Every human being possesses a hero within. Biologically rooted in our primitive ancestors, it is part of humankind’s collective unconsciousness. When we access our hero within, we unlock our deepest potential as human beings. We also gain insight into dealing with life’s inevitable challenges.
To discover our hero within, we must embark on what Joseph Campbell called “the Hero’s Journey.” Even if you are unfamiliar with the specifics of Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey, you will recognize the sequence from literature and film – hero stories like Moses in the Old Testament, Homer’s Odysseus, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
But the hero’s journey isn’t just a formula for storytelling. You can use it as a guide for your own life, with you as the hero.
Though there are seventeen steps in Joseph Campbell’s model of the journey, I’m going to condense them into just three for purposes of this article.
- In the first step of the hero’s journey, he separates himself from his everyday life.
- In the second step, he endures grueling tests of his fortitude.
- In the third and final step, the hero returns to his path of origin (everyday life) as a changed person.
The starting point of every hero’s journey is a trigger of one kind or another. It can be a negative development that he can’t control, or simply a desire to improve his circumstances. Either way, something prompts the hero to undertake the journey.
Unfortunately, many people have difficulty with the first step, because they cannot bring themselves to separate from the safety of their routine-driven lives. The rigors of the journey appear to be too overwhelming for them, so they simply opt out. And by doing so, they also forfeit the journey’s life-changing rewards.
Once a person makes a commitment to abandon his path of origin (everyday life,) he is in a position to cross the threshold into the first steps of his journey. Untethered from the past, he enters the unknown world of possibilities.
On the other side of the threshold is the terrain — known by such monikers as the abyss, the inmost cave, the desert, or Special World — that leaves the hero psychologically naked. This chasm of change tests the hero’s ability to handle mental and physical discomfort.
For one reader, the abyss was “a huge, violent upheaval … when I lost my farm, all my assets, my freedom for awhile, almost my life and my country.” Another person might experience ravages from a medical condition, a parent with dementia, or the hurdles associated with starting a new business.
Fortunately, there are almost always people in the second step of the journey — allies, friends, and mentors — who are more than willing to support and help the hero. Unfortunately, however, there also are people or situations that can sabotage it.
The unrelenting obstacles the hero encounters in the second step test his resolve. When the path seems unclear and he doesn’t know if he can withstand yet another blow, it’s imperative that he stay tenaciously focused. The hero must keep moving forward, one step at a time.
As the hero’s journey intensifies in pitch, he must face his biggest fear — the “monster.” The monster is his deepest, darkest fear. Every hero’s monster is uniquely his own.
In the third and final steps of the journey, the hero emerges from the abyss. He returns to everyday life, like a phoenix, as a transformed person. His hero’s journey has yielded knowledge, experience, and, most likely, a reward — e.g., money, a romantic partner, or a diploma.
There is also a poetic aspect to the final steps of the treacherous journey: The hero elevates his life from an ordinary, everyday world to one of extraordinary enlightenment. He discovers parts of himself he didn’t know existed, learns perspectives he never could have imagined, and confronts fears he had always avoided.
If you have yet to discover the hero within you, don’t assume it’s not there. It is. The journey, with its “hero of a thousand faces,” represents the best versions of who you are capable of becoming. May the force be with you.