Picking up on last week’s post, lets explore what Joseph Campbell meant when he said we are all on the “Hero’s Journey.” Campbell coined the term Hero's Journey after studying myths from cultures around the world. He found that all cultures explain the challenges, pitfalls, and accomplishments of life as being essentially the same.
The Hero’s Journey through life has challenges that we will either meet and overcome, or we will meet and be defeated by. It does not matter how small you think your life is. Campbell says that Einstein, Joan of Arc, a shoe salesman, and a garbage collector are all on the same Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is not a one-time trip. We all have a journey to leave the world of dependency and create our own independent life (or remain forever adolescent in our approach to adult living—the “eternal child syndrome”). We sometimes have a Hero’s Journey through the long, painful road out of an addiction (or as they say in recovery circles—end up in death, jails, or institutions having been defeated by the challenge.) We have a Hero’s Journey into our life’s authentic work—that which brings us fulfillment, accomplishment, and contribution (or we end up defeated and embittered in a dead end job, feeling trapped in work we took up solely for money, or without work at all.) We may have the Hero’s Journey of raising children successfully (or in the tragedy of abandoning our children after bringing them into the world).
We could have the journey into marriage, creating a business, entering a spiritual discipline, or starting a charity. Every major life adventure has the qualities of what Campbell calls, The Hero’s Journey. Often times the journey is more internal than external. You may suffer in a challenging marriage, or resist relationship altogether. You might be secretly in dire financial trouble, or struggling to get a business off the ground. The doubt, fear, courage, risk taking, and help we experience on the journey are all under our influence. How we manage them will determine how our journey turns out.
The journey has specific stages. Let’s use Star Wars, a classic story of the Hero’s Journey, to outline the stages Campbell defined:
1. Ordinary Life: Our day-to-day life that feels safe but unchallenging. Luke is initially living a mundane day-to-day existence. He wants to be a pilot but clings his known, safe home.
2. Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with something that calls him to begin his adventure. Luke finds a holograph message in R2D2 from Princess Leia asking for help.
3. Refusal of the Call: The hero attempts to refuse the adventure because he is afraid. Luke’s initial reaction is to say “Look I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the Empire. I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now.”
4. Meeting with the Mentor: The hero encounters someone who can give him advice and ready him for the journey ahead. Luke meets Obi-Wan Kenobi who shows him his father’s light saber and eventually acts as his mentor. (In the next film he also meets Yoda as a mentor / guide).
5. Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves his ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure. Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed and he leaves to help Princess Leia. His first stop is Mos Eisley’s Cantina where he sees characters from across the galaxy that have been into the far reaches of their own journeys.
6. Test, Allies, Enemies: The hero learns the rules of his new world. During this time, he endures tests of strength of will, meets friends, and comes face to face with foes. Luke meets allies Han Solo and Chewbacca. When he tries to leave the planet Tatooine, storm troopers attempt to stop him. He succeeds in his escape and is on the way to Alderaan.
7. Approach: Setbacks occur, sometimes causing the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas. Luke discovers that Alderaan has been destroyed. It has been replaced by The Death Star. Fear and doubt return. Luke: “I have a bad feeling about this.”
8. Ordeal: The hero experiences a major hurdle or obstacle, such as a life or death crisis. Luke rescues Princess Leia but witnesses the death of Obi-Wan in the fight.
9. Reward: After surviving death, the hero earns his reward or accomplishes his goal. Luke emerges from his ordeal as an adult hero and joins the rebel fleet as a pilot.
10. The Road Back: The hero begins his journey back to ordinary life. Luke has a way back to normalcy by leaving the upcoming conflict and escaping with Hans Solo. He decides to join the rebellion.
11. Resurrection Hero: The hero faces a final test that brings all he has learned to his life challenge. Luke destroys the Death Star in a climactic battle. He learns to trust The Force and comes into his own powers.
12. Return with Elixir: The hero brings his knowledge back to the ordinary world where he applies it to help all who remain. Luke returns, is celebrated in a ceremony, and gives hope to his community that they will survive the Empire with fighters like him.
The story of the Hero’s Journey is told over and over in our culture. Your life, as much as anyone else’s, is an example of either the triumphs or the pitfalls of your own Hero’s Journey. It is hard wiring we are all born with. In fact, your journey from embryo to birth is your first Hero’s journey (and a journey for the mother).
If you feel at a loss about the importance or success of your own Hero’s Journey, perhaps you are stuck in the stage of Resisting the Call. Is there a book you are resisting writing? Is there a job you should be going for? Are you holding back from asking her to marry you? Are you afraid to let go of a high paying job to enter your true calling? Is it time to move? Are you wallowing in an addiction and resisting getting help?
Help is available for you in many forms to progress on your journey. Therapists, sponsors, business mentors, coaches—what kind of help or mentorship do you need to move into your full journey?
We are all on the Hero’s Journey whether we want to admit it or not. That is why Hollywood keeps telling the same stories in different forms such as The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, or Star Wars— and why we resonate with them.
Check out this link and you’ll see what I mean: