Catch Up

Are you the hero in your own life story…or a bit player?

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive”
― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

While several of my posts have been highlights as my favorite ones to write, this I think will be the one I most want to share.

Some months ago, a couple of years perhaps, a friend recommended a movie Finding Joe, but oddly I couldn’t find it. Last week, it suddenly popped into my head and when I searched on ITunes rentals there it was, ready for me. The timing was impeccable as I realized the subject matter nailed the very topic I am completely absorbed in at the moment.

Finding Joe is a charming documentary which outlines the life work of mythologist Joseph Campbell whose passion or “bliss” was studying the common themes of storytelling that underpin the narratives of myths across cultures.

Simply put, myths are a metaphor for the human experience reflecting the journey/s we all take or strive to take throughout our lives. Because “the journey” is a relatable experience to all functioning humans, members of all cultures have a strong connection to their own myths.

When fully participating in life there are three basic stages to one’s journey– the Separation, the Initiation and the Return. And by going on the journey, one experiences life – tests their limits, excels their own expectations of their ability, learns from failure and so forth, and lives to tell the tale.

So fundamental to the human experience is this so-called “monomyth” that Hollywood movies are often variations on the same theme. In fact a popular screenwriting textbook by producer Christopher Vogler (The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers), focusses on the theory that most stories can be boiled down to a series of narrative structures and character archetypes, described through mythological allegory. (Think Star Wars and Matrix and pretty much any Hollywood blockbuster as you read this. Actually also think about popular storybooks in the literary world).

If you are being the hero of your own life story, you may recognize yourself in one of these stages.


The “call for adventure” is often refused at first. But the universe seems to persist until one feels compelled to follow their instincts, some inner calling. For the stubborn and the most afraid, or if this inner calling is buried under the layers of habit, you may be given the big Wake Up Call – the redundancy, the shock divorce, the illness etc i.e. there is no choir of angels announcing it’s time to go on the adventure. Whether you like it or not, it’s time to leave one stage in life and move toward the next. Think Neo in the Matrix, he wasn’t really looking for adventure, and it came looking for him. Alice fell down the rabbit hole by mistake.

Neo in Matrix - red pill/blue pill scene - he chooses to go on his journey

Neo in Matrix – red pill/blue pill scene – he chooses to go on his journey

(Interesting that in Chinese calligraphy- the symbol for CRISIS is Danger + Opportunity).

The Initiation

This is when your limits are tested; you meet a variety of people (archetypes) and collect both skills and character-building experiences along the way. (“We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz”)

Dorothy - being initiated by a bunch of archetypes...

Dorothy – being initiated by a bunch of archetypes…

The Return is the final stage of the journey, when one comes back to the “ordinary world” with powers gained from the journey. The journey is only complete when the hero returns to share power and knowledge or “the story” which will empower others and inspire some to start their own journey.

Frodo returns with one hell of a story to tell

Frodo returns with one hell of a story to tell

Clearly this is a pretty simplistic version of Campbell’s wonderful work, which intersects beautifully with those theories of Carl Jung but the overriding message here is “go on your journey”. It is YOUR adventure no one else’s.Joseph Campbell used to release his final year students with the following message “Don’t do what Daddy says…” You see, it is simply about finding your own path. Because life is daunting so many people want someone else or are used to someone else telling them what to do. But be careful – think of yourself at the edge of a very dense forest – you may be scared so look for a path already created, but in Campbell’s words if the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.

Campbell was committed to the idea of people finding “their bliss” – their raison d’etre, the answer to the question “What am I here to do”. One thing is for sure, the answer will not come by sitting there thinking about it; one must go exploring, go looking for it.

I wonder where you are on your journey. Think about your own life story. Are you refusing the initial call to adventure? If so – practice making courage greater than your fear, start cutting your own path into that forest, go on your journey… you are living!

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” –”
― Joseph Campbell

Tags: , , ,

6 Responses to “Are you the hero in your own life story…or a bit player?”