Last week, I wrote about Jospeph Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s Journey.
There are three major stages of the hero’s journey:
- The Departure Act: the Hero leaves the Ordinary World.
- The Initiation Act: the Hero ventures into unknown territory (the “Special World”) and is birthed into a true champion through various trials and challenges.
- The Return Act: the Hero returns in triumph.
From the Bible to the Bhagavad Gita to the myths of the Native American tribes, this structure shows up time and time again.
If you’re interested in reading Campbell’s work, I recommend starting with The Power of Myth and then The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Unlike many academics, I’ve found Campbell’s work deeply personal.
In Campbell’s view, myths serve as a guide to metaphorical truths around what it means to live a good life. We love a well-told story because we see a piece of ourselves in it.
The lesson of the hero’s journey is that we all have a hero role to play, be it as a colleague, boss, parent, or friend. What exactly that role is for you is a deeply personal question and a constantly evolving one.
To live a life without regret means heeding the call to adventure, and being willing to strike out into the unknown. The Departure Act always precedes the transformation. That can be an external journey, changing jobs or moving cities, or and an internal one.
To me, a successful career is one in which an individual consistently heeded the call to adventure and was willing to take risks to find their product/market/person fit.
I think we tend to think of our careers and our work in primarily economic terms. Does this job pay better? Are the benefits good?
This is, of course, important. To quote the inimitable comedian Bill Hicks,
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a jet ski. And you never see an unhappy person riding a jet ski.”
But, I think it is equally valid to think about career decisions in hero’s journey terms. Your career is a hero’s journey and starting a business or taking a chance is not just an economic decision but one that involves a sense of meaning and self-worth.
To refuse the call is to be mired in self-loathing and discontent. To accept the call is to acknowledge the fear and to act in spite of it.
To forever refuse the call is a terrible state. It is an admission to one’s self that all I know is all that there is to know, that you are not capable of further growth.
Creative exploration is impossible without acknowledging the unknown, without accepting the possibility of failure.
Five years ago next month, I published The End of Jobs, that related both the economic logic and the meaning components I had observed in many people who took seemingly big career risks.
I looked at why starting an internet business might be a good idea and why it was widely underestimated as a career opportunity.
Improvements in automation and outsourcing now affect not just blue-collar workers, but white-collar ones.
A college degree is no longer the guarantee that it once was. Individuals that choose to become more entrepreneurial, rather than merely credentialed, have the greatest opportunities.
My argument was primarily couched not just in economic terms, but also around the notion of meaning.
From my own personal experience as well as friends, colleagues and readers, I’ve seen that making the entrepreneurial leap can be as much an existential choice as an economic one.
It is naive to think there is one right path to being more entrepreneurial for everyone, but for many, walking down the path can be deeply meaningful – whether that’s starting a company, jumping into a new career, or moving to a new division
I believe what matters is answering whatever your call is at this point in time.
At the same time, I do think it is a correct view of the economic reality that everyone should strive to be more entrepreneurial in some way or another.
This is not a particularly novel idea. 50 years ago, the great management thinker Peter Drucker observed that there was a great transition in the nature of work to being more entrepreneurial:
The chemist in the research laboratory who decides to follow one line of inquiry rather than another one may make the entrepreneurial decision that determines the future of his company. He may be the research director. But he also may be—and often is—a chemist with no managerial responsibilities, if not even a fairly junior man.
Similarly, the decision what to consider one “product” in the account books may be made by a senior vice-president in the company. It may also be made by a junior. And this holds true in all areas of today’s large organization.”
While it is not a novel observation, it is still not a widely held one.
Traditional educational institutions rarely, if ever, teach entrepreneurial thinking, even though it is the largest differentiator in observed career outcomes that I have seen.
My goal with The End of Jobs as well as many of my essays and other writings have been to try and fill that gap.
If that resonates, I hope you’ll give it a read. We’ve gone back to update the formatting for a more pleasant reading experience for the 5th-anniversary edition.
Last Updated on July 6, 2020 by Taylor Pearson