Odysseus, Luke Skywalker and Erin Brockovich walk into a bar and . . . uh . . . if you have a punch line to this joke, please send me an email. Otherwise, I’ll use it as a launching point to talk about Joseph Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s Journey. Each of the people above traveled on their own Hero’s Journey. Perhaps you’ve heard of the concept before – that across all cultures and traditions there is a common theme to our stories.
Our stories usually involve a hero who:
- answers a call to adventure
- goes away from home and into the unknown
- gets tested
- emerges on the other side
- and gains important knowledge to bring back to the community
This is a very succinct summary of the idea, but how can it help us as artists interested in pushing past our blocks and completing our creative projects? If you start to think of your own personal creative project as a hero’s journey then a few things become clear:
- You understand that it will not be easy - if you wanted easy you would have watched Game of Thrones re-runs instead of embarking on this path. It is hard and there are going to be times you are pushed to, and beyond, your limits. That’s part of the bargain and one of the reasons we do this – it is a great way to learn about yourself and grow.
- You know that you must descend into the unknown – in order to let something new emerge you must push past that which you do know and into that space where you are surprised. More on this in another post (it deserves a whole book) but it can be scary, thrilling and confusing. Can you let yourself go there?
- Allies will emerge – Simply by starting off on the adventure you will invite help that you could never have imagined had you not started. Joseph Campbell himself wrote: “If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
When we allow ourselves to view our projects this way we can take the long view and not sweat the small stuff. And we know that we are part of a grand tradition of adventurers.
Exercise: Tell the story of a creative project that you’re working on or one you want to start (note: most projects are creative) as if it were your own Hero’s Journey. Write the first paragraph: a young, innocent person (that’s you) about to embark on an adventurous creative project. Then write the last paragraph – a wiser person returns, victorious, having triumphed over the struggles. Go ahead – yes, right now – write the first paragraph and the final paragraph. You may be surprised at the perspective it gives you.
My mother, a novelist, once told me that we often know what will happen at the end of a story – it’s how the hero gets there that’s interesting. I give you the same advice: now you know the end of your story it’s time to go live the interesting parts.
Ready to start your own creative project? Enroll in the next Springboard group in San Francisco! We start on May 6th, 2014!