Though you may not think of yourself as a hero, you do play the starring role in the story of your life journey. It’s a story you’ve been composing since you took your first breath – maybe even before. Many supporters have acted as guides, teachers, and mentors to help and inspire you along the way. Some may also have provided their idea of how you should live your life and the path you should follow. But ultimately, it’s your story, your life, your journey that required you to make difficult choices and carry out heroic actions to bring you to the chapter you inhabit presently.
The word hero literally means “protector” or “defender.” You have played the role of protecting and defending who you are, what you believe in, and whom and what you care about. Yet, along your life path your core values probably were challenged periodically. If you have ever asked yourself, “What am I supposed to be doing in this situation,” or “What do I really feel or believe to be true,” you can identify the hero’s journey.
“Hero’s journey” is a term coined by mythologist, Joseph Campbell. He referred to it as a monomyth, basically the same story told over and over again through the ages and in our own lives. The plot line of the tale is about something of incalculable value that has been lost and must be found. The principal character or the self, must do the finding.
The essential, underlying theme of this story is to help us understand the origin, meaning and destiny of our lives. It’s also about finding our calling. The hero’s journey has provided the framework for countless stories in literature, and movies like “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Wars“.
Awaken to the call
The hero’s journey usually begins when you feel something is amiss, something has been taken from you or is lacking in your life. You feel called to make something right, recover what has been lost, or discover or give birth to something new. Campbell taught that most heroes feel “unprepared, ill-equipped, and uncertain of the journey.”
If you are feeling, or have ever felt, unprepared, ill-equipped and uncertain of your journey, you are, or have been, you are being awakened to the call. This uncertainty forces you to uncover a deep inner strength and awareness to help you meet the obstacles encountered, and accept whatever help or guidance is offered.
It’s often said that people don’t change until they hurt bad enough. The call to change, let go of someone or something – that relationship or unfulfilling job – may linger for years. A part of you wants something better, but there is the fear of how you’ll be able to manage, live without this person – or risk becoming homeless.
Early in my working life I returned from vacation to a job I’d been in for 15 years to what essentially was a demotion. I called a friend who said to me, “You don’t have to stay there.” What a revelation! Before I gave fear a chance to hold me back, I spontaneously answered the call and walked out on the spot. Subsequently, all the emotions poured out as I began to find my way. Friends helped me overcome my fears and feelings of inadequacy, guiding me down an entirely new and fulfilling path filled with growth, new skills, and many more adventures.
Journey into the unknown
Many life circumstances may require you to take this journey into places you have never been before. A journey may be short or it may last many years. Moving from childhood through puberty and teenage years to adulthood is a massively transformative experience we all share, being tested and challenged along the way.
The hero’s journey can be experienced in career transitions, relationships, serious illnesses – and major losses of all kinds. Before you embark, you may think you know who you are and what you believe in and care about. But this may change while taking this journey. At times you may feel like you are fighting dragons and demons, feeling rocked to your spiritual core, even questioning your faith.
“Superman” movie hero, Christopher Reeve, who later became a paraplegic, defined a hero as ”an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” We’ve all had to overcome what may have seemed like overwhelming obstacles. The calling may be stimulated by a passion or compassion for helping others, or to support a cause or right an injustice.
Parents, teachers, clergy and people in many walks of life do this as part of their role. Activists help us to understand a different side of an issue. Firefighters, rescue teams and military forces do this as part of their defined roles. A true hero does not think of themselves as a hero at all. They just do what feels like the right thing to do. Even if none of these roles have been yours, you have been called to put your best self forward – in your work, family and other aspects of your life.
While I have not personally given birth to a child, I believe this to be a heroic journey. No matter how much you may have learned ahead of time, you are unprepared for the actual physical changes and challenges you encounter. This heroism is immediately followed by a brand new journey of caring for this infant. Having just returned home with her firstborn, an overwhelmed friend found herself helplessly asking, “and they trusted me to take this child home?” Another mother shared, “I don’t know how I ever had the courage to have another child!”
Campbell believed that, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Have you found that “something bigger” to give yourself to, wholeheartedly? If not, perhaps you are ready to now answer that inner calling. It’s a journey worth taking and may be the very reason for your being here.
This journey may begin by opening your awareness to messages from people or situations that may be asking you to consider something more for your life. The journey may be one of inner spiritual exploration, some form of study or training, or connecting your heart to a cause or mission. Your calling may have nothing to do with “doing” something, but rather “being” more fully in the life you are living.
The journey of uncovering your calling may be fraught with fears and obstacles, trial and error. However, your greatest courage is often revealed when you allow yourself to follow your heart, to listen to the voice of your inner calling.
In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “The real work of our lives is to become aware. And awakened. To answer the call.” Each time you embark on the hero’s journey, it leads you closer to realizing your true self and the calling and destiny you are here to fulfill. Take the journey and allow yourself to feel the divine, creative urge of life living through you.