Meet Taylor Conroy: a fire-fighter turned real estate agent turned social entrepreneur with an infectious zest for life, meditation and surfing.
Our final keynote speaker ensured that PUREists left MATTER 2017 on a high. He shared with us his rather unique and incredible journey up until the point at which he finds himself today, showing us all that it is possible to embark upon a path that brings both success and spiritual fulfilment.
We caught up with him after MATTER, brought to you by Tourism Australia, to grab a few more details on his extraordinary life, as well as some serious food for thought from his unshaking moral compass.
Before you turned to philanthropy, you were a millionaire real estate agent. What was it that inspired you to change direction so dramatically?
What got me on that path was listening to what gave me the most joy. When I was in real estate, my favourite time of the month was when I would give away the 10 per cent of my profit. I would often give it to the Women’s Centre or the eating disorder clinic because someone close to me has gone through an eating disorder. It was so fulfilling and it felt amazing. Even though it was scary and definitely far from any work I had typically done before, it felt right, and it keeps feeling right.
Your first social enterprise, Change Heroes, mobilised 15,000 people from 80 countries to fund hundreds of schools, water projects, libraries, girls’ scholarships and more for 20,000 people… And raised nearly four million dollars! Where did the idea for this come from, and how did you start putting it into action?
I was at an event called WE Day put on for 10,000 youths aged 12 to 15 who are obsessed with doing social good. There was a lot of talk about funding schools. It got me thinking, and I texted a friend of mine, saying, “Hey, if you throw in $5000, I’ll throw in $5000 and we’ll build a school together – isn’t that cool?”
He messaged back, like “Yeah, send the info.” I know this guy, and that meant no. I really hated hearing no, and started thinking of a way to ask people for money that would not only make them say yes, but say it with gusto, and further, thank me for getting them involved.
That’s what I wanted to accomplish: the formula of 33 people giving $3.33 a day for three months came from that idea. It’s achievable, it’s digestible and it’s only a very small amount per day that almost anyone can do.
You talk about the word ‘minga’, which is when a community drops everything they’re doing to get together and accomplish something much larger than themselves. Where did you first come across this word?
It was in the Amazon region of Ecuador, and it’s a real, real thing. Say there was really extreme weather, with strong winds or flooding or something like that, and someone’s house got torn down: then they would call a ‘minga’. The entire community drops what they are doing and comes together to accomplish something. The word means ‘no matter what you’re doing’. You can imagine how this would not work in our culture!
They create a ceremony around helping others, and we just don’t do that. Everything is all one big rush. I think it’s something we could replicate in small ways in our culture – it would be such a beautiful, powerful thing.
You’ve said we are all yearning for more human connection and more connection with ourselves. To what extent do you believe travel can help fulfil that need?
Travel knocks down walls – it pushes you outside of your comfort zone and forces you to connect with people.
If you stay at a hostel, you’re going to connect with people in the kitchen because you will be cooking food together; or if you’re on a group trip, like one of ours, you’ll be building a house for a family. It is impossible not to connect when you have a ribbon across the door, and you celebrate as you watch a family walk into their home for the first time.
I feel like you just know a traveller when you meet them, even if you’re at home. They’re different because they all have something in common: they’ve connected with so many more people. It’s a tribe – they share a way of life.
Part of this way of life is about building self-confidence and self-love, too. When travelling, you almost always end up dealing with challenging situations that allow you to come into your own; even if it is something as simple as figuring out where to get a taxi from the airport, it is overcoming those situations that makes you connect with yourself. And that’s the ultimate paradox of life: you don’t need anyone. I have so much, just in myself. The person I love the most is the one with whom I travel most: myself.
You believe your purpose in this world is to ‘scale empathy’. Can you explain what you mean by this?
It means that I believe that empathy is key to world peace and stopping gender inequality. The way I define it is oneness: scaling empathy is what helps us remember that we’re all the same. Just like in the metaphysical realm, we are all connected…But because of our slow vibration as human beings, we can’t physically see that we’re the same and we think we’re totally different.
When you meditate and you’re in touch with your soul in your power place, then you feel that connection. You immediately connect with nature, and as soon as you do, you realise, “Oh, people must be nature, too! That must be me, too.” You just appreciate others far more, I think.
You have mentioned that meditating is very important to you, and you’ve talked about connecting with your soul. How do you do that? How can someone who feels a bit disconnected and empty reconnect with themselves?
I think everyone seems to have a different thing that they like to do. My personal preference is to meditate in the morning for at least 20 minutes to half an hour, and maybe in the afternoon if I’ve got the time. So, instead of turning on your phone in the morning, you get out meditate, go for a run, go for a workout, do those things that make you happy. Then throughout the day you ask yourself: “What would I love right now?” That’s the ultimate practice of getting in touch with the very core of yourself.
You recently founded We Journey, whose goal is to transform the travel industry into a vehicle for sustainable impact and personal transformations. Can you explain the concept in a bit more detail? Where would you like to see We Journey in five years’ time?
Travel is a nine trillion dollar industry – it’s the largest industry in the world. So what do people currently do when they travel? It’s still a lot of, “Well I’m going to go and do this”. There’s a lot of taking as much from a country as possible. But we’re not giving that much back to the country that we’re visiting, or to the people that we’re visiting.
So, there’s a huge opportunity to change that. The vision – and if we could do it in five years, great – is when people go on a trip, as well as asking themselves where they are going to stay and what suitcase they will need, they will also ask themselves: “How am I going to give back when I’m there?”
Our existence alone is a problem for the planet, so we have to take a vested interest not only in being non-harmful, but also in contributing to the planet, and the people that are part of the planet today.
Katie Palmer is Editorial Manager for Beyond Luxury Media Ltd.