About Jordan Bower
Jordan Bower is a unique consultant, coach, facilitator and change leader who works at the intersection of creativity, emotional intelligence, and leadership storytelling.
I did not start out thinking of myself as a creative person. When I was a boy, my parents used to joke that I had a preference for black crayons. I was into reading, logic puzzles, geography and concrete facts. In high school, I excelled at analytical subjects like math and chemistry. But when I was 17, I had the good fortune to attend a boarding school in Switzerland, and I was astonished how my first trip to Europe brought all that literature to life. After my last class on Friday afternoons, I would bee-line to the train station and set off to spend the weekend in various capitals. I visited Paris, London, Barcelona, and Prague; I celebrated my 18th birthday in Amsterdam. (That’s a story for another time.) At the end of my trip, I returned to Canada with a severe case of the travel bug and a new fascination for the liberal arts. But my logical side told me it was time to get serious, so I decided to study business. I signed up for my HBA at the Richard Ivey School of Business—one of the highest ranked business schools in Canada.
I studied diligently at business school, eventually graduating with distinction. I learned the in’s and out’s of balance sheets, the nuances of leadership, and the basics of sales and marketing. Many of my classmates would go on to achieve significant roles in banks, hedge funds, corporations and consultancies. But I had my eyes on the world. In between my studies, I had the privilege of backpacking in Southeast Asia and studying abroad in Hong Kong. After graduation, my friends were accepting jobs as analysts. I ended up taking a position at Butterfield & Robinson, one of the leaders in the luxury travel industry, where I spent three years working on “Special Projects”. It would turn out to be excellent training for the consultant I would eventually become. But my hunger for travel wasn’t satiated.
Having grown sick of planning life-changing vacations for other people, when I was 26, I decided to quit so I could have my chance to explore the world.
I ended up going to India, where I would spend the majority of the next two-and-a-half years. India was not the land of black crayons. As I meandered around the vast and beguiling subcontinent, unburdened by adult responsibility and crushing student debt, I enjoyed the extraordinary privilege of exploring other perspectives. During that time, I had a number of small contracts and volunteer programs. (For three months, I lived in a slum and volunteered as an Ultimate Frisbee coach, hoping to spread peace and understanding through my passion for a flying disc.) But the main focus of my time was photography. I carried my camera with me everywhere, and as my photography skills slowly improved, I began to reckon with my emerging identity as an artist. This was not always an easy journey. When I look back on this time in my life, I recall the unthinkable freedom and also the overwhelming panic that by following my dreams I was sacrificing my future. It truly was my first spiritual journey.
Travel had become my life, though, and as my art improved, I found it easier to justify my long absences from Canada. Eventually, I began to dream that I would be a full-time artist—I imagined never needing to work again, retired by the time I was 30. Shortly before I was 30, however, a series of bad decisions and broken relationships led me to take the biggest trip of my life: a 3,000-kilometer solo walking trip down the West Coast of America, from Canada to Mexico.
Yes, I walked from Canada to Mexico. No, I didn’t walk the Pacific Crest Trail—made famous by Cheryl Strayed from Wild. Instead, I literally walked on the coast. I spent endless hours trudging down beaches and forest trails through Washington, Oregon and California.
That journey was also deeply spiritual, though in a stranger and more profound way than I’d experienced in India. It was a coming-of-age, an exploration into my masculinity, and an emotional awakening, and when I finally reached the Mexican border, I was sure that I had become forever transformed. (I’ve written extensively about this journey in Momentum.)
After six years of traveling, I had accrued a fantastic number of stories, and I had also become a dedicated student of the art of storytelling. Beyond the theory, though, I had spent an exceptional amount of time honing my emotional intelligence. I was 31, and I was convinced that I had become enlightened. More importantly, I thought, I had a great story to tell. So I moved to a remote island off the coast of British Columbia, and I spent the next six months holed up in a tiny cabin, tapping out my memories while watching snow fall on the forest.
Naively, I assumed that the world was dying to hear my stories; I wholeheartedly expected to receive a phone call from a New York publisher at any moment who would proudly announce that I had been offered a million-dollar advance for my manuscript sight unseen. Six months later, there had been no phone call, and I was severely in debt. Enlightened or not, adulthood was closing in on me.
On a whim, I decided to move to the small nearby city of Victoria, which I had visited briefly on my trip. I knew nobody, and Victoria didn’t have a reputation as a hotbed of employment. (Actually, the city’s reputation was “newlywed and nearly dead.”)
I had envisioned myself as an author, but actually my creativity would come to be tested much differently than I’d expected.
