It’s an idea first formed by Joseph Campbell. Throughout his lifetime, Campbell studied the stories and myths of different cultures and realized that all were all based upon one story—the monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey.
To begin, the character receives a call to adventure … to leave his or her normal world. The hero feels a tug on his heart and knows he can’t stay in his world longer.
Others may mock the hero’s desire, and perhaps they consider him crazy. But the hero answers the call. Though he knows the journey will be filled with danger, he steps into the fear.
He journeys to a new world, where he has to conquer conflicting forces then defeat the “dragon,” or enemy, often his greatest fear. Finally, the character returns home, a changed person, carrying a treasure, whether it be knowledge to share or a story to tell.
First, I would like to write a classic hero’s journey tale. Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games are just three of many series that followed the archetype.
But secondly: I see the journey in real life, with real-life heroes.
In real life, the journey looks different. It’s more tangled, more complex. None of us will carry the ring of power to Mount Doom. Or bring down the Capital. Or vanquish the Dark Lord. But we all, at one time or another, feel that call to adventure. To do something scary. To leave our comfort zones.
Sometimes, it’s purposed:
- An artist drops out of business school to pursue a riskier career.
- Someone embarks upon a career change later in life, or decides to start a family.
- A doctor who moves her or his family to a lesser developed country to provide aid or service to those in need.
- Someone confronts an addiction.
And sometimes life interrupts our day to day world, turning our world topsy:
- A spouse leaves.
- A person loses a job.
- Someone receives news of a sickness.
- A couple expecting a child learns that the baby will have special needs.
When such obstacles happen, our desire is to return to the safe, the known.
The addict may feel the pull to the bottle. The sick person may slip into despondency, or have thoughts of ending it. The couple with the special needs child may consider terminating the pregnancy.
In this life, the real one, we have fears that keep us from moving forward. Fear of being rejected. Of going broke. Of being a failure. Or alone.
When we step into that fear, we find our own heroic journey.
The addicts finds his or her sobriety. The person with the illness acknowledges this “new normal” and finds acceptance. The couple decides to have the baby. And the baby is the sweetest child imaginable and touches them and others in ways unimagined.
We all have our journeys to make. What is your hero’s journey? Is there one you’re taking, or have taken? What dragons were there to slay along the way?