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I’m one of those types always on the lookout for life’s most lucrative secrets.

You know what I mean:

  • Why does he always seem so confident and at ease?
  • Why does that person seem to keep making the same mistakes?
  • Why can’t I ever figure this out?
  • How can I transform myself from a lowly English teacher into a powerful media tycoon?

You know.

This quest for awareness compels me to seek patterns and use models to explain things. The models or maps I use to define my reality change as I gain understanding, but one of the most powerful (and accurate) I’ve found so far is the idea of “personal mythology.”

That’s right. I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey.

If you’re not familiar with The Hero’s Journey, it’s basically a model or series of patterns a person can use to analyze and understand growth, change, transition or transformation. It works great as a backdrop for talking about stories–and indeed, even without knowing much about The Hero’s Journey, it’s easy to grasp the metaphor of a main character or “hero” of a story embarking on some sort of “journey,” be it an adventure to unknown lands, or an inner more personal/psychological journey of self-discovery.

It’s a cool tool if you’re hip to the academic scene or want to sound really smart at cocktail parties, but at its core The Hero’s Journey has a much more practical application.

The idea behind The Hero’s Journey is that it’s also a pattern of life and growth for all of us. Every knew stage of our life, every challenge, every defeat, every new, old, mundane, exciting, routine, or interesting thing can be interpreted as a step along the Hero’s path.

One very elementary way of looking at your own life through this lens is to imagine for a moment that you are in fact, right now, a character in a movie. What’s the movie about? What is the main problem? The big conflict? What are you trying to overcome? What battles do you have to win to overcome them? What skills do you need to develop? What weapons do you need to master? What’s the treasure you’re seeking?

What is your journey?

My intention today wasn’t to give a lesson on the Hero’s Journey, but to share a recent personal epiphany. But I just realized that in order to understand what the hell I’m talking about, you might need a bit more schema.

So here’s the skeletal structure of The Hero’s Journey’s 8 steps to transformation:

  1. The Call–a call to adventure
  2. The Threshold–the barrier between the known and the unknown, comfort zones and scary places
  3. Challenges/Temptations–pretty self explanatory. The hero must overcome challenges along the way.
  4. The Abyss (sometimes called “The Belly of the Whale”)–Hands down the greatest challenge of the journey. It is here where old ways of thought, habits, fears, whatever must die in order to move on. Many don’t make it. This is the place where goals die. If you don’t have the skill, courage, confidence, whatever to get through the abyss, you won’t grow. You’re stuck–destined to continue at the same level until you have gained whatever it is you need to move through this most difficult phase.
  5. Transformation–This often happens in the abyss. Like I said, it is here that the child dies so the adult can be born. Here there is a dramatic change–a shift in attitudes, beliefs, confidence, responsibility, consciousness, strength.
  6. Revelation–This is simply the realization of your new power. Now you know you are a person who can–ride a bike, run a marathon, make $100,000 a year, speak publicly, understand binary code, lead a team.
  7. Atonement–Here the hero is ok with all this, and all that has happened to get him here. Often there may be a lump of forgiveness given as the hero is truly “at-one” or at peace with himself and others and whatever ick that has happened in the past.
  8. The Return–The final stage is a return to every day life. The hero can now take whatever skills he’s gained and use them to better the rest of society.

Got that all so far? Still with me?

Good. ‘Cause enough with the academic gobily gook.

How The Hero’s Journey gets real

Keen observers of this blog may have noticed recently a slight blip in posting frequency. Ok, maybe “blip” isn’t the right word. In fact, before I published my last post, entitled “Short Shorts“, there was a span of exactly 25 days between entries. That’s like, um . . . a really long time in blog years.

No doubt I lost a few readers. Not a good thing for someone trying to build an audience, some momentum and a solid foundation of quality content. Not good at all.

Before that 25 day period of complete silence, I have to tell you (as far as I’m concerned), this blog was a roaring success. Traffic has been solid (more on this in future posts), and its ability to generate revenue has blown me away (more specifics on this very soon as well).

Yet it would appear to the outside observer (based on 25 days of nothing) that I’d probably had enough, decided to chuck it all and hit the showers.

And to be honest–that wouldn’t really be too far from the truth.

My trip into the abyss

I hit the Abyss (see bulleted points above), and I didn’t make it through. That’s right. If I use the Hero’s Journey to chart my latest goals/dreams/ambitions, I have to conclude that I took it as far as the Abyss, hit the breaks and backed up the bus. The challenge was too great. I wasn’t ready/skilled enough/strong enough to pass through to the other side–to enlightenment.

But here’s the cool thing. Next time around, at least I’ll recognize the Abyss when I get there, understand its significance, and not just pass it off as “stress” or “burnout” or “low energy.”

Exposed: The Belly of the Whale

Teaching started to get stressful. Crunch time. With the end of the school year in sight, classroom management gets to be a real challenge. But that’s not all. My second job kicked into high gear as well. Work started piling up. So I was putting in a good 9-10 hours at school, running home for a quick bite, and then hitting it at Job #2 for another 4-6 hours easy.

Now to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t like this every single day–but close.

Then we had a garage sale, one of my girls got a little sick, we started getting water in our basement . . . do I have to go on? I think you get the picture.

Bottom line was I just didn’t care that I wasn’t posting anymore. I knew I’d get back to it eventually. So I quit. You know–just until things settled down. Just until I could get caught up. Just temporarily.

Does this pattern of excuse making sound familiar to anyone? If it doesn’t it should. Because it’s exactly what separates the successful from the mediocre. Or the powerful media tycoon from the lowly English teacher scraping by on two jobs.

Don’t misread those last two paragraphs as rationalization of a lack of determination. Most of the time, it takes more than sheer willpower or persistence to survive and pass through the Abyss. It takes skill. Skill and knowledge that have to be learned. It takes a certain recognition of weakness.

But once those skills are learned–POW. On to bigger and better things. Once you have the tools, all you have to do is use them.

So here’s what I need to work on: Time Management. I’ve simply got to squeeze more out of a day. I realize now, I won’t pass through the Abyss without it. I won’t conquer the dragon without that weapon–that tool. I’ll be doomed to repeat the same patterns forever and stay at the same level of existence.

So today I begin to sharpen that sword in hopes that next time I’ll use it to cut my way free from the Belly of that Whale.

Wish me luck!