Think about the archetypal hero or heroine. What are their characteristics? What do they go through? None of them start out as heroes. Everyone is a hero. And every one of us is on our own hero's journey.
Joseph Campbell spent his life studying the world’s greatest myths, religions, and stories across all cultures and languages, and from every era. He discovered a universal pattern in every story he encountered, from the great myths of ancient civilizations, in all tribes and religions to Hollywood movies. The characters and scripts change, but the story remains the same. He called this the monomyth (one myth) or Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is about a quest and a search for answers, clarity, and to create purpose in one’s life. The Hero’s Journey is ultimately about transformation, and we can all be the heroes of our own story, no matter where we find ourselves today.In his book Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes the three life paths that we can choose to take: the village, the wasteland and the journey.
The village represents the life that has been mapped out for us by our society, culture and education - we are born, go to school, grow up, get a job, get married, have children, retire and then die. This is safe and secure and in the village we fit in with what society expects from us. For many people, this is how they want to live their lives.
For others, however, that path is not enough. Perhaps they don't fit in for one reason or another, or perhaps they feel that there must be more to life, or they feel called to a higher purpose. Henry David Thoreau wrote: "the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation", suggesting that many people feel stifled and oppressed by the society in which the live, rather than thriving in it.
"We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us."
- Joseph Campbell
According to Campbell, for people who reject the safety of the village, there are two other possible paths. The first is that of the wasteland, where people can live life outside of society's norms and beyond what might be considered "right" or "appropriate". Those in the wasteland live on the fringes of society and play the archetypal outlaw or outcast, and although they may flourish for a while in these roles, it can be isolating and challenging.
The third path is that of the journey; on this path, people follow their hearts to find their own way in life; people who choose to undertake the journey often feel that they are being called to something else, or that they are in search of something more than the village can provide.
The journey is made up of challenges and obstacles - small and large - and by overcoming these, we are rewarded with the gifts of wisdom, courage and resilience. We encounter allies as well as enemies on the road before entering the innemost cave where our mortal enemy lives. But when we eventually return home to the village, having slain our dragons, we are able to use our new-found gifts for the greater good and we recognise ourselves for who we really are.
The Hero's Journey is all about taking this third path and discovering the hero that lives inside each of us; the metaphor is easy to understand, and once we realise this, we can live our very best life, full of mystery and adventure.
As Campbell said:
Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived. Follow the path that is no path, follow your bliss.
Joss Anderson is an ICF-accredited coach, Reiki practitioner and the founder of The Wild Edges