Whether you were pushed into an undesirable experience or you chose a path risk and uncertainty, it was only a Hero’s Journey if you can then share what you learned in a way that enlightens others. Your experience was an important journey not because you valiantly succeeded, but because you can tell the story in a way that the listener can feel BOTH the moments of fear and triumph with you.
Author and lecturer Joseph Campbell popularized the Hero’ Journey as the way we characterize the times in our lives that test not just our skills, but our courage and heart. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell said we all have moments in our lives that call us to go on a Hero’s Journey. He also states that it is NOT the challenges we overcome that make us heroes. The hero must then return and teach the life-changing lesson with the intent to transform others and uplift the world.
NOT the challenges we overcome that make us heroes
The hero travels into and returns from the unknown in order to alter what people think they know now.
What makes you a hero is not your triumph over adversity but your ability to transform the minds and hearts of others by sharing your experience.
So the test to know if what you experienced is a Hero’s Journey is if you can tell the story in a way that people will live the experience through you. Only then will the lessons you learn transform the behavior and lives of others.
Donald Miller said in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “A good storyteller doesn’t just tell a better story, though. He invites other people into the story with him, giving them a better story too.”
Telling a Good Story
Storytelling can be a great teaching and leadership tool, but your story will fall flat if the listener can’t relate their own difficult experience to yours. The point of sharing your story is not to show how you brilliantly succeeded, but that you faced the dark, scary moment they are facing too.
You need to share what happened when you stepped into the unknown. When you admit to, and fully describe, how weak and vulnerable you felt, we can relate to your story as our own.
You will only ignite courage in others if you can convey both the known and unknown threats that made you hesitate.
You will only connect when you share how separate and alone you felt.
They will only relate to you if you can disclose what emotions coursed through you and who you thought you were being when you felt out of control and couldn’t anticipate what would happen next, even if the sensations were fleeting.
Philip Shepherd wrote in his book, New Self, New Mind, “The deepest root of the word fear also gives rise to the words peril and experience, and it conveys the sense of ‘through, across, beyond.’” To experience life, you must travel into and come through what you fear. For people then to learn from your experience, they need to feel and travel through the fear with you. Then you can claim you have been on a Hero’s Journey.
The courage to share the depths of your experience may be as great as the courage you tapped into when you faced the original threat.
A young leader in one of my leadership classes said, “I need to be respected as a leader. I will not succeed if I show my flaws and gaps.” Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, says, “Vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.”
You must start with recognizing what you are afraid to share about the event that gave you a powerful lesson. Write it down, speak it out loud with a trusted friend, and then refine your story to describe the danger you faced and your complete reaction without explanation or excuses. Remove the backstory; the power in your story is what occurred in the moment that forced you to make a decision and what you experienced in that moment of uncertainty before you acted.
Your Journey Shouldn’t Have Been Easy
The easy story is boring. People will think, “Well that is easy for you to say, but you don’t know what I am facing.” Recall the surprises you faced; like any good plot line, the twists, turns, and unexpected situations keep people engaged and connected.
Remember, it’s not how you end your stories that counts, but who you became on the way to the end.
How about sharing your Hero’s Journey at work? One good story leads to another. Eventually, you might have a culture of heroes.