Finding Your Purpose with Matt Brown

Susanne Axelsson

Two questions for you: 

  1. What’s your occupation?
  2. What’s your purpose? 

Having trouble with the latter? Read on...

If you asked Matt Brown, founder of “My Father’s Barber” what his occupation was, he’d tell you that he was a barber, hair artist and educator. But if you asked Matt what his purpose was, he’d give you a very different answer…

In this exclusive presentation as part of the Ask Nicely Frontline Experience Summit, we share Matt’s journey to finding his purpose in the service industry. This raw, honest and authentic account is equally heartbreaking as it is inspiring. Matt’s story provokes us to find our own purpose in the work we do, and is a potent reminder of how we can use people-powered businesses to make the world a better place.

Trigger warning: this article explorers themes of domestic abuse and suicide. 

Matt can still clearly remember his first trip to the barber shop.  He was just 10 years old, excited, nervous and innocently oblivious to the impact that the haircut would have on his life. Behind the scenes though, Matt was living in a world of abuse and violence. By the time he was visiting the barbershop for the first time, his family had been to every Women’s Refuge home in their hometown. 

Matt is a second generation New Zealand born Samoan, who grew up in a three bedroom state house with his 8 siblings and parents who immigrated from Samoa for a better life. As a child, Matt remembers feeling unsafe...

“Imagine feeling so unsafe, not only to do the wrong thing, but to be the wrong person. My fears were unsafe to share. My opinion was unsafe to share. My thoughts were unsafe to share. Being me, Matt Brown, was unsafe.”

After he stood up from the barber chair at just 10 years old, despite all of the trauma and fear he was experiencing at home, he remembers feeling something that he’d never felt before. He felt important, and he felt seen. Not only did his barber match his request to make him look like Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson (incredible), but he also spoke with Matt, and gave him the time day that he’d never received before. 

That little moment can retrospectively be credited to Matt’s journey to become the barber that he is today. He too, wanted to make others feel seen in the same way. Especially those who had histories with family violence and gang culture like he did. 

And so, the practice began — Matt opened up his garden shed / barber shop, and started practicing on his friends, kids and anyone that would take him up his offer. Matt doesn’t say this in his presentation (he’s far too humble), but Matt had a natural talent for barbering. In one instance, he shaved Tupac onto the side of his friends head, which went viral on social media, racking up over one million likes and shares. 

As Matt’s clientele grew, so did his realization of his true purpose. The conversations that he had with the men, many of whom had experienced similar upbringings, were powerful to say the least. They were conversations that allowed men to take their masks off, be vulnerable and to be seen. He explains that while the men who volunteered their hair started as guinea pigs to test his barbering skills, they became his brothers. 

“As a barber, I have an intimate relationship with my clients. It's an immense privilege and for some, we might be the only decent conversation they'll ever have.”

There was one particular conversation that cemented Matt’s purpose to provide a safe space for men like no other. It was a late night and Matt had one more client to cut before closing up shop for the day. His name was Liam. A nervous young man who sat in Matt’s calming presence for the next half hour. At the end of the haircut as Matt held up a small mirror to show Liam the back of his head, Liam locked eyes with Matt, looked at him, and began to cry. After tears, embraces and gentle conversation, Matt learned that Liam had planned the haircut to be his last, before taking his own life. 

Matt will never forget Liam walking out of his shed, turning back to him and saying “Thank you so much for seeing me tonight, brother”. And he knew he wasn’t talking about fitting him in for a haircut. 

“This was when I realized that the barbershop, my little garden sun shed, was more than just a place where people could come and get a good haircut. It was a place where people could come and start to heal.”

What Matt learnt from these sacred conversations, was that men have a lot of healing to do. To close his presentation, Matt shares seven things he’s learnt from talking and crying with ‘the most staunch, most ruthless, most violet men in [his] city’. 

  1. Many men don’t know how to love, because they’ve never experienced love. They associate abuse with love, as it’s all they’ve ever seen.
  2. Men are scared to be vulnerable, because when they’ve taken their masks off in the past, they’ve been hurt by people that they expect to love them.
  3. Men with a history of abuse find it extremely difficult to trust, which dramatically impacts their relationships with others.
  4. Men need to get better at communicating in their relationships, even if it means removing their mask.
  5. Many men are interacting with the world from a place of unhealed trauma.
  6. Men build walls instead of practicing boundaries.
  7. Men are struggling with how to deal with their pain. 

These learnings all surfaced because Matt realized that if he could combine a good haircut with an even better listening ear, something really profound could happen.

Matt has made it his life’s mission, his life’s purpose, to help improve the lives of men that are struggling, one haircut at a time.  He is a truly inspirational, humble and genuine man, and his story reminds us that you can be more than your occupation title. 

We’re all on a journey to discover our life’s purpose, and while it’s not an easy task, hopefully Matt’s story will move you one step closer. 

Susanne Axelsson
About the author

Susanne Axelsson

Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the Author and research for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.

Susanne Axelsson
About the author

Susanne Axelsson

Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the Author and research for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.

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