We Can Be Heroes
We can find ourselves grappling and grasping for the answers to important life questions, as we wind our merry way through life. After all, we are mere mortals experiencing the human condition in full throttle. But we can be heroes too, with the power to impact lives and change the world, to leave our personal legacy.
So, where do we start and how on earth do our heroes manage to pull off the impossible – making hair-raising decisions and finding their way from adversity to the other side?
Ever heard of Joseph Campbell and The Hero of a Thousand Faces (1949)? Well, this book has influenced writers, artists, psychologists and filmmakers to this day. I believe there is also value in sharing it in the context of career choices and professional challenges when we can be heroes.
The Hero’s journey
As a comparative mythologist, Campbell researched what myths have in common and uncovered the monomyth – a single story telling arc. In this universal structure, the hero receives a call to action and adventure compelling him to leave his present day reality and overcome several obstacles, some of which he must face alone and for others there may be some form of help. As his journey progresses there is one almighty challenge, which, if he manages to overcome bestows him with a reward and ultimately the gift of self-knowledge. The hero can decide for himself if he wishes to return or continue on his heroic journey.
Sound familiar yet? We can be heroes too. Think for one moment about a few of our cinematic heroes like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Neo in The Matrix, and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
The heroic monomyth structure underpins the continuous rhythm of change in all areas of our lives where we can be heroes – navigating departures, initiations and returning home to ourselves.
It has universal applications and can help us identify valuable lessons and the motivation to navigate our personal or professional quests. So, in times of derailment, we can be heroes and tap into the containing strength of the heroic perspective, and so learn to grow by becoming better at coping with change and periods of tribulation.
Let’s look at a simple career scenario to see the practical application of the hero’s journey at work.
The Ordinary World – Paul was a recent graduate searching for his first job, living at home and filling out tens of applications for jobs in London with surrounded by stiff competition.
The Call to Adventure – He received a call from a consultancy firm offering him a last minute internship with an immediate start to cover a drop out candidate.
Refusal of the Call – Paul found himself relieved to have been offered a position but afraid there might be too much to arrange at such short notice. He was also nervous to start his first ‘proper’ job without time to mentally prepare himself. Change is always uncomfortable, especially a sudden one. Nevertheless, he managed to talk himself round not to overthink it and just crack on.
Meeting with the Mentor – Paul’s older brother had been working in a job he really enjoyed for a few years and offered him some encouragement and guidance about what to expect and suggested a few helpful websites to prepare him for his first day and relocation. We all need a little help at times – we can only get so far alone.
Cross the First Threshold – The first separation from home and student life to starting in paid employment, as a working professional is quite a shift! There is a significant amount of change in terms of the people, the job role, the working environment, the office culture etc. It can all be very intimidating and unnerving.
Obstacles, Friends and Foe – Paul quickly realised amongst the people he met, that there were those who cared about his success and others who didn’t. He had to make choices that would help him to reach his performance goals or potentially derail him amongst the many temptations in and outside the office.
Almighty Big Challenge – Paul had a six month performance review looming to confirm permanent employment or release him from the internship. He gradually worked towards meeting the performance standards required of him and began a transformation process, accruing new skills and knowledge necessary for a successful review outcome and good job performance.
Resurrection and Rebirth – Significant transformation builds intensity and heightened awareness with the realisation that the limits to achievement are boundless and the sky is the limit. Paul could breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate a sought after job offer which was only possible when he was open to the experience presenting itself and moving through his initial feelings of anxiety and doubt. Paul wasn’t the same person – he was changed by this experiences and no longer the same person that he was six months earlier.
Reward – Paul walked taller with more confidence in his capabilities and enjoyed an almighty night out with his new friends from work and friends from university to celebrate. He was on his way to achieving his career aspirations and financial independence.
The Road Back – Just as the mountain descent carries more risk statistically than the ascent, so it is after the hero’s battle is over. In this case Paul realises what follows now is continued the good work and application or risk losing his achievement and go back to being unemployed or stagnating in the same role for a long while.
Return with Elixir – Paul experienced the fruits of his labour and not just materially. He had more choices than before, greater independence and dedication to his job, his team and his manager. This in turn meant that he cared about delivering focus, quality and helping others in ways he hadn’t experienced until now. Paul also inspired his friends from university who were still seeking employment, to be more open to opportunities that presented themselves.
Master of Two Worlds – This final stage is about reconciling what was then, with what is now and accepting both, for within this process something will be both lost and gained. For Paul is was also about mastering his new found skills and responsibilities and creating equilibrium in his new routine and professional career ahead.
The potential strength and wisdom to be mined from this timeless storytelling pattern is infinite, with boundless applications to our lives. Our ability to maintain a perspective and remain centred enough to identify and harvest the lessons learnt is an important life skill.
So while our mythological heroes receive the call to seek out the treasure, slay the dragon and discover the golden egg – we can also be heroes, front and centre in the story of our lives as it unfolds.