The first time I came across this great thing, it was in a podcast interview of John Romaniello. It happened two years back. I clearly remember that he talked about hero’s journey in his life and how he successfully navigating through struggles and despair became a hero. Then I researched more about it and came across it once again. This time it was being discussed in the self-esteem lecture series by Nathaniel Branden. While Romaniello related hero’s journey to being a virtuous man, Branden based the concept of human psychological self esteem on it. Two different schools of thought and one same thing at the core. “The Hero’s Journey”.
Now, what the hell is this thing and why should you care about it? Great. Let me tell you that hero’s journey applies to the modern time though it has been rooted in ancient mythologies across different cultures all around the world. Paulo Coelho calls the theme of “Hero’s Journey” an archetype in writing. And just so you know, according to Coelho there are basically 4 themes that people write fiction about. If this theme accounts for 1/4th of the total share among fiction, it makes sense to know more about it.
First and foremost, the hero’s journey starts with a hero. It was very obvious of me to tell you about that. Anyways, moving ahead we see find that the hero is stupid, naive and lost in his life (hero and heroine both are being addressed as hero itself). He is then initiated into the world of his dreams and gets separated from his family of origin. Family of origin is people with whom you share your blood with – aka parents and relatives. This separation is either by choice or by circumstances. Then he faces struggles and gets lost in the real world that turns out to be very different from the world of his dreams. He begins to question his motivations and begins the search for his passion and purpose in life.
Over the course of this journey he experiences downfalls (failures) and growth (success). He makes friends, alliances and gets guidance from mentors. He also finds love and his life becomes more and more complex and challenging as time progresses. He encounters mischievous people and experiences betrayal and threat from enemies and sometimes from those whom he trusted blindly. The last thing that the hero finally faces is the shadow. Shadow represents the dark side of journey.
The above thing sounds interesting and it is indeed very interesting. That is why many great works of art have this theme. Even movies have been made on it that include fiction as well as real stories. Matrix is one of those. Rocky film series too is based on hero’s journey. Harry Potter and Finding Nemo too. Even James Bond series depicts this theme to some extent. Not only the hero’s journey tells us a lot of things about life and deeper philosophies of human existence, it also makes us question our choices. Whether we are being a heroine or a hero, we ask ourselves when we come across such works.
The alchemist is also an example of hero’s journey. The fascinating thins about this journey is that it gets finished from where it began in the first place. This journey is circular in nature. The hero gets back to his family after several years of exploration, learning and finishing his rites of passage. It is all about finding a purpose in life. Purpose that is greater than individual good and aims at collective well-being of people who matter to the hero.
The last thing that the hero faces before he returns is the shadow. For Nemo it was the belief of being incompetent and weak due to his small fin. For Harry it was his dead parents and the curse from Voldemort. Sorry, Lord Voldemort. For James Bond it was his desire to love and leave the life of spy. Different strokes for different folks. Shadow is the facing the last battle and it puts an end to the hero’s journey. Shadow can be the hero’s haunted past, his inner psychological inhibitions and fears, his self loathing beliefs and alike. When the shadow is overcome, hero’s journey cycle gets completed.
The best thing about hero’s journey is that despite the hero finally ending up at the point of initiation, nothing is same. Things remain same on surface level but the hero’s experiences totally change the way he looks at the world and people around him. The inner world changes while the outer world remains more or less the same. The hero after exploring the world finds out a lot of things and becomes self-reliant in the end. This is the ultimate purpose of hero’s journey. To make one purpose driven and self-reliant.
What I find beautiful about hero’s journey is freedom. Freedom to try different things without any interference from the people around. Freedom to make your own path and choose the road you want to take. Nothing is better than being in charge of your life and taking responsibility for your desires and dreams. Hero’s journey is what propels me to take small steps towards what I want to be in future. When I think from the perspective of hero, John Romaniello comes to my mind. He told that whenever he questions himself about doing something, he thinks of himself as a hero and his life as the hero’s journey. And he immediately gets a reliable answer to his queries and doubts.
Sometimes it is necessary to take the bold step of separating from your family of origin and begin the phase of your life where you shall be there to your own rescue. It is good to have caring (or maybe more responsible) people around you but not every time. Comfort breeds stagnation and courage is built by practicing the art of constant improvisation and progressive actions. If you stay with your parents you are being spoon fed and that’s not what heroines and heroes do.
Heroes find wood to build their own spoons and find vegetables and animals to cook their own food. And when they are good enough of a cook, they get back to having cooked food. When you know how to cook great food it simply doesn’t matter how good of a cook somebody else is for you know how and what to feed yourself with. You then are in a position of saying that you can do better than them because you have done it in the past. That is the underlying basis of confidence. The realistic expectation of knowing an outcome because of successfully demonstrated actions in the past. Hero’s journey makes one supremely confident in their abilities.
The first step to begin your hero’s journey is to separate from your family of origin. It literally means to get your mouth off your mother’s boob (I’ve paraphrased a great man here). I am planning and finding ways to break out of the parent-child living together crap to become genuinely self-reliant and turn myself into a hero. I may not be wise enough to be great but I am ready to at least step up. There might be less abilities and competence but there is courage in abundance. In the coming few months I will work on to take my first step towards the initiation phase of the hero’s journey.
Think about it, for it shall be worth it. What would have happened if Neo had taken the blue pill? Nothing. And “nothing” is not what you have come to do in life. I choose the red pill. I will at least do something better than nothing in the worst of worst case scenarios.