seek him for life coaching. Purcell believes as the role of traditional leaders, such as those in the church or politics, drops away in people's lives, many look elsewhere for feedback on personal development and life choices.
“There’s a lot on you now to figure it out," he says. "I think life coaches have emerged by demand, people choosing to go to a life coach because they need external help.
“We have so many opportunities, we are overwhelmed by option paralysis. You can do anything really, but you can’t do everything. That’s the problem.”
Purcell has taken his quest for meaning onto bigger stages. He has written a book, Life Hacks for Mindful Living. His podcast series, The Examined Life, in which he talks with business and community figures about what makes them tick, attracts tens of thousands of listeners.
He is also an enthusiastic public speaker, and on March 21, Purcell will be sharing his story as part of Lake Macquarie's Harmony Day celebrations at Charlestown Square.
Purcell says he was subjected to racism as a child, including being shoved in a bin by older kids for being Asian. He believes, generally, the community is getting better at addressing discrimination and inequality.
"'Harmony' is a word that is used a lot in music," he says, explaining how a harmony has to work with the main melody. He sees that piece of musical theory as a key to a better community.
“[It's] important to not see yourself as the most important person in the room, but as one of many people who come from all different backgrounds who make up this wonderful country we live in.”
Purcell continues his own journey of soul searching and regularly attends Life Church: "I like that church, because it feeds a thousand people a week [with its Soul Cafe]. It acts out what it believes."
And he revels in being a father to two infant daughters.
But there's no time for relaxing now. His phone keeps flashing. Youth and time can't be wasted. Matt Purcell has to get on with his life and help others get on with theirs.
Or, as he sums up his approach to living, "Give it a crack!"