What's Your Next Hero's Journey?
I wondered if writing and publishing Work Jerks: How to Cope with Difficult Bosses and Colleagues could be considered a hero’s journey. All epics start with answering the call then embarking on the journey. The hero meets challenges (like finding a publisher), faces adversaries (aka unhelpful critique), and finds allies (oh, there were so many people who helped!). A turning point in the story is when the hero faces the biggest challenge of all. For me this was self-generated fear, thoughts like, “Who are you to give advice?” and “You risk being trashed on social media by those who have seen you at your worst.” These thoughts do not inspire confidence. Then resolution occurs (I talked myself down), and the hero learns to exist in an alien world. For me, that’s being a published author and all that entails. The final steps are a reward (the book is in print!) and the return to “normal” life— albeit as a changed person. So, I had been on a hero’s journey after all. And life has been a little mundane since. Can you relate to this experience?
Beginning a quest is more than establishing goals or setting a course from point A to point B. All of us can recite the positive habits we wish to establish (or return to) in the new year. These are things we ought to do. I guess it’s possible to approach them with pleasurable anticipation, but for me, I end up resigned and gritting my teeth—or defeated because I’m looking at the same list as the year before.
It's more fun to start with the question, “What if I…?” and then daydream. The mind is free to explore possibilities. Wild thoughts appear, including the seemingly impossible. The ideas that stick have a frisson of excitement combined with a sense of audaciousness to even contemplate doing something so bold. When you get those feelings, you’re moving toward something much larger than new year’s resolutions. You’re headed toward a hero’s journey.
At the start line, we’re blessedly naïve to the challenges to come. Being unaware is what saves us, otherwise we’d probably never leave the complacency of our usual lives. We can avoid risk by not venturing beyond the comfortable, but as the quote attributed to Albert Einstein and/or John A. Shedd says, “A ship in harbor is safe. But that’s not what a ship is built for.” Humans are designed to learn. We have a need to keep growing in order to feel satisfied. Remaining static is not all that interesting; we become bored and restless. When we have something to strive for, a sense of purpose impels us to get up in the morning.
The middle of the journey can be discouraging. That’s when it’s far easier to see the challenges than notice the aid that’s offered. Assistance comes in a variety of ways, even from ourselves. Examples include the knowledge, habits or experience we already possess, other people who have expertise or connections, serendipity in timing, unexpected resources, and so much more. You’ll want to keep track of the small wins not just the big ones because when the journey’s over and you look at the path you took, you’ll be surprised at how much good fortune you experienced. Work Jerks taught me that. "What a long, strange trip it’s been,” the Grateful Dead sang, but the picture from in the rear-view mirror shows one filled with grace and wonder.
The end of the journey can come as a relief—for a while. We rest, then we yearn for challenge again. Hero’s journeys are not frivolous or random events. Sometimes the next quest is placed in front of us, other times it requires consciously asking the question “what’s next” and allowing the answer to come. In either case, it means noticing the offer and saying yes.
This year I desire the call—I want to feel that energy. How about you? Since I’m not sure what this new adventure will be, I know I need to be still long enough to hear it beckon. Once heard, I hope to be brave enough to accept it and commit to following through. If you too are waiting for inspiration to strike, I’m as excited for you as I am for myself. Something wonderful is coming and we’re ready to take up the call.
No matter what phase of the hero’s journey you are in, I am wishing you all the best this coming year. Have a splendid 2023!