Walking to Mexico

316 days spent walking the West Coast of America, by myself, that totally changed my life.

It was about a girl...

It wasn’t my idea. But when I came home, on the first day of summer in 2010, to the Vancouver apartment I shared with my girlfriend, I discovered something that detonated all my future plans. Lying there, on the kitchen table, was a handwritten note. Her dresser was empty. All her clothes were missing from the closet.

She’d moved in with another man.

Heartbroken, humiliated, I found myself lost in more ways than I could count. And without a clear idea of who I was in the world, I lurched for the first thing I could grab, the idea we’d been kicking around all winter: walking (!) from Canada to Mexico.

I threw together a crowdfunding pitch video and posted it on Kickstarter, asking for $5,000. Even if it passed through the Internet ignored, I figured that it would send the right signal to my ex-girlfriend: I was committed to her, and our relationship.

Two months later, I had the money, but not the girl. On September 1, 2010, I set off, by foot. Alone.

What happened next

Rather than walking the Pacific Crest Trail (like Cheryl Strayed in “Wild”), I chose to stick to the coastline. It was late in the summer, and snow would soon close the high mountain passes. Though I knew the coastline would be wet, at least it would be populated.

At least I wouldn’t be lonely.

I took a ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island, and walked to the provincial capital, Victoria. From Victoria, I took a ferry to Port Angeles, Washington, and climbed up and over the mountains in the Olympic National Park.

Once I got out of the forest, I was spat out onto the highway. Walking the shoulder of Highway 101 — the northbound shoulder, facing traffic, which felt safer — I walked south and west, heading towards the mouth of the Columbia River, which divides Washington State from Oregon.

Those first weeks, I agonized over whether I should quit on a moment to moment basis. But what would I tell the 150 people who’d contributed money to my crowdfunding campaign? Some days, I hoped that someone would steal my backpack, or that I’d get hit by a passing car — just seriously enough to break my arm or my leg or something, so I had an excuse for my financial supporters.

But the excuse never came. Instead, I encountered friendly strangers, strange coincidences and the building sense that there was a meaningful lesson waiting for me somewhere on the road ahead.

But by the time I walked across the long bridge at the mouth of the Columbia, I was committed. No matter what it took, I would find a way to get myself to Mexico.

Reaching the Redwoods of Northern California had a profoundly intimate personal impact.

What I Learned

The Problem of Initiation

I wasn’t the only one searching inside of myself. All along the way, I met people who were engaged in a similar search, trying to articulate how they thought and felt about the “big” questions in my life. Something strange happens when two seekers are brought together — something I still don’t have the proper language to articulate.

Along the way, I became adept at creating intensely intimate connections that cut through the bullshit to the heart of things.

Naturally, I spent a lot of time talking about relationships and love. At first, I hoped that my commitment to the trip would somehow change my ex-girlfriend’s heart. Eventually, I began to assume that the true purpose of my walk was to prepare myself for my next relationship, with a to-be-determined woman who I presumed would be my soulmate.

It was only once I reached the Redwoods of Northern California when it started to dawn on me that what I was experiencing was mythological.

I began reading extensively about the stories of what were once called rites of passage or initiations. In ancient times, young boys were taken from their homes and sent out into the forest without food or water, and told to survive — or else. Those that came back from these initiations returned with the kind of insights that sustain all that we, as human beings, think is good in the world: integrity, purpose, connection, hope.

I became convinced that what I was undergoing was a profound initiatory experience.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco marked a sudden transition out of the forest and back into modern society. Returning to the city, I was struck by how many people I was meeting — men and women, but mostly men — who were un-initiated, and unaware that they lacked this essential insight of adulthood. Though at first I felt superior to these people, my journey towards Southern California honed the edges of my egotism.

By the time I reached the Mexican border, I realized that I had found a perspective on modern society that could inform both a career and a purpose.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell talks about male initiation.

After finishing the walk, I spent some time in this cabin on a remote island in Canada, writing and reflecting on all I had experienced.

About My Work Today

Corporate Intimacy

One of the mythological functions of an initiation was to sever the connection to the past: to let the immature version of ourselves die so that we could step into the power and responsibility of being an adult. It’s no surprise that, today, in a modern world that mostly lacks true initiation experiences, our most significant conversations are about power, responsibility and adulthood.

As a Strategic Storyteller, my professional work aims to address these conversations both directly and tangibly. Ultimately, the stories we tell — as human beings and as businesspeople — are exercises in empathy; becoming a better storyteller necessarily requires strengthening our empathy muscles.

In training business people to communicate with more clarity and honesty, I hope to participate in enabling them to speak with more integrity and authenticity about what it means to be themselves.

My walking trip was full of cliches — you can’t help it when you get trained to live life one step at a time. When I finished that trip, I realized I had reached not an end, but a new kind of beginning. For the last few years, I’ve worked hard to integrate everything I’ve learned into a meaningful, grounded and professional existence.

I can’t wait to see what lessons I’ll encounter next.

My professional work helps businesses, leaders and individuals link what they do with why they do it. 

I talk about my experiences through keynote speeches and engaging storytelling workshops. Book me for your event.

THINKLANDIA IDEAS FESTIVAL

What's your story?

I believe that every single one of us has something powerful to tell the world. My job is to help you tell it. Working together, we can develop, design and test a powerful story built on clear communication, integrity and trust.

If that sounds like a story you’d like to tell, you can reach me here.

What struck me once we started working with him was how thoughtful his line of questioning was, helping us really dig to uncover and identify the spirit of our company and the style we wanted to promote. It was like a great therapy session. He’s an amazing listener, an expert at online positioning and, not to be overlooked, a really fun guy to work with.

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Walking to Mexico - Jordan Bower