The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism. There are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of disbelief towards all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement.”
I watched a documentary this week that’s got me FIRED UP. It’s called Finding Joe (and it’s free on Youtube).
This documentary brings together big names like Rashida Jones, Sir Ken Robinson, and Mick Fleetwood. Famous, influential people, telling the story of how Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey impacted them and set them on the hero path. It’s one of the most emotional and moving things I’ve seen in years. You’ll be fist-pumping and ready to step out and claim the day by the end, I promise.
The action scenes are acted out by children, which brings a delightful air of innocence, helping us remember that the hero is the inner child, the part of ourselves that needs the most love (and is often the most repressed).
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
“Do you think you shall enter the garden of bliss without such trials as came to those who passed away before you?”
I love that quote. It reminds me of the Rocky Balboa speech. “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how much you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward.”
Resilience and the ability to look forward are all that matter, in the end. Life has been hard from the beginning, since we were scrambling for scraps as hunter-gatherers. Why would it be different for you? There are no shortcuts. There is only the choice, every day, to say yes or to say no to life.
There will always be pain and challenges. What matters is what you choose to suffer for. If you make the right choice, you can get up and fight over and over and over again.
In Finding Joe, Robert Walter (president of the Joseph Campbell Foundation), outlines the three choices we face as human beings:
- Surrender to victimhood
- Give in to fundamentalism
- Take responsibility for your own hero’s adventure.
The first two choices represent saying no to life. The last one is the only one that matters. Let’s dig a little deeper:
Choice 1) Surrender to victimhood.
This is a common choice, and it’s the one that means lying to yourself the most. The external forces that act on us can easily give us the illusion that we have no agency, no choice over how we live our lives.
Guess what? There are things you can control, and things you can’t. You can control your level of effort. You cannot control other people and how they respond to you.
You can control the news feed on your phone. You cannot control the news.
There are a massive amount of things you cannot control. Billions and billions of things. This does not make you a victim. It makes you a human being like the rest of us, with all the impulses, animalistic desires, and irregular brain patterns that implies.
If we learn anything from studying history, it’s that people who dare to try to change things do not surrender to apathy. Surrendering to apathy is lazy, and boy is it easy. There is nothing original or inspired about nihilism.
Choice 2) Give in to fundamentalism
John Cleese should have been the final word on this 50 years ago, but we didn’t listen. Fundamentalism happens when you give the reins of your freedom of thought to an ideology or person and say “here, do my thinking for me.” It is rampant nowadays.
Between religion, politics, and conspiracy theories, about 80% of the people I encounter are fundamentalists.
The fundamentalist religion of the 21st century is outrage. The internet blitzes outrage into our faces every day, and we perpetuate it every time we write snarky one-star reviews, post political rants on social media, or leave angry comments on something someone else has created.
Don’t give in to outrage. Outrage is easy. Human beings have tremendous creative and cooperative power, and outrage is a waste of it. Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s sweet, sweet words:
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
Saying yes to life means stepping out of the stands and into the game, knowing that there’s going to be sweat and blood and tears. Victimhood and Fundamentalism are the stands. The stands are safe, easy to navigate, and after a while, quite meaningless.
Don’t be a fundamentalist. Question everything. Demand that authority explain itself to you, and when it fails, head off on your own path.
That brings us to the final choice, the only choice that can lead to fulfillment:
Choice 3) Take responsibility for your own Hero’s Adventure
Your fears, baser natures, and worst instincts are monsters. There are monsters everywhere, woven into human nature, and in your psyche. There is no way around this! When you surrender to victimhood or fundamentalism, all you do is pretend not to see them in yourself.
Owning your own hero path means finding your monsters, playing them, claiming them, and learning to live in harmony with them.
This is challenging, but it’s much better than letting yourself become numb. There is so much mental pollution being blasted into your mind these days (side note, I discovered two amazing ad blockers this week that have blocked 17,372 ads since Wednesday and eliminated 95% of the advertising from my life. I wish I was kidding, but it is truly 17000+ ads since Wednesday).
I can’t claim that I’ve managed to always take responsibility for my own adventure. I can tell you that I’m trying, that I move closer every day.
Victim, sheep, or hero. Which do you want to be? The hero’s journey is much more fulfilling than fundamentalism or apathy. Now get out there and improve! I’m on the path with you, and the heroes of all time have gone before us.
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