The Entrepreneur’s Journey

As I make my way through starting a business, I have encountered many things along my journey that have made me think more and more about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. In fact, as I dug a little deeper into the map of the Hero’s Journey, it was eerily similar.

I am definitely not implying that all entrepreneurs are heroes, simply that the stories follow a similar path.

Unfortunately, we usually only hear from or take into consideration the entrepreneurs who have made it all the way to the end. The so called return with the Elixir. It is Steve Jobs with the iPod, Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin with Google.

All of these entrepreneurs returned from their journey with a magical elixir that changed the world. Now we idolize them and want to be like them, but what if we would have truly known the agony and struggle that dotted their path to greatness. The ups and downs that challenged them every step of the way?

While the Hero’s Journey was a roadmap for writing great stories and producing great movies, it has strong ties into reality. For the entrepreneur, there is much to be learned.

The Entrepreneur’s Journey

1. The Ordinary World

All entrepreneurs start out in the ordinary world. They try to fit in, but for whatever reason the status quo and the pull of expectations to go to college, get a job, and live happily ever after make the young entrepreneur uneasy. The people around them don’t know why they always seem to make things more complicated than they have to be or seem to always be breaking things to make them fit their needs. The world is does not seem to fit the entrepreneur.

2. The Call to Adventure

At some point, for many entrepreneurs it is in college or soon after entering the “real” world, that the calling for adventure strikes. Up until this point, they have told themselves that it must get better (in high school they long for college to be different, in college they long for the real world to be different) but soon they realize that while the environment is different, the rules are the same and after a while it becomes clear that the entrepreneur must follow a different path.

3. Refusal of the Call

Often, the entrepreneur will resist the temptation to start out on their own. They have to deal with the fears of things not working out. What if I fail? I don’t want to waste my college degree? I have a good job right now. The world is not an easy place for entrepreneurs. It is unforgiving and lonely, the only solace is in following that voice telling you to take the leap and keep going.

4. Meeting with the Mentor

Then the entrepreneur finds a mentor. Someone who was in the same place as them a long time ago. The entrepreneur recognizes the mentor because they can see the person they want to become. The Mentor can see themselves in the young entrepreneur as well. Since it is more or less a rare person who wishes to walk the road of an entrepreneur, the mentor happily advises and teaches the young entrepreneur what they have learned. (Don’t be confused, happily does not imply that the lessons are easy. Often times, the mentor will make the lessons as difficult as possible to prepare the young entrepreneur for the arduous and unexpected journey ahead of them)

5. Crossing the Threshold

Equipped with a calling and guidance from a mentor, the young entrepreneur takes the plunge into their adventure. They cross over from the ordinary world to the world of entrepreneurship. The world of entrepreneurship has new rules and values that are unfamiliar to the entrepreneur. He or she must learn these rules and values quickly or they will not survive long.

6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies

The entrepreneur is quickly put to the test and has to align themselves with others on the journey and distance themselves from those seeking to bring them back to the real world. Often times, it is not an enemy that has the strongest ability to thwart the young entrepreneur, but those who are closest to him or her and want to see what is best for them. Friends and family often can’t understand why you would make life so hard on yourself.

7. Approach

The entrepreneur and allies begin to approach the problem or product that they have been called to solve. For most entrepreneurs this is about meeting an unmet need in society. They see things before they exist and they need to go into the unknown and come back with the product. Before Steve Jobs, the idea of a computer in your pocket seemed ridiculous. Now, it seems ridiculous not to have one.

8. The Ordeal

Near the middle of the story, the entrepreneur encounters a central space in this new world where he or she confronts death of their idea or several other of their greatest fears. The boneyard of entrepreneurs and ideas that have come before them is massive and daunting, but the successful young entrepreneur must persevere through the ordeal if they wish to come out on the other side.

9. The Reward

The entrepreneur successfully solves the problem they have set out to solve. They have their reward, but the perilous journey has only just begun. Often, the reward is an MVP that they can take to market but now they need to take the journey to bring the product or service to those that need it that are back in the real world.

10. The Road Back

The road back to the real world is just as perilous as the road to the treasure. Now that the entrepreneur has done the work of creating the treasure, many are out to steal it or bring it to market before them. Or, even more often, no one is there to help carry it on the journey back.

11. The Resurrection

At the final moment, if the entrepreneur has made it this far, they will be tested one more time. Often with the biggest test they have faced yet. For the successful entrepreneur, this test will confirm in their mind what they have believed all along. The final test adds motivation to get their product or service out the world. At this point, there is nothing that will stop them.

12. Return with the Elixir

Finally, the entrepreneur has returned home with the elixir and is able to distribute it to the world, changing it in some small way and making it better (hopefully). They continue to move forward in life, often times longing for another adventure or journey. Some have the strength and energy to go again, others find comfort in mentoring the next batch of entrepreneurs ready to take their journey. No matter what, the entrepreneur looks back on what they have done with satisfaction knowing they followed their calling and completed the journey.

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As the founder of a startup that seeks to bring mental skills training to the masses, I see so many reflections in my journey so far to that of the hero’s journey. It is my hope to be able to share that journey with you as I go along. Being about 2 years into my own hero’s journey, I would say I have crossed the threshold. I am fully committed to bringing my dreams and vision to the world. That means I am somewhere in the tests, allies, enemies, approach, ordeal space. I have not won the battle to begin my journey back to the world, but I am also not starting off the tests. I have already aligned myself with allies, and built a skill set to succeed from mentors and teachers.

I look forward to keeping you posted on the journey as it unfolds; twists, turns and all.

Andrew is the CEO of Play Present and a Behavioral Researcher in the Stanford Behavior Design Lab. His focus is on creating programs to help people change behaviors and patterns so they can move from surviving to thriving. Through his firm Play Present, he creates programs and products that help people unlock their true potential and reach levels they didn’t believe possible. You can find more at www.playpresent.com.