I realized quickly that my itinerant tendencies and the yawning gap in my resume made me a huge risk for most prospective employers. Besides, I didn’t want to be tied down—I was going to write a best-seller! It was 2012, and like many other freelancers at the time, I decided to throw my hat into the ring as a digital marketer. But I wanted to find a way of differentiating myself, and “storytelling” seemed to be it. I began to brand myself as a “Digital Storyteller.”
Slowly, I found a few clients: bed & breakfasts, walking tour companies, massage therapists and the like. I learned enough to be a passable marketer, but I quickly learned that my passion was in facilitation and teaching. Still, at the time, I had no idea how to bring my diverse skills together; when I told people I was a storyteller, they often made a face and asked me whether I read books to children in libraries. But “business storytelling” was quickly becoming a trendy buzzword. I began leading workshops in my local community.
I rebranded my website, and before long, I was a “storytelling workshop facilitator”.
At the beginning, I did a lot of free workshops—and I made a lot of mistakes. My good fortune was that, through a combination of intention and fate, I had chosen a field that was like the Wild West. In those days, hardly anyone understood what “business storytelling” meant, so there was a lot of freedom to experiment. I was still struggling to articulate just what made business storytelling valuable, but I had become confident in my knowledge base—and even more confident in my creativity.
Slowly, with time, I arrived upon an excellent workshop that I would go on to deliver to dozens of clients all over the world. In my heydays of 2018 and 2019, I was traveling nearly every week. I delivered workshops in New York, Chicago, Paris, Bangkok, San Francisco, Toronto, Los Angeles—as well as places like St Augustine, Florida and Fort Worth, Texas—and I delivered many keynote speeches as well.
By then, I was nearly 40. I was newly married and very happy. I figured that, even if I wasn’t enlightened, at least I had a career figured out. I was doing what I loved, and I was traveling.
In December of 2019, my wife and I rented a house in the South of France, where we enjoyed the luxury of working remotely. In February of that year, in the airport on our way home to Vancouver, we daydreamed about spending every winter as digital nomads.
Then, in March 2020… well, you know what happened.
At the start of the pandemic, I hunkered down in Vancouver, where things were not nearly as bad as other places in the world. After we banged pots each evening at 7—saluting the local health care workers—I would spend my evenings staring at my gapingly empty calendar and assuring myself that things would pick up in just a few more weeks. In 2020, my revenue was down nearly 60%. 2021 turned out even worse. Begrudgingly, I realized that I was being called to be creative again.
Many other people in my shoes had simply shifted their content online. (Remember the great Zoom boom of 2020?) I did deliver several virtual workshops, but I quickly realized that something essential was missing. I’m an extrovert; the whole joy of my work is being in the room, feeling the deep intimacy of connection. I could still feel that intimacy on Zoom when I was 1-on-1, but it dissipated quickly when groups were larger—when people were coming in and out of mute or switching on and off their camera or flittering in and out of the call. And the pandemic was lingering…
For fifteen years, ever since I had taken my camera with me to India, my life’s focus had been on becoming a storyteller. Everything that had happened over that time had felt like a step towards my final destination. But now I was 40, and I had reached my destination; I was shocked that the journey wasn’t done. I took a big step back, and I started re-evaluating my professional identity. What did it mean to be a storyteller now? How had business storytelling changed? What did I want to do, what goals did I have for myself when I was 50 and 60? I agonized over these questions, and I felt the pressure on my bank account. I knew that I was courting a rebirth, but I couldn’t see the destination. Often, I felt myself to be in chaos—tumbling in a vast grey expanse, not knowing which way was up or down, praying for someone to tell me the way forward. I had many, many sleepless nights. Once again, I had found myself on an intense transformational journey.
In tech, people often talk about “eating your own dog food.” That means using your own product—coming to understand it, fall in love with it, and maybe even hate it all at the same time. In retrospect, I think that’s a little of what I was going through, though I couldn’t see it at the time. But slowly things started to coalesce. I started to see the value and relevance of understanding the nature of transformational journeys at a time when—as we can all see—the old structures are crumbling.
That’s me in October 2021, a couple days before my 41st birthday. My wife and I took advantage of the lull between Delta and Omnicron to travel to Spain, where we spent a couple weeks walking the Camino de Santiago. In this shot, I’m watching the sunset at the Spanish town of Finisterre—finis terre or the End of the World. It was the grand finale of our 450 km walk together.
By now, I’ve been to the End of the World many, many times—and come back. (Metaphorically, of course. Just once literally.) Journeys like this have informed my work many times more than my professional qualifications.
Now, as my work takes a new trajectory into creativity and transformation, I look back fondly at the path that brought me here.
I wonder what my bio will say when I turn 50?
I wonder what story we will have to tell…
One thing’s for sure: I’m done with the black crayons.