We are the hero of our own story. – Mary McCarthy
You’re in the middle of a setback. You’re struggling and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere. There are times when you just want to give up.
Did you know that you’re a hero?
Let’s look at a framework that will help you get a bigger picture of what you’re experiencing and why, exactly, you’re a hero.
It’s called the Hero’s Journey. This is a shortened version of mythologist Joseph Campbell’s fine work on the topic.
And, to illustrate, let’s use the story of Luke Skywalker from Star Wars.
1. The Call to the Adventure
This is the first whispering you might hear that a challenge or adventure awaits you. When we hear the word “adventure” we often think of something exciting and fun. But oftentimes our real-life adventures can be scary or sad or very serious.
Such was the case with our hero, Luke Skywalker, who was first called to the adventure by a hologram of a princess projected by a robot he had just purchased. The princess only spoke one enigmatic line: “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”
Did Luke heed the call and immediately take up the adventure to find out who Obi Wan Kenobi and this princess were?
No, he went inside for dinner when his Aunt Beru called him.
Sometimes we may not hear the call to our adventure, either. Or we say no to it at first for a number of reasons: fear, being comfortable, it’s too daunting, we’re too busy, we’ll take up that challenge later . . . the list goes on and on.
2. The Threshold
This is the point where you either have to accept the adventure or reject the call outright. It’s the tipping point of the process.
For Luke, it was when he stood watching the burning remnants of his house and the unfortunate remains of his aunt and uncle.
He could have opted to go live with a friend, grieve, and carry on in life as a farmer or merchant.
Instead, he looked at Obi Wan Kenobi and said, “I’m coming with you to Alderaan.”
Are you standing on the threshold now? Is there an adventure beckoning you that, on the surface, may seem frightening or daunting?
Or, like Luke, were you somewhat pushed over the threshold by circumstances beyond your control?
3. The Challenge
And so off the hero goes, now committed to the adventure for better or for worse.
And sometimes it is for the worse. Sometimes within the Challenge lies the Abyss, a place where the hero may be stuck for awhile, suffering and unable to get out without help.
Luke’s challenge appeared in the form of a giant Death Star and the tall, dark, venomous character of Darth Vader which both stood in his way as he attempted to rescue the princess.
And he soon entered the Abyss with the tragic death of his friend and mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, at the hands of Darth Vader.
Challenges are hard. And they’re meant to be that way. They are the rough stone against which we sharpen the edges of our character and strengthen the fibers of our souls.
But even the strongest hero can be lost in the Abyss for awhile. Odysseus lost and wandering at sea for years in the Iliad. The Greek god Prometheus bound to a rock for millennia as punishment for giving humans the gift of fire.
If the ancients could write so artfully about the pain, longing, despair, and frustration of the Abyss, then we know it’s not just us that fall in there sometimes. Everyone does and everyone has throughout the history of mankind.
So if you are in your personal Abyss right now, take comfort in the fact that it is a part of the human experience. Not a pleasant one, but you are certainly not alone in your pain.
4. The Transformation
One of the reasons you can take heart when you are in the Abyss and suffering is that we know from our myths and stories that eventually the hero finds his way out.
Usually it takes some help. For Odysseus it was the wise goddess Athena. For Prometheus it was the hero Hercules.
And for Luke Skywalker, it was the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi.
You probably remember the climactic scene where Luke is racing through the Death Star trying to shoot at an impossibly small target. He hears Obi Wan’s voice say, “Use the Force, Luke.” He shakes his head and keeps going, looking at his trusty, traditional computer screen for guidance.
Once again, he hears Obi Wan’s voice, “Trust your senses, Luke. Use the Force.”
Now, Luke is again at the threshold. Does he trust himself and the possibility of faith or does he continue along his path without changing?
Much to his commanders’ dismay, Luke swats away the computer and relies on the Force. Of course his shot is true and he destroys the Death Star by allowing himself to be transformed into a faithful Jedi apprentice and using the Force.
Transformation works the same way for you along your hero’s path. You may have helpers who come to you while you are being challenged, but will you listen to them?
You may have a voice whispering that now is the time for change, for you to trust your inner instinct.
Will you hear?
In my own life, I remember the time my late partner, Ruth, and I sat with her oncologist, complaining bitterly about the side effects of the chemotherapy she was receiving. The doctor looked at Ruth and I most gently and said, “Don’t resist.”
Just two words. Two words that we heard right as we were deep into the challenge of cancer and headed downhill into the abyss of desperation.
We had a choice. Forget what the doctor said and keep on fighting and struggling against Ruth’s cancer or allow him to be our guide and his words to be our map out of the abyss.
We chose the latter and, as Robert Frost says in The Road Not Taken, that has made all the difference.
5. The Return
After the destruction of the Death Star, Luke returns to the rebel headquarters and a great ceremony is held to mark his heroism and that of his rascally cohort, Han Solo.
So, the first thing we learn about The Return is that a celebration needs to happen.
When you return from your Adventure, mark it with some kind of homecoming, some kind of celebration.
You can involve friends and family in this, or just hold a quiet celebration yourself. Acknowledge that you have made it through the Abyss and through one of the big (or small) challenges in your life.
Throughout the rest of the Star Wars story, we see Luke Skywalker train and become a mature Jedi Knight. And this brings us to the second component of The Return.
You must continue to practice what you have learned on your journey and also share it with others.
Just as Luke continues to train to become a Jedi and share his gift with his community, so must you continue to hone what you have learned during your transformation.
And bring it back to your community as well. No hero hoards the knowledge he receives during his Adventure. Instead, he shares it with his people.
Follow the hero’s example since you are one as well!
But at this point, you still may be asking, “Bobbi, what do you mean I’m a hero? When am I heroic?”
Any of these common experiences can be seen as The Hero’s Journey:
- Dealing with illness
- Going to college
- Struggling with depression, anxiety, or stress
- Working toward a promotion at your job
- Going through a spiritual renewal
- Career transitions
- Empty nest syndrome
- Experiencing loss or several losses in a row
- Life itself
What do you think about being a hero? Do you think it’s hogwash or does it ring true for you? Share in Comments below. Reading my email? Click through to the site to share.