The Hero’s Journey: The Road to Self-Improvement
The monomyth, or the hero’s journey, is a pattern described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). This basic pattern can be found in many narratives from around the world, and goes like this:
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.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a thousand Faces
This pattern was first mentioned to me by Ali Sohail, a success coach/trainer and entrepreneur I had the pleasure to interview for our Youtube channel (this article will be updated with a link to the relevant video as soon as it is uploaded). He compared this pattern to the road one has to travel in order to improve themselves, which sparked the idea for this article.
I have picked a few key steps from Campbell’s monomyth that are the best applicable, and will explain for each how they can translate into the several steps of a Personal Development Journey.
1. Call to Adventure
The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown. (*)
This is the trigger. The moment you realise that there is something that you want to change about you or your environment. Advancing your career, picking up a new skill, managing your time more efficiently, learning to play an instrument, eating healthier… Your goal can be anything. But something has to trigger you into realising that this is the goal you want to pursue. That trigger can be external – feedback from friends or colleagues, a medical condition, a condition to fulfil in order to get that job you want … – or internal – an epiphany, a desire, a calling.
To me, the trigger was when a girl invited me to have lunch at her place on my first day in a new school. That was the moment I realised that strangers aren’t necessarily all judgemental morons, and that I decided to work on my crippling shyness and social awkwardness.
2. Refusal of the Call
Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. [H]is life feels meaningless. (**)
This is when you choose to ignore the trigger. It could be because you think the path to take is too long or too hard, or that you are not good or strong enough. Because of fear, insecurity, or a feeling of inadequacy. Overcoming this initial refusal is crucial, because no matter what you do, if you keep on ignoring the trigger, something very valuable and meaningful is lost.
3. Supernatural Aid
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure […] who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. (**)
Your magical helper, in this case, is a mentor, and the amulets are their advice. They help you to move along this path you have chosen to take, but won’t do anything for you. You are the sole walker of this path, and their role is solely to guide you, not to walk in your stead.
4. The Road of Trials
[T]he hero moves in a dream landscape […] where he must survive a succession of trials. […] Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land. (**)
The Road of Trials is a whole series of tests and tasks you have to undergo to advance yourself. Exams to take, challenges to face, exercises to do, … It is a long, winding road that will eventually lead to the Ultimate Boon – which you can sometimes glimpse –, if you can avoid Temptation.
5. Woman as Temptress
In this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him or her to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life. (*)
Laziness, fatigue, frustration, or unaccepting friends and family might, as you are walking the Road of Trials, tempt you into stopping of walking back. Just like the Refusal of the Call, it is of utter importance to get over this temptation.
Unfortunately that might mean letting go of some people in your life that aren’t supportive, don’t understand or have a negative influence on you and your journey. But however difficult that might be, it is a necessary and beneficial step to take.
6. The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. (*)
This is the miraculous energy of the thunderbolts of Zeus, Yahweh, and the Supreme Buddha, the fertility of the rain of Viracocha, the virtue announced by the bell rung in the Mass at the consecration, and the light of the ultimate illumination of the saint and sage. Its guardians dare release it only to the duly proven. (**)
Pretty self-explanatory. I have nothing to add on this one!
7. The Master of Two Worlds
This step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Gautama Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds. (*)
No need to be Jesus in this case. This step just means that you have now a foot in two worlds. The one you started in, and the one you ended up in. The latter world is the one you created around you in order to achieve your goal, through populating your mind with relevant ideas and information, networking with the right people, going to new places, doing new activities… It’s a whole new world of people, places and experiences that opened itself up to you as you walk the long winding road towards your goal.
What’s next, you may ask… Well, you can choose to dwell in this world a bit more, or to answer another calling and follow an entirely new path, while always keeping with you what you have learned on the way.
What paths have you followed or planned to follow? Tell us in the comments!
(*) Quoted from Wikipedia, The Monomyth
(**) Quoted from Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949