Resilience and Renewed Purpose: Reflections from the MLOVE ConFestival

By Janxin Leu, Director of Product Innovation

I recently spoke at the 2013 MLOVE ConFestival, a celebration of mobile tech and its potential to inspire us. The event is something like a TED – Burning Man mash-up.  Even better, this particular event took place in a castle, tucked away in a German village.  Needless to say, it was an adventure.

So, why was I there? My colleague Fred and I were invited to share HopeLab’s resilience initiative with the MLOVE community.  I was going to present key empirical findings illustrating how three psychological experiences (purpose, connection, and control) can help us all bounce back from adversity.  I had a million questions heading into the event: Could I move technologists to join us in a mission to use mobile technology to help people thrive? Could I be authentic? Would I belong there?

Before joining HopeLab this year, I was a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, running my own research lab with graduate students, giving talks to scientists, and teaching undergraduates.  Fast forward a few months, and I’m on stage before a few hundred developers, designers, and thought leaders in the tech world. I felt unsure in this new role, even though I’ve given hundreds of lectures in the past.

Then right before my presentation – the opening keynote, no less – fellow speaker Jonathan MacDonald stepped on the stage to set the tone for the gathering.  He spoke of his experiences as a black boy growing up in England in the ’70s.  Of being adopted and severely bullied.  He also spoke of his rise.  From finding allies after being stabbed with a barbeque fork and losing consciousness.  To building a successful business in the music industry despite the odds, losing that business to a corrupt partner – and building it again.  The mandate Jonathan delivered to all of us present shot straight to my heart:

Keep your eyes on the main thing in your life, and keep the main thing, the main thing.

Fred and I both had tears in our eyes when Jonathan left the stage.  And that is when I felt a jolt of energy. I experienced a renewed sense of purpose for what I wanted to communicate to this community – my main thing:

I love science. I believe science can change the world and reduce human suffering.  And I love proselytizing the empirical word.

In that moment before stepping onstage, I found myself again.  And then I gave one of the most memorable talks of my life.

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