Our Hero Journey
Folks who study mythology, people like Joseph Campbell, influenced by Carl Jung’s teachings, categorized the structure of mythology as “the hero’s journey”. This organization can also be applied to popular fiction and even movies. Since we are the heroes of our own life story, I believe this structure applies to our lives as well.
The hero’s journey begins with “ordinary life”. Think of the opening scenes of any superhero movie, “Die Hard” or “Star Wars”, or even classic Rom-coms like “When Harry Met Sally”. This might also be described as the calm before the storm. It is when we feel we know the main characters in a movie, or you think you know who you are, and what your life is about. Then comes the “Call to Adventure”. This is what I refer to in an earlier column as the “miracle”, when the universe calls out to you - when John McClain must choose to save his wife and her colleagues, when Luke Skywalker begins his journey, or when the Meg Ryan character decides to accept a ride back to NYU with the Billy Crystal character. It is the moment in your own life when you are faced with a crisis you must choose to take on or ignore.
The next step often consists of “meeting a mentor” - someone who inspires the hero, when the decision to act or not to act is clarified for the hero(you) - this mentor could be as mundane as your spouse, best friend or Yoda, or as dramatic as the President or even God. You then “cross the threshold” and the hardest part of the journey begins. Along the way the hero will face “tests, allies and enemies” that compose the crux of the journey, the majority of the tension of your story, and the depths of the hero’s heroism. Or for you, the time when you most feel like turning back or giving up.
Should you choose to continue, you will likely face the “abyss” or the “inner most cave” where things seem the darkest and the hero feels certain he will fail.
Then, only because of the hero’s (your) innate talents, sheer fortitude or immense courage, the “Supreme Ordeal” is faced (think of the climax in your favorite movie, or the moment in your life when everything changed) and you arise victorious, experience “redemption, rebirth and new resolve” to conquer whatever lies ahead.
Your life, and you, are changed forever, thanks to your own hero journey. You become the person you are meant to be, which may completely different than who you thought you were.
Where are you on your hero journey? Or has it not yet occurred? Did your hero journey take place years ago, and you relive it every day? Are you the mentor of someone else’s hero journey, which may intersect with your own? After your journey, did you emerge redeemed and renewed? Or perhaps you’re not yet ready to face your hero journey. When it comes, you will know. No two life story scripts are the same. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Dr. John Monaco