The Hero’s journey — how to stay true to your story in a world full of shadows.
Story is one of the most practical ways of grounding ourselves in reality and not getting lost in comparison and fantasy. But we have to re-learn how to create tell them. My two children (aged 10 and 6) are amazing at telling stories, but no one has had to coach them on how to do it — I spend my days coaching people on how to do it. My children know that picture, emotion, beginning, middle and end are crucial to telling a story. They are surrounded by stories all the time, at home and at school. They remember and repeat the plot of their favourite lessons as well as shows, because they know, like Stanford University do, that a story is 22 times more memorable than a fact.
They live it.
But soon they will hit teenage years, go through puberty and metamorphose into adults. They will have to hold on with all their might to the child-like nature of story-telling against the tsunami of poor presentations, corporate jargon and the white noise of tech overload. It is my job as a parent to keep them connected to who they are and why they are.
It is also my job to keep my clients connected to who they are and why they are. How do I do this?
You may well know the hero’s Journey . You have definitely seen it in action. It appears in Hollywood movies, from “The Shawshank Redemption” to “Lord of The Rings”, from “Star Wars” to “The Hunger Games”. People have written books in it, from Nancy Duarte’s “Illuminate” to Donald Miller’s “Building a Story-brand”. It’s a tool to tell stories, a scaffolding to the stories of our favourite movies, but I would argue it is also something we also live out every day without even realising it.
My friend and Story-Coach Andre Radmall was talking to me other day about the first three phases of the Hero’s journey, and it stopped me in my tracks. Phase 1 and 2 is what most people (the hero) live most of their lives — habits they are stuck in, relationships and jobs they can’t escape, desires they never see fulfilled, the monotony of existence. But then comes along what screen writers call an “Inciting incident” — something that tips the hero over the edge into their journey (phase 3). In the movies it will be an invitation, from Gandalf to Frodo to go on the journey of destroying the ring, or a choice, from Katniss Everdeen to take her sister’s place in the Hunger games, or an event where the character is forced to make a choice, like Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption getting sent to prison— will he persevere, survive and thrive in prison or give in to it’s oppression? Everyone has to make a choice with what life offers us, sometimes it offers us adventure (Lord of the Ring), sometimes it offers us suffering (Shawshank Redemption).
Who we are in that moment and the choices we make is when we truly embark on the hero’s journey. That is when life gets interesting — the twists, the turns, the pitfalls, the wise mentors along the way, the treasure we find at cost to ourselves, the dragons we kill, the new land we climb back up to, changed by our experience, with our scars, but stronger and more resilient. Those are the stories we need to be telling ourselves, our friends, our work colleagues, as often as we can. Why? There are so many distractions in life to shatter our stories to pieces — the instagram post that sinks us into comparison, the news report that sinks us into despair or propels us to moral outrage. But all of these stories don’t originate with us. They are forced upon us and drown out the anchoring truth of the actual story we are living.
I protect my children from things they don’t need to see and hear so they can be free to know and grow into the story of their lives. As adults we need to do the same — to know and grow into the story of our lives. Yes — watch the news (I am a huge fan of Radio 4 and “The Economist”) but don’t let it steal from you.
How can you anchor and protect yourself? Start with this — ask yourself the question I ask my clients “How did I get here”? Take 10 minutes to ponder this, paying attention to any incident in your life where you had to make a choice (phase 3) based on what life offered you. My friend, in describing his journey with lung cancer put it beautifully this week … “My Shawshank moment meant I had to make some decisions”….
What journey did that choice take you to get to where you are today? What were the twists and turns and what/who helped you through? You might be surprised as you look at your story through this lens about what you remember. You may not be in a new land yet, you may be fighting dragons, searching for treasure, you may be in need of a wise mentor (Russell Brand has written a whole book on it), or you may be in the new land about to launch on another journey. But take time to allow that journey to happen in your story, from that “inciting incident” to where you are today. Then sit down with someone and tell it, as quickly as you can, with as much picture as you can, in about 5 minutes. If you limit yourself to a healthy boundary you will tell a really good story.
Then let it percolate, throughout the day and throughout the week, the month and this year. Allow yourself to be reminded of your story as you read/listen to/watch everyone else’s. The world needs you to be a solid, anchored person, not a distracted shadow. See what happens, how life’s lens changes, how it slows you down, yet also speeds you up at the right time, see what you say “Yes” and what you say “No” to. Watch movies that inspire — I love Gladiator (and Top Gun). Live more in the reality who you are and how you got here. It will help you see the world from a fresh perspective.