We had the good fortune of connecting with Mary Nikkel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mary, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
For me, creating— specifically, writing and photography— feel as natural, as essential to life, as breathing. I could not imagine myself doing anything different. When I was determining what trajectory I wanted to point my life in, I asked myself “what do you love so much that you’d do it for free for the rest of your life?” The answer for me was creative work used to tell purpose-filled stories.
Beyond that, even as a teenager I had a grasp on the reality that it wasn’t helpful to ask “what can I do with my life?” There were so many potential answers to that question. There are so many things each one of us CAN do. Once I recognized that, I felt a more helpful question was “what can I uniquely offer the world that I’m not seeing anyone else offer?” That led me into writing in the music and nonprofit industries.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I always tell people that I am, at my core, a storyteller. I tell the stories of others through press releases, bios, feature articles, social media management, email marketing, photography, and overall marketing and PR strategy. My goal is to tell these stories in a way that is about the people at the center of them, about gently uncovering something about what it means to be human. I have worked primarily in the music industry space for about ten years, and this year I began working in the nonprofit world as well.
I started in the music journalism world, serving as a volunteer writer when I was 19. That role eventually grew into a job as their Associate Editor, handling a writing team of more than a dozen contributors at any given time. When that chapter came to a close, I launched out on my own.
Since then, my love for storytelling has led me through written work in higher education, tech, fitness, home renovation, and multiple other fields. Ultimately, music has always drawn me back to it (rock and roll in particular). These days, I lead the rock and alternative music website rockonpurpose.live. I am the co-founder of faith-based rock and metal awards The Grizzly Awards, which just earned 501c3 nonprofit certification. I work as the PR strategist with Transparent Media, where I am working with clients such as Lacey Sturm and Brian “Head” Welch’s Love & Death. I also recently took a job as Senior Writer at counter-human trafficking nonprofit The Exodus Road.
I have never met anyone else with a career path quite like mine, and getting here has been full of challenges and self-doubt. When I was younger, I remember listing all of the things I cared about (music, writing, photography, spirituality, mental health, restorative justice). I had never seen any job in my life that encompassed all of them, and that was terrifying. I had no clue that I could just create my own.
Ultimately, forging my own path has meant constantly returning to my beliefs about what matters, and then showing up to be a part of it. I have never had a 5 year plan. I have never had a strategy for advancing my career. All I’ve ever had is a lot of deep love for the profound and painful stories I see around me in this world. I’ve chased those stories and the chances to tell them all the way into a life that feels so deeply rewarding.
One thing I have learned along the way is that character matters more to me than career, every time. I’ve made decisions that made zero sense to the people around me. I’ve ignored metrics that the world tells me are essential. At my heart, I’m not near as interested in what I do as I am in who I become. I come alive when I work alongside others who feel similarly.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Deep Ellum is one of my very favorite parts of the DFW area! So many of my most memorable shows from my early days involved with music happened in that neighborhood. It’s changed a lot in the past 10 years, but I love some of the fresh energy that has moved in.
We’d also have to catch a concert at House of Blues, and somewhere in between make it out to spots like Houndstooth for coffee (I am a certified coffee snob, and they just get it).
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I owe a lot of gratitude to my mentor-turned-friend Dianna. She is a writer, webmaster, and graphic designer, and she really nurtured my writing voice from the time I was just 14 years old. She valued and believed in my creative voice before I believed in it for myself. She taught me to avoid passive voice and repeated words. Even more importantly, she was the first adult to celebrate me as a whole person with a worthwhile identity, even while I was still quite young.
Ultimately, I lived with Dianna for a year in my early 20s, which was essential to shaping the wild and wonderful adventure I have ended up on. She continues to be one of my dearest friends, a fellow purpose-centered creative, and a person I can unequivocally trust to be in my corner.
Mary Nikkel, Sarah Marie Spectrum, Gemma The Rose Photography, Joel Burris