There was a bluegrass band I used to go see when I lived in Birmingham, Alabama. The only thing I remember from the concerts is the fiddle player. She just looked like she was doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing with her life. You could feel it and it was really beautiful and amazing to watch.
We tend to notice and admire people that have accepted their own calling, whatever it may be. We tend to notice it more with musicians or other public figures, but I don’t think it’s exclusive to them.
This can be equally true of lawyers, doctors, designers, developers or marketers. We don’t tend to watch someone do surgery or write code in a stadium, but that in no way one cheapens the act.
Why is it that we tend to admire these people?
I think it is because they have chosen to accept the call of their “Hero’s Journeys.”
The Hero’s Journey is a classic story structure that’s shared by stories worldwide. The term was coined by Joseph Campbell in 1949 after he noticed all ancient stories, from India to South America, contained a similar structure.
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.
The idea was made famous when Star Wars director George Lucas cited Campbell’s book Hero with a Thousand Faces as his main source of inspiration.
Luke leaves his homeworld of Tatooine, goes through the trials of training under Obi Wan and Yoda, and returns to convert his father to the Light Side.
There is a critical stage in between the departure act and initiation act which Cambell called the “Refusal of the Call.” It was followed by the acceptance of the call (oftentimes with a mentor’s help) and “Crossing the Threshold” where the hero fully steps into the unknown world.
At first, Luke didn’t want to leave to become a Jedi but finally set off on his quest. Frodo and Bilbo Baggins didn’t want to leave the Shire until finally embarking on their quests. Pick your favorite story, I guarantee the dynamic exists.
Similar dynamics exist in ancient myths around the world. As Campbell discusses myths, they contain metaphorical truths about what it means to lead a good life. This stage at the threshold between known and unknown, order, and disorder resonates with me.
At any given point in life, we are all on our own “Hero’s Journeys.” There are risks and leaps of faith we are considering taking, but, at first, we tend to refuse the call, fearing the unknown.
Author Steven Pressfield referred to this feeling (in his wonderful book The War of Art) as “The Resistance.” The Resistance is that voice in the back of your head that tells you that you aren’t good enough, that you don’t have enough time, or that it will never work. In his words:
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment?
Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture?
Then you know what the Resistance is.“
The Resistance is what causes the Hero to refuse the call. The Resistance is normal, indeed omnipresent.
Be it losing weight, changing jobs, starting a business, or getting married, every major life decision I’ve ever made was accompanied by a strong dose of The Resistance.
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.
I first read The War of Art a year after college and the concept of “going to war with The Resistance” has been my guiding light for making major life decisions ever since.
I know it quite well now. For me, it shows up as a pit in my stomach, a void that weighs me down. I have tried to escape it many a time, but the only way I’ve found to fill it is to leap into the unknown, trusting that I can figure it out.
The act of leaping gives its own strength. We are all more powerful than we realize, if only we are willing to find out. To go battle with The Resistance, to cross the threshold into the unknown is its own victory.
How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome The Resistance.”
This is the lesson of the Hero’s journey. 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.
However, whatever the quest you are being called to, know that 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. There are but two choices.
The refusal of the call and The Resistance happen at the boundary between the known and the unknown. Between the Great Father, protective yet tyrannical, and the Great Mother, creative yet destructive.
I believe that Campbell is right and that these concepts do represent something akin to fundamental, metaphorical truths about what it means to live a good life.
I believe that humans are made to dance on the edge of failure, the boundary between the Great Father and Great Mother. That’s when we feel most alive, most human, most connected, most ourselves.
For me, the Hero’s Journey is a beautiful way to talk about that. We are all on our own Hero’s Journeys and should all support each other in that.
That’s as good a way as any I’ve found of thinking about what it means to live a good life – that you lived your own hero’s journeys and supported others in their hero’s journeys.
What hero’s journey are you on right now?
How can you support others in their own hero’s journeys?
If you feel comfortable sharing, hit reply and let me know.
Last Updated on July 6, 2020 by Taylor Pearson