Designing Your Own Hero’s Journey.
What if you were to imagine your life as a Hero’s Journey? This could be due to a change of career or where you live, a divorce and starting to date for the first time in 30 years, going back to get a masters in midlife, or exploring a new spiritual path.
You feel the call to adventure from your safe, known world to the liminal, unknown wilderness with the three classic stages of a transition: departure, initiation and return.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell popularized the idea of the Hero’s Journey, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Campbell suggested there were 17 stages of any mythic journey and George Lucas credited Campbell’s work as the inspiration for his “Star Wars” films.
Recently, I had a powerful dream of my life as a Hero’s Journey with 12 stages, almost like the numbers on a clock. Little did I know at the time that Hollywood screenwriter Christopher Vogler created 12 stages defined below and that films like “The Matrix” have used this framework:
- The Ordinary World
- The Call of Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting the Mentor
- Crossing the First Threshold
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies
- Approach to the Inmost Cave
- The Ordeal
- Reward (Seizing the Sword)
- The Road Back
- Return with the Elixir
So, based upon seeing my own patterns in my life (one of the benefits of getting older), here’s the upside and downside of my Hero’s Journey path.
My starting point is the “Conduit:” Whether it’s my writing, my business ideas, or my intuition about people, when I’m at my best, I’m a channel and have an ability to tap into the zeitgeist. Having created this diagram, I now know that I need to better understand what conditions allow me to be the best conduit.
- Calling: When the channel is open, my phone line to the collective consciousness are 5 bars full of spiritual wifi. It is in those times that I often feel called by an idea or premonition.
- Passion: Next, the raw uniqueness of the idea stirs a passion in me, an energy to engage with this calling even if it wakes me up out of my comfortable world.
- Sacrifice: As Martin Scorsese demonstrated in his film "The Passion of the Christ," the natural outgrowth of this passion is a willingness to sacrifice which is where the liminal stage of the Hero’s Journey begins.
- One-Dimensionality: This is where we drop below the surface of what’s familiar and it can start getting painful as my habitual tendency is to become so focused on this new passion that I can neglect other parts of my life.
- Treadmill: Then, because I’m a bit of an achievement addict, I tend to jump on the treadmill to accomplish the vision for this calling and I keep turning up the pace. No one seems to ask me whether my glass is half-full or half-empty; they recognize that I always want a bigger glass.
- “Can Do It” Hero: At the bottom of this cycle, my ego can kick-in big time and I start emulating the archetype of the Hero with my “can do it” attitude of rugged individualism. For those of you who know the 3 on the Enneagram, this is me, fully-amped like a locomotive.
- “Spent” vs “Invested:” When I’m living my calling and feeling my purpose, I have a high threshold for pain and intense stamina until I hit the occasional wall and realize how exhausted I am. That’s when I wonder whether I’m "spent" or "invested" with respect to this endeavor. I always hope that I’m invested, but on a bad day, I feel spent.
- Resentment: And, that’s when the resentment can start seeping-in. Why am I having to do this, that or the other? Why can’t others keep up with me or do more? This is me at my worst as a leader.
- Recovery: Assuming I’m self-aware enough to know what’s going on (or co-workers or friends clue me in), I look for ways to recover my sense of energy and intention, often by retreating from others and doing things that physically, emotionally and spiritually bring me back to life.
- Renewal: Now that I’m in the return part of the journey, I feel like I’m coming back a changed man with all of the wisdom of this process and a hope that I will be even wiser on my next adventure.
- Curiosity: Finally, as evidenced by the fact that it’s diagonally opposite the Treadmill, when I have the time and space to be curious, I open up my channel and the whole miraculous process can start again.
- “Conduit:” From "Conduit" to "Can do it" to "Conduit" over and over.
I’m sure your Hero’s Journey will look different than mine and it might have just 8 stages (as scholar Phil Cousineau’s does) rather than 12 or 17, but take special note of what’s standing opposite on your clock. For me, Passion is opposite Resentment and One-Dimensional focus is the polarity of holistic Renewal. Understanding these polarities helps me to know what’s needed to bring me back into balance. MEA’s good friend Arthur Brooks offers this perspective on the Hero’s Journey in The Atlantic magazine, especially later in one’s life.
The magic in life is when you become conscious of your own patterns in ways that allow you to adjust them over time. As Carl Jung suggested, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
This is my "soul-ar" system. What’s yours?