Today, I help brave leaders understand and share their stories. But that wasn't always the case.
I grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada where no one could escape their story. It was the kind of place where everyone had a single identity. Each of us had a role to play, whether we liked it or not.
We all encounter pain when we grow up, and many of us know the pain of being bullied. Fear, isolation and distrust becomes normal. The long-term mental health challenges are imprinted.
The story I told myself was that I'd only ever be the kid that was bullied, especially because it lasted for ten years and entailed every humiliating tactic in the book.
That kid wanted nothing more than validation and acceptance. But the other side of me was a creative kid that was driven and hopeful. The kind of kid that was always building a fort or digging in the backyard, or later building projects and little businesses. That kid wanted to build a better life.
Little did I know that navigating those two sides would be such a journey.
My response was to become hyper-ambitious and try to show the bullies that I was better than them. In other words, I looked for validation through ambition. This became an obsessive outlook on the world.
Nothing I could do was enough, because I wasn't enough.
I ran for, and became, school president twice even though I loathed my school.
I skipped my prom to begin a bike ride across Canada. It would take me 62 days and at 17 years old, I was one of the youngest people to ever do it and raised a couple hundred thousand dollars for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. While I was painted as altruistic, I was really just trying to impress a girl and show my bullies that I was more than them.
I focused relentlessly on playing music, touring in bands and putting out records, even though I never really enjoyed it. I went to grad school studying politics and conflict negotiation, even though I was just trying to feel important.
And the story keeps going. The same cycle. At every turn, I was the imposter.
Worse, I grew into a chameleon. I was able to self-rationalize anything and could to blend in anywhere. I could 'fake it' in all areas of my life, barely recognizing that I was doing it.
And then I blew up the internet.
Actually. In 2014 and 2015, I ended up in the heart of a viral internet story that captured the world's imagination for 6 months and earned some 4.5-billion media hits globally. It was the story of a heartbroken guy trying to give away a trip around the world to someone with the same name as his ex-girlfriend.
What was an innocent dare turned into a global search for that woman. Within days of my silly post on Reddit, I was in LA and signed my life rights away...meaning that I no longer controlled my story nor many of the decisions about how the story would play out. Whatever I did could be repackaged into a film, TV show, book or anything else and I would have little or no say in it.
There were two rules the producers had for me: Don't tell the truth, and don't fall apart.
As the story went on and I was obligated to travel with a stranger, and as I appeared on the likes of Good Morning America and smiled for the cameras, I fell apart, big time.
I hated this version of myself. I hated this story. And I began to push back.
What started with some on-air spats with a BBC anchor and Fox and Friends, turned into my unwinding. I hated the trip around the world guy. I was ashamed that I needed this amount of validation to feel okay.
I believed I was cast in a role I couldn't escape, just like when I was growing up. But I was so wrong.
As I fell apart, so did anything good that was coming out of the story. We started a charity that had high hopes... and it failed. We took that concept and made it into a social enterprise, raised an investment... and that failed, too.
With every failure I retreated more and more, believing that I was a sort of cancer. Everything I touched would blow up or fail, I told myself.
So far this has been a woeful tale, and for a long time that's all I believed it was. But over-time I realized something far more important about this story: that it was the culmination of basically every struggle I've ever had. It was a test.
If it wasn't for the viral experience, I would have never met a handful of people, but most importantly, Megan, who is now my life and business partner in this work and at our therapy practice, Shift.
Without her, I wouldn't have been able to understand that this story, or any story we define ourselves by, shapes our sense of self-worth. In this case, it destroyed my sense of self-worth.
And in that undoing, for the first time I took a long, hard look at what was underneath and why it was the way it was. With the support of Megan and some core people, I began to see that this experience was pivotal in how I see myself and how I can serve others.
Our story shapes our reality.
I have spent the last three years studying how stories impact us emotionally, why understanding them is critical, and how we can use our stories as a way to empower other people.
In that, I had three major shifts in my thinking:
- We are never alone. Every person has the innate desire to understand their story.
- We are liars. Every living person has the ability to fabricate their identity and can be very good at it.
- We are responsible. No matter how victimized we might feel about the past, it is our choice of how we show up in the world.
The bottom line is simple. It's essential to create experiences where people can share their truth, without fear or embarrassment. Because it's then, and only then, that we can cast our own story.
That's what all of this has been about for me. Thank you for reading all of this. Truly.
Today I work with bold companies and startups, top universities, and governments to help them increase honesty, wellness and connection.
This work has taken me from coaching celebrated New York Times bestselling authors and top entrepreneurs, speaking to government leaders in Singapore and Dubai, helping craft a new identity for a community demolished by the 2010 Chilean Earthquake, to all the way to working with kids on Aboriginal reserves in Northern Canada.
I was educated at the Royal Military College of Canada in Conflict Negotiation before studying Integrated Design Strategy at the Institute Without Boundaries and at FactoryX, a think tank started by Google executives.
I combine a rare skill-set of branding, mental health expertise, and design thinking that I use to create keynotes and workshops that allow attendees to take off their masks and realize that they're not alone in their struggles.
As a Partner of Shift, a leading therapy and mental wellness education practice, I design and deliver programs on behalf of large-scale private and public sector partners. My best known program is “What’s Your Big Lie?”, a program that has been delivered to over 250,000 people across North America since 2016.
Although I haven't written a book, my unique experiments (including one that is known as the most viral human interest story in the history of the internet, earning 4.5-billion media impressions) have been featured by thousands of news outlets around the world.