The Hero’s Journey
Why does life have to be so darn hard? It seems like we end each phase of our lives only to find ourselves unprepared for the next one. The lessons we’ve learned were great, but they don’t provide nearly enough guidance to help direct our journey into the next unknown. We are Lewis and Clark who reached the headwaters of the Missouri river ready the short trek over the continental divide. Instead, they found themselves looking out over the Rocky Mountains stretching into the distance as far as the eye could see.
Sometimes, we reach the horizon abruptly, staring into an unplanned future that wasn’t our choice. The company is re-organized and we end up in a job we hate. We find ourselves working for a really, really bad boss. The company downsizes and we are laid off. We feel like we’re stuck in a dead end job. Attaining our dreams leave us feeling no more prepared. We get the perfect job and realize that now we have to live up to our own expectations. We get a promotion and realize we are waaaaay out of our league. Even in our personal lives, we find ourselves at the edge of the horizon completely unprepared. When my daughter was about to be born, I found myself thinking, “This is too much responsibility for anyone – where was the training class for this?!”
The anthropologist Joseph Campbell spent much of his life studying cultural myths from around the world to identify common themes and stories. One of the most common stories that emerged was, “The Hero’s Journey.” Almost all cultures had stories about the hero who had a choice—to stay safe in the village or to venture forth into the wilderness to seek adventure beyond the horizon. In the quest, the hero would invariably meet and have to overcome demons, dragons or other mythical monsters. But, more often than not, the demons weren’t outward monsters, but tests that required the hero to overcome his or her inner fears and weaknesses.
When Have You Left the Village? So, I challenge you to try your own little thought exercise. Think of one of the times in your life when you chose to leave the village, to set out on your own into the unknown. (For some of you, maybe it was a time when you were thrown out of the village!) Then, reflect on the following questions. Better yet, invite a good friend out for coffee and ask each other the questions. After all, it’s usually a lot more fun to hear other people tell brutal stories than it is to tell your own!
· Why did you leave the village? What were you seeking?
· What inner demons did you have to overcome? What allowed you to get through and navigate the experience?
· What did you learn? What did you learn about yourself? What advice would you have for others who are ready to leave their own villages?
The last few questions may be the most important. After all, you have made it this far. How did you do it? What did you draw on?
I have one final challenge for you. Sometimes, it isn’t in our strengths, but in our weakness that we can have the greatest impact on others. After all, when I read great biographies, I’m not really interested in how they handled success. What I’m really looking for is how they got through the tough times! I don’t care about Winston Churchill after World War II, what I really want to know is how he got through WWII!
David Whyte, in his book Crossing the Unknown Sea, writes,
“We have the strange idea, unsupported by any evidence, that we are loved and admired only for our superb strength, our far-reaching powers, and our all-knowing competency…
We have an even stranger idea: that we will finally fall in love with ourselves only when we have become the totally efficient organized organism we have always wanted to be and left all our bumbling ineptness behind…
We try to construct a life in which we will be perfect, in which we will eliminate awkwardness, pass by vulnerability, ignore ineptness, only to find, strangely, that the gateway is vulnerability itself.” (pp. 128-129)