In movies, books, and legends, heroes often find themselves pulled into unexpected adventures, through no choice of their own. I used to think that real life worked that way, too. I thought I had to sit around and wait until someone asked me to be the hero of my life.
Not true! Sitting around waiting is a recipe for dullsville.
In real life, you make your own adventures.
It’s up to you to make sure you’re the hero of your life (and not just “the gay best friend”, “the sassy black lady”, or “the uptight sidekick”). Those roles can be fun to play, but if you get pigeonholed, you’ll wake up one day wondering who the hell you are.
So are you ready to cast yourself as the hero and start living your own hero’s journey?
Be the Hero of Your Life
First, get the workbook that goes with this post. (I know, workbook makes it sound like work. But I promise it will be fun!). Then get comfy and read on.
There’s a theory of storytelling called the Hero’s Journey. It was conceived by Joseph Campbell in 1949 to describe the 17 stages that Campbell claimed all archetypal heroes experience during their adventures. Campbell was thinking of mythic heroes like Odysseus and Theseus, but now, we can find the same structure in modern myths, like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
This is how Campbell describes it:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Are you dying to venture forth, encounter supernatural wonder and fabulous forces, and return with the power to bestow boons on your homies?
Of course, you are!
Stage 1: Call to Adventure
The Ordinary World
What is it? In the Hero’s Journey, the hero starts out in mundanity, whatever that means for them. Visiting Tatooine might be exotic for you and me, but for Luke Skywalker it was deadly dullsville. He had his rut and he was wallowing in it.
Your ordinary world is wherever you are right now, whether that’s in a 4-bedroom house in suburbia or a one-bedroom flat overlooking the Eiffel Tower. (Unless your journey has already started, that is!)
Do the work: In the workbook, describe your ordinary world. Include the things that make you want to escape and the things that you would miss if you left.
The Call to Adventure
What is it? Some people never hear this call. They are perfectly happy to stay in their comfort zone, never wanting to venture further than their own backyards. For some of us, it’s just a whisper: “What else is out there?”
Sometimes, it’s like someone is screaming in our faces:
Get out there and see the world before it’s too late!
Do the work: What is your call to adventure? When did you first hear it? What is it telling you to do? It might be to go travel, or to become an actor, or to go to Bali for a yoga teacher training. Describe the call in your workbook.
What is it? In Star Wars, Luke is quick to refuse his call to adventure. He can’t leave his uncle and aunt to look after the moisture farm all by themselves!! He has responsibilities and people depending on him; adventure is not for him.
Does this sound familiar? If you’ve heard the call, you’ve probably also made the refusal. Maybe, like Luke, you have responsibilities you can’t ignore. Maybe you feel ill-equipped to deal with the barriers that lie ahead, like saving money, making a plan, or getting organized. Or maybe you’re afraid. Whatever it is, you are in the company of heroes through the ages, who have all heard the call and answered:
Nu-uh! Not me.
Do the work: Delve deep into the secret corners of your mind. List all the reasons you’ve been refusing the call. Spill it all: your fears, your responsibilities, and your perceived inadequacies.
Stage 2: Supreme Ordeal / Initiation
What is it? This is the part where someone comes along to be your Obi-Wan Kenobi. In stories, that person usually happens along by accident or seeks the hero out.
In your life, you’re more likely to have to look for your mentor. There is someone out there who can give you advice, help you along the path, and throw you a few magical tools.
You don’t need to seek out Yoda or a mystical guru. Your mentor might be a friend who inspires you, someone who is just ahead of you on the path, or a couple of bloggers who really want to help you live your own adventure. (Hint: That’s us!)
Do the work: Figure out what guidance you need. Then, take action. Reach out to people who might be able to help. Ask if they would be willing to spend an hour with you, sharing their advice and experience. You’d be surprised how many people – even complete strangers – will be more than happy to help you along.
Crossing the Threshold
What is it? Now your adventure begins. This is when you slip out of the ordinary world and cross the threshold into something entirely different. The old rules don’t apply anymore. Once you take this step, you may find yourself lost and in danger (metaphorically, we hope).
When you cross the threshold, your journey becomes your adventure. This is where you lose control of your story – which is a good thing!
If you’re always in full control, you never get to experience adventure.
You can’t predict what your adventurous world will be like and that’s the whole point – it’s a journey into the unknown.
Do the work: But imagining it can be a powerful tool to draw you through the preparation stages. In the workbook, write a paragraph about what your life might look like once you cross the threshold and begin your adventure. Remember, this isn’t your fantasy “perfect” world. This is a world of struggle and challenges – the world where you’re doing the work to become the hero you want to be.
Letting Adventure Happen to You
After the hero crosses the threshold in Campbell’s concept, the Hero’s Journey becomes a rollercoaster of new experiences. The hero (that’s you!) starts to learn, grow, and change. She or he meets allies (Leia, Han, and Chewie) and faces enemies (Darth Vader). The hero undergoes a major transformation (learns to use the force) and becomes the person they were born to be (a Jedi Knight).
The Hero’s Journey includes many more stages, but I’m not going to ask you do any more work right now. Why? Because over-planning is death to adventure. The journey is supposed to take unexpected twists and turns. That’s what makes you grow and change and what makes life worth living.
The work you’ve done so far, combined with your vision for your life, is enough to take you to our next post. In that post, you’ll learn how to transform your fictional vision into reality.
Because if you’re not the hero, who the hell is?
♥ Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane