Jordan Axani is a globally-renown entrepreneur focused on digital authenticity and well-being, and was once the focus of one of the most viral human interest stories in the history of the internet. On a dare, Jordan had posted a message on Reddit, offering anyone who shared the same name as his previous girlfriend a pre-purchased plane ticket for a trip around the world, with him. This simple deed of paying it forward earned a shocking 4 billion media impressions and made Jordan a social media sensation. However, the real story began when Jordan ended up in a Hollywood cyclone of public and media pressure to fall in love with his new travel companion. This sent him into a downward spiral as he came to terms with being at the centre of a storm. In today’s Toronto Star, Jordan reflects back on the whirlwind experience, and what’s up next for him (hint: a book is in the making):
Jordan Axani was holed up in a Cincinnati loft on business, Post-It notes peppering the walls and chart paper strewn across the floor, when the breakdown that was months in the making hit him.
It was an eerie twist he had not foreseen when, on a whim, he crafted a quirky messagelooking for a woman with the same name as his ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth Gallagher, to make use of her non-refundable ticket for a trip around the world.
The November 2014 post caught the eye of many who were eager for a global adventure with the former real estate development worker before 24-year-old Elizabeth Gallagher, a coast guard worker from Cole Harbour, N.S., claimed the ticket.
International media attention followed, as did dozens of Hollywood offers of movie, television, book and business deals. Axani’s story had, as they say, “gone viral.” And by September the dark side of going viral was creeping in.
It’s a side of fame that is not unusual, but often goes untold. Under the intense pressure of the spotlight, Axani’s happiness was beginning to crumble and the global attention was becoming a monster that was starting to consume him.
“I was at an all-time low just personally,” Axani, 29, told the Star recently as the trip’s one-year anniversary neared. “It was really this moment of, I don’t want to say falling apart, but sliding apart.”
A resilient Axani had already grappled with a lot, visiting a therapist and, at one time, contemplating suicide. But in that loft, he was determined to dissect the moves he had made in the wake of the trip — quitting his job, walking away from a Bachelor-esque TV show concept and scrapping 70 per cent of a book he had written detailing his experience — and try to make sense of it all.
Under media pressure, he said, he had been putting out the “press release version” of his life for months. Now it was affecting everyone from his parents, who fielded his phone calls while he struggled with the spotlight, to his ex, who Axani still feels guilty to have dragged into a story neither could have predicted.
“This wasn’t about the viral moment for me,” Axani said. “This was about the demons I had been personally struggling with for many, many years and how that played out on the world stage.”
It was a moment actor Ryan Reynolds had warned him about.
Months earlier, Axani said, he had dinner at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria hotel with Reynolds and his brother, who were interested in purchasing the rights to Axani’s story.
“I was talking about Liz,” Axani recalled. “(Reynolds) was saying it was like the time that he and Scarlet (Johanssen) split up. He was nice enough to say, ‘You’re going to get beat around by the entertainment industry, so feel free to call, text, email whatever.’ ”
The deal with Reynolds didn’t come to fruition, but now that he has taken a cathartic step back, Axani says he’s on track to rebuilding and using his experience to do a few meaningful things well.
“I am in a much better place and am rebuilding a life that I can grow into loving — something that I’ll look back on with fondness when I am 90,” he said in a later email to the Star.
Among the projects Axani is focusing on now are a book “examining the digital age and how we relate to each other” and Bounde, a mental health platform and charity that anonymously matches verified users with real-time, text-message peer support.
Plus, Hollywood hasn’t seen the last of him yet.
He stayed mum on the details, but confirmed that a movie about his trip is in the works and could be announced officially next year.
Axani noted he could have said yes to many more offers, but demurred on the side of caution. He wanted to pursue opportunities he felt wouldn’t send him into a tailspin again or compromise his or his ex-girlfriend’s integrity, he said.
“I had dreams of what would happen if my previous partner is hanging out at home andFinding Elizabeth Gallagher comes up on the TV guide. Could you imagine how weird that would be?” he said. “I was scared of that because I knew it would cause long-term pain.”
Since his story blew up, Axani said he and his ex have been in touch and have “been able to make a lot more sense of” the virality of their story.
He’s also stayed friends with the other Elizabeth Gallagher — his travel companion. Axani said he would be open to globetrotting with her again, as long as it didn’t come with quips about romance.
Finding love was never his plan when he posted the trip offer, Axani said. But that is what many people fixated on, a fact that still disappoints him.
When people recognize him these days, he said, “the next thing out of (their) mouth is always something like, ‘Well, did you guys actually fall in love, because my friend and I had this betting pool and we are trying to sort that out.’ ”
On the other hand, Axani admitted, there have been upsides; he is humbled that the trip had inspired so many people to fulfil lifelong dreams of travelling and to practise random acts of kindness. Among the flood of emails he received were tales from people inspired by his story to give away NASCAR tickets to kids on the street, or an old car to a neighbour in need.
If he could do it all again, Axani said, he would have taken time to have a bit more fun on the trip and let go of some of the pressure. But in the end, he’s just happy to have learned the importance of cherishing the moment.
“There are few things in life more important than being in the moment and being honest, raw, vulnerable and real with everything and everyone,” he said.