How to Find Your Mission and Success
This is a story about a man and how he found his mission. In order to find his mission, he went on a five-year quest. While he was on his quest, he discovered something strange that was almost impossible to put into words. Luckily for us he suceeded, and what he discovered is something you’ve encountered hundreds of times… without even knowing it. This is the story of what he found and how he found it.
Now, onto to the story…
It was 1904, and the new parents welcomed their first child into the world. The boy learned to read early on, and soon he was speeding his way through school. University was a breeze, and then he got a Masters degree. But soon, the young man felt that something was wrong. Instead of racing ahead and getting his PhD, he paused and decided to explore the world on his own. As he began to explore, he felt a strange pull towards ancient texts. So he sought them out, and read as many of them as he could. He traveled the world, learning French and German. When he read something in books that he wanted to see in real life, he scraped together the money to go travel and get the direct experience of the real thing.
One night, he found himself traveling back to the States on a boat from Europe. He couldn’t sleep in the stuffy cabin below deck, so he walked outside to get some fresh air. The night was dark and a fog hung low over the water. On the deck was another young man that couldn’t sleep, none other than Jiddu Krishnamurti. This was long before Krishnamurti would become a famous author and teacher. The two of them began to talk and soon were engaged in a deep conversation about ancient and esoteric texts. The two young men talked long into the night, and the conversation would forever change both of them.
Back on land, the young man decided it finally was time to pursue his PhD. But when he submitted various proposals, he found himself at odds with the faculty. He was an all star student, but he had something that the faculty did not. He’d not only read books, but he had gone out into the real world and had experiences and adventures. Now he wanted to study the things he’d found that were calling to him. But the faculty rejected proposal after proposal for his PhD focus. Finally, he mustered the courage to leave his graduate studies. Later in his life he would look back on that pivotal moment, laugh, and say that, “it is a sign of incompetence to have a PhD in the liberal arts.”
He was ostracized, but now he had freedom and spare time. What’s more, his ideas were beginning to peek into the corners of his mind. He was being called to search or create… something.
As he ventured out into the American landscape outside of academia, the world was bleak. It was 1929, and the Great Depression had begun. The young man looked around at the opportunities, and carefully weighed his options. All of the traditional paths to success were crumbling. He saw that the once “safe paths” now led to nowhere. So he purchased the books he would need for his self-directed studies and headed to a nearby farm that had an open room to rent.
On a rainy night, he went to meet the farmer with the open shack where he could live and stretch out his meager savings. The farmer greeted him with a lantern, and the two went out to survey the shack that was for rent. They approached the tiny building and the old farmer opened the door showing the young man inside.
Rain pattered on the metal roof of the shack. The farmer took another look at the young man’s belongings.
“Is that all you got, boy?” asked the old man motioning to his belongings.
“That’s all I have,” said the young man.
“Well good,” said the old man, “Cause there ain’t much room here, but at least it’s dry.” As he spoke, he waved the oil lantern he was carrying and light danced on the walls of the shack.
The young man smiled and nodded.
“What you gonna do here if you ain’t gonna work?” The old farmer eyed the young man suspiciously.
“Read,” responded the young man.
The old man laughed a bit and then shrugged. “Well suit yourself. As long as you got enough money to pay rent.”
“I do, and you’ve already got your deposit,” said the young man.
“I reckon I do.”
“Then we’re all set!” said the young man, as he began unpacking his things.
“I never seen so many books,” said the farmer.
“I never thought I would either,” smiled the young man.
“So you’re just gonna read all the time?”
“Read, research, and write, yes.”
“And you ain’t a part of no college or school?”
“No. They don’t have anything more to offer me.”
“Then why you doing so much reading and writing?!”
“I’ve been searching for something and I’m not quite sure what it is …”
“Well you’re gonna have a hell of a time reading if you ain’t got a light,” said the old man. He handed the young man the lantern he was carrying.
The young man smiled and nodded, accepting the gift as the two of them parted ways.
The young man stretched out on the mattress and pulled a copy of Finnegans Wake from the stack he’d arranged by his bed. Lightning struck outside, thunder followed, and the rain picked up. He moved closer to the flickering lantern with his book. The next morning, he would begin a rigorous routine. Looking back, he would describe it as:
“I would divide the day into four four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four-hour periods, and free one of them… I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day.”
The young man isolated himself from the world, and for the next five years maintained that routine. He continued to follow the thread of something he couldn’t quite fully articulate. He was following what he felt compelled to do, and he stopped questioning it.
He followed the path through:
I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.
Mistakes are the portals of discovery.
Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.
And hundreds of others.
That rigorous schedule went on for five years straight. When he emerged at the end of five years, he knew that he was far more educated than any liberal arts PhD in the country. He’d put in the work, and was closer to the treasure he was seeking. He’d paid the price for a life of scholarship, and now life started to fall into place for him. He saw the shadow he would have to face and overcome in order to reach it, and he began to follow it. Confident in his abilities, he went out and applied for professor positions.
Within weeks, he landed his first teaching position. Soon after, he landed a professorship at the all girl’s Sarah Lawrence College. He had found his home where he could do his research, teach, and get paid for it.
One student, in particular, caught his eye. She was a dancer, and after she graduated, he immediately began courting her. The two got married soon afterward.
The man was never interested in the public eye. His books had never taken off, but always did okay. He loved his wife, raised a daughter and went about his life. It wouldn’t be until he was sixty-eight years old that the “right people” would start finding his books. That was the year he published Myths to Live By. That book calmly presented what he had been searching for all his life. He’d studied the myths across hundreds of different cultures across dozens of different time periods. Along the way, he had found a map or path that humans could follow if they wanted to achieve something of note.
