Your Hero’s Journey: Introducing the Hero’s Journey
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
On 12 June 2005, Steve Jobs stood in front of the Stanford graduating class and uttered the immortal words above. His speech was full of hope and lessons for an expectant crowd of future adventurers about to embark on their journeys into adult life.
On that day, he spoke of how unexpected the journey of life is. The lesson he had to offer was trusting that the dots will connect looking backwards. That the difficulties and challenges of life will make sense if you cast a reflective gaze to the past as part of becoming who you are meant to be.
What does this mean for us?
The practice of reflection is a beautiful way of seeing the patterns of life that play out. Reflection allows us to make sense of what was and is. It encourages us to learn from experience and embracing those lessons.
And the Hero’s Journey guides us through deep reflection.
But it is much more than that. It is also a guide for a bright new future and following the bliss you may not even know is available to you.
In 1949 the scholar and teacher Joseph Campbell coined the term the Hero’s Journey to describe a repeating pattern that occurs in great works of literature and myths across many cultures.
This story structure, or monomyth, rooted in the tales of the past, often informs inspiration behind modern literature, film, music and poetry.
It may help us as creatives to create a lens on the world, which will allow us to recognize our own stories and themes.
And suppose you count yourself among the perpetual learners, the curious creatives, or the seekers of infinite wisdom?
In that case, the Hero’s Journey provides for you an outline of themes for a transformational journey you can embark on whenever you are ready to follow your dreams to a world of your wildest imagination.
Why is the Hero’s Journey Important?
We are hardwired to love stories. Over millennia, the verbal tradition of storytelling was a way of passing down wisdom, stirring up feelings of awe, wonder, inspiration and igniting ideas.
As a mythical structure, the Hero’s Journey gives us insight into the underlying pattern of storytelling and shows us a path we can integrate into our lives to transform our way and being.
For the learners and teachers among us, it informs how we can structure stories, teachings and lessons to make sense and highlight the journeys of learning and transformation.
The wise can look at the Hero’s Journey to reflect on experience and memories to gain a bigger perspective on what life brought them and what it means with the benefit of hindsight.
The seekers may find a map that shows the path to a new and exciting destination.
And the dreamers? For them, it will unlock the doors of imagination and possibility.
Welcome to the Hero’s Journey!
The Hero’s Journey was created as a potential path to develop self-knowledge and transformation. It also recognizes that each of our journeys is our own, and it is unique.
If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.
The Hero’s Journey — A Transformational Summary
The Hero’s Journey is a narrative structure consisting of three major stages:
- The departure of the Hero from the ordinary, or known world
- The initiation of the Hero into an unknown world with trials and challenges that transforms them
- The return to the ordinary, or known world with the transformation complete
The ordinary world describes the world as we know it. It is familiar to us, we are sure of most things that could happen, and we see it as safe and predictable. It is also a world where we live in a comfort zone, and our learning and growth are limited to small increments that focus on making our lives comfortable.
The unknown world is an extraordinary place. It is filled with uncertainty and chaos. It is a space where we don’t know what will happen, it is unpredictable, and we have little preparation and skills to meet what comes our way. It is a space of exponential learning, growth and failure. And those who are successful in crossing the unknown world are transformed with new skills, wisdom and abilities.
Each of the three stages has a distinct theme that moves the Hero forward:
A New Hope — The Departure
· The call to adventure — The call to adventure often arrives as an opportunity, a crisis, or an event. It spurs us into action.
This is a time and a state of awareness in which we can recognize and welcome opportunities and change into our lives and decide how it will support living our life’s purpose.
Calls to adventure are born from desire, crisis or trouble and almost always predict times of deep turmoil and chaos, whether thrust on you or chosen freely.
· The call answered/refused — There are strong and compelling reasons to answer or to refuse the call to adventure. Answering the call to adventure readies you for an adventurous journey into the unknown world.
Refusal of the call will leave you stranded in the ordinary world. The refusal of a call may mean an opportunity lost, or if it is necessary or urgent enough, it may return in the same form, or in a different disguise.
· Crossing the threshold — To pursue a call to adventure requires preparation and planning. It requires building your courage and gathering the resources necessary to step into transformation and embrace the journey ahead.
Crossing the threshold is a conscious decision to step away from the known world and follow a challenging quest in which nothing you know may be valid, and uncertainty becomes your constant companion.