One of the people that found his books was a young movie director. The director had written and directed THX 1138, a science fiction story, and another Americana car racing film called American Graffiti. He’d struggled to have a breakout success, and he was in the midst of trying to write a space opera fantasy story. He hated writing, and as he crawled through the next draft of his space opera screenplay, he stumbled on a book called Myths to Live By. He read it in awe. In the book, he found the structure that great stories across history followed. The eerie part was the structure seemed to be a pattern that was unfolding in his life. The author claimed it was a path that readers could follow in the real world. He even claimed it would produce similar results to those in the myths.
The young director immediately rewrote his screenplay and incorporated what he’d learned. Everything he needed to make his fiction story successful had been delivered to him in a single non-fiction book. Now, the young director was confident in his screenplay. That confidence spilled over into his directing of the project, and soon his small space opera film named Star Wars debuted.
As he began to go on the interview circuit, George Lucas was kind enough to bring up where he’d got the entire outline for Star Wars. It was from the work of an unknown professor who was obsessed with myth.
Soon, the world was beating a path to that professor’s door. He’d gone about life quietly, but now the world was beginning to discover the significance of what he’d uncovered.
What’d he had found were paths and patterns that ran through thousands of different myths. He found the same meta story emerging again, and again. The faces of the hero or heroine in the story might change, but the underlying path had recognizable, chronological stages. He’d discovered an operating system for storytelling and human achievement. Or as the professor called it, the Hero’s Journey.
That professor was Joseph Campbell. The operating system he’d found was the infamous Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a seventeen stage process that occurs in many of the greatest stories and myths. It is a series of stages where the hero or main character goes from unconsciously operating in the ordinary world, to being called for a great adventure, then turning back because they’re frightened, then suddenly meeting a mentor who helps encourage them to begin. Next they cross into a new world in the pursuit of something. In that new world they face tests, earn allies, and confront enemies. The hero then prepares with his allies to accomplish their mission. The hero has to undergo a terrible ordeal where their higher self and potential are forced to emerge. They fight the final battle required to win the goal of their quest, and escape to return back to the ordinary world where they began their quest. Once they are back in their tribe or community, there are severe challenges that they must overcome in order to integrate what they found. If they successfully integrate their discoveries, they will revitalize their tribe.
These steps appear in almost every story across time and different cultures. What is even more astonishing is these steps will appear in your own life when you decide to find your mission. You can even map and track these steps in the biographical stories of real world heroes.
You’ve likely encountered this story framework dozens (if not hundreds) of times. Almost every single story that deeply resonates with audiences runs on the hero’s journey framework. Some examples include:
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (or sorcerer’s stone for all you Muggles that want to side with JK’s publisher). The Matrix. The Four Hour Work Week. And almost every single Disney, Pixar, or Marvel movie.
Side note: we’ll be diving deeper into those examples plus more, along with how they pair up perfectly in future articles and our podcast. To get notified when we publish them, you can subscribe to our daily newsletter here.
But stories and myth aren’t the only places where the hero’s journey is relevant. If you have eyes for it, you’ll see it in the real world or in your own life. If you want to go on a quest outside of culture or improve yourself, it’s crucial to know the stages of the Hero’s Journey. If you pay attention, you may see that they’re literally unfolding in your own life. You can view each stage as a signpost to help show you where you’re at.
The Hero’s Journey isn’t something you go on once and then kick back.
It’s something to embark on again and again. The journey might sometimes be a small cycle of the steps, and other times it might be a multi year or multi decade journey. Either way, you’ll likely find a loose outline of it that coincides with all your adventures.
Joseph Campbell wrote many books and was a master at noticing and focusing in on truth. Perhaps the best advice he’s ever given was to stop trying to think that you can change the world or help all of humanity. Instead, Campbell said,
“The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself.”
We see this now with the grandiose desire people have to “right the wrongs” of a history they don’t even know. We see it when people want to fix global macro economic “problems” when they can’t even make themselves go to the gym. It’s not the answer that most people want to hear, because the path to world transformation always begins as a personal, individual quest. Again, Campbell reminds us:
“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”
If you want to “save the world,” save yourself first.
You’ll inspire others who know you’ve got yourself together. Begin the Hero’s Journey, and be aware of all the struggles and the stages that go along with it. No matter how bad it gets, Campbell reminds us that,
“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”
Life is more brilliant, complicated, and exciting than most people ever realize. Nobody knows what adventures and mission is waiting for you. Our modern world and education institutions turn their noses up at the study of myth. But the study of mythology and stories that have survived for thousands of years isn’t silly. Campbell tells us why:
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth — penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”
The hero’s journey is available to everyone. You may be in the ordinary world now, but there is always the next call to adventure coming. After you take the first step, supernatural aid might appear, and you’ll have to cross the threshold into the unknown. Don’t worry too much about the right way to begin. Joseph Campbell’s most famous advice offers an idea about where to start:
“When you follow your bliss…doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.”
Campbell was clear that this isn’t a call to just do whatever you want. Yes, it’s certainly a clear call to get started by following your bliss. But Campbell was also specific on how to proceed far beyond “follow your bliss.” He said:
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” –Joseph Campbell
One of his most famous books is called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Heroes can emerge from anywhere at any given time. You have no idea how much potential you have if you never make the necessary sacrifices. There is no telling what will happen if you’re courageous enough to enter the forest at the darkest point. The hero you’ve been waiting for is you. Revitalize yourself, begin the hero’s journey, choose the call to adventure. Meet your mentor, endure the trials and tribulations of your quest. Face your demons, find your mission, and you’ll lift up all those around you.
The hero’s journey is the path to save yourself. If you’re brave enough to follow that path… you might help save the world.