The Transformation — The Initiation
· The road of trials — Obstacles abound when you start your journey to transformation. Often obstacles will seem insurmountable, and it may seem easier to adjust your change objectives than to persist and follow through on what your purpose tells you what is needed.
The road of trials shows you your weaknesses, how unprepared you are for your transformation. It is where you must overcome obstacles and challenges to grow into what you want to become.
· The abyss — The abyss represents the ordeal of becoming. It is the path of failure, resilience and acceptance that leads to the new emerging version of you. The abyss is where most journeys of transformation are abandoned.
It represents the act of looking into the mirror of the ordinary world from a perspective of who you are becoming and embracing what is possible and letting go of what no longer serves you.
· The transformation — With mastery confidence grows, more possibilities arise, and growth accelerates to the inevitable tipping point where it becomes impossible to return to old habits and mindsets.
This part of the journey is about fully embracing what you are becoming. It is about mastering new skills, mindsets and abilities.
· Consolidation — Consolidation is about settling into the habits and mindsets of the transformed self. This is where you complete your journey of transformation.
This step is also about preparing to return to the world as it exists as a transformed being or making the decision to return to an imagined new world of your own creation.
Consolidation is consciously deciding how you will bring your gift if transformation back as a contribution in the world.
· Crossing the return threshold — The conscious decision to return to the ordinary world allows you to step into the role you have been preparing for. It is a new beginning in the world you came from or a new world you choose.
A Brave New World — The Return
· Return — The return is being born anew in the eyes of the ones you left behind or others in the ordinary or chosen world.
Stepping into your new beginning introduces your transformed self to the ordinary world as new and different. It allows those who need it to see what you are bringing into the world and what new skills, insights or behaviours you bring to teach and share with them.
· Over time — New calls to adventure will emerge which take you back into a new Hero’s Journey. This stage is about reminding yourself to stay connected to your emergent purpose.
Abandoning the Journey
Many times, the unknown world may prove too disruptive or too daunting to continue the journey. The Hero may lose courage and hope and decide to abandon the difficult road ahead of them.
Abandoning the journey will cause a return to the ordinary world that the Hero escaped.
The Hero returns, sometimes with deep regret and feelings of failure, and other times with forced new learnings that may alleviate the mundaneness and frustration of the ordinary world for a while. There is always the shame of failure and the lack of will, but …
Inevitably a new call to adventure will arise … Another chance to … A new yearning …
What does the Hero’s Journey mean for us and transformation?
We are on the hero’s journey when we submit to the deep processes of life and allow them to affect us and bore their necessities into us. We are the hero when we take on the challenges and go through our initiations and transformations, enduring loss and gain, feeling happy and sad, making progress and falling back. The hero is engaged in life. The hero is not the one who displays force and muscle without deep insight or the courage to be. The hero may not look heroic from the outside but may go through powerful developments in a quiet way. The difference is that the real hero engages life and reflects on it. She becomes more and more what he or she is destined to be.
Learning about the Hero’s Journey allows us to connect to a meaningful path mapped out in broad themes. It is not a recipe, but a map for making meaning and learning from our failures and success. And even though a map does not equate to the territory, it gives us hope about the journey and our resolve to learn and grow.
A familiar map aligned with meaning removes uncertainty and diminishes our fear of the unknown.
Here are some ways to use the Hero’s Journey for yourself:
· A pathway to possibility — There is always the possibility of a new life and a new world you can create for yourself from committed transformative growth.
The Hero’s Journey will show you the themes of transformation. It allows you to consciously decide what that your new life can be about and plan for the price you have to pay to step into and owning your transformed self in the space of new beginning.
· Understanding the story of you — It is a useful meaning-making tool to reflect on the past stories of who you think you are and unpack the learnings you may have not been paying attention to.
· Become a Guide — Learning about and knowing the path allows you to guide others along the way, being a coach and light bringer for those who need it.
· Step into the role of Teacher — The journey shows the path of learning. It shows where the new may lead to despair and also offers hope of mastery.
· Your genius — This is for you: There is so much more you will find in how you can apply this journey than I can ever think of …. Go find what the Hero’s Journey can bring to you!
Let us end with Steve Jobs.
On 12 June 2005, he shared three stories. One was about connecting the dots, another was about love and loss, and the final one was about death.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
All journeys end!
The Hero’s Journey is a metaphor for a heroic life. Heroic lives are embraced with enthusiasm, laughter and joy, without fear of growth and becoming. For eventually, we too will depart this world. And regret should not be a part of it.