Sometimes, when things get hard for me, I like to step back and become an observer of my situation. I find it helpful to frame my experiences as a story arc, with yours truly as the main character. Looking at my life as a story helps me see both my strengths and weaknesses. It shows me how some of my actions were more of a response to my situation and some were a conscientious choice to act. I’m able to look at the consequences of my actions. The bigger picture of my life shows patterns of behavior that might need to be changed (if I want a different result) and also patterns of behavior that have served me well. Ultimately, when I see my life as a story, I end up feeling like I have more choices in what direction my life takes me.
Considering my love of Archetypes and story in my own life, I've been thinking more about the Hero's Journey. In particular, how the stages of The Hero’s Journey can influence my response to this pandemic.
The Hero's Journey...
I was reading about the Hero's Journey the other day. There are a ton of great books, scholarly articles, and blog posts written about The Hero’s Journey. I’ll link to several different sites at the end of the post. For that reason, I’ll keep my overview brief.
The Hero’s Journey was defined by Joseph Campbell. He studied comparative mythology and religion and found that there was a common narrative throughout cultures, which he called The Hero’s Journey.
12 steps of the Hero’s Journey:
The Ordinary World
The Call to Adventure
Refusal of the Call
Meeting the Mentor
Crossing the First Threshold
Trials, Allies, Enemies
Approach to the Inmost Cave
The Road Back
Return with the Elixir
For this article, I want to focus on the first steps. Actually, I want to focus on what happens between the Ordinary World and the Call to Adventure. The Call to Adventure requires the Hero to make a choice. But how does that choice come about? Before the Hero goes on her/his Adventure, there is Inciting Incident. Often lumped in with the Call to Adventure, the Inciting Incident is something outside of the Hero's control that sets things in motion. It comes in many forms and triggers the need to act, hence the Call to Adventure. Interestingly, the Hero refuses the call, at first.
COVID as an Inciting Incident...
So, to the main question: how can framing your pandemic experiences within the context of The Hero’s Journey benefit you?
I am not the first to suggest this, but this pandemic feels like a worldwide Inciting Incident. This pandemic has been totally out of our control. It happened to us, without any of us making a choice. It influences each of us in different ways and creates a personal Call to Adventure.
Some people's Call to Adventure might be finding a new balance between work and family life. For others it could be going back to school after losing their job. And for others it might be learning to slow down, sit still and practice being in the present moment. For many of us, it requires us to take a hard look at what is really important in our lives. Any way that you’ve been affected by the pandemic requires you to make some choices. And don’t forget, not choosing is a choice. In fact, not choosing is part of the Refusal.
Can you identify how COVID is Calling you to Adventure?
A Call to Adventure and a Refusal...
Invariably, when the Hero is Called to Adventure, she/he Refuses.
Maybe your refusal is to complain and spend all your time bemoaning the loss of "normal." Or your refusal might be watching unending episodes on Netflix. Maybe your refusal looks like despair or self-doubt. Some people’s refusal is literally to refuse to believe that COVID is real. Other refusals might look like anger and constant complaining, not taking care of your body, or blaming others.
Regardless of what it looks like, if you take some time you might be able to identify both your Call to Adventure and how you might be refusing it.
Crossing the Threshold
The distinctions between the steps in The Hero’s Journey are not always as clear as what you see in a move or read in a book. And I can’t help but wonder if some of us mill around Call to Action, Refusal and Meeting the Mentor. Personally, I can identify a few Mentors in my current journey, and I can clearly identify my refusals to take action. I also know of my attempts to heed the Call to Action. I’m at the point in my Hero’s Journey where I know what I have to do, I know how to do it, I have mentors to support me, but I can’t quite commit to Crossing the Threshold.
Crossing the Threshold is when the Hero leaves the ordinary and crosses into the unknown in earnest. I think that’s where I get stuck. Crossing the Threshold feels scary and I’m not entirely sure I want to. But when I step back and look at my pandemic experience as an iteration of The Hero’s Journey, my courage builds.
What makes stories compelling? Problems. Yep, all the difficulties in life. Can you think of any good story where there is no conflict for the main character? Do you know of any person, in real life, that has never had a problem? (I’m sure there are some folks who seem to have no problems, but I can assure you, they have their own issues) The older I get the more I see that conflict and strife are necessary to living. It’s how we grow. I don’t like it, but I think it’s true. One way to be less demoralized by my problems is to think of my life as a story because I remember how difficulties are just part of life.
Power in stories
Storytelling is powerful. I think looking at our own lives in the arc of the Hero's Journey does several things for us:
it helps put things in perspective
it can provide hope that things will get better (even if they have to get worse first)
we can see our own power in making choices; we are the ones to act rather than be acted upon
we can find more grace for ourselves and others
Take a look at your own life/experience. Has the pandemic been an Inciting Incident in your life? Do you see a Call to Adventure? Have you been Refusing that call? Maybe reframing these last 10 months in terms of the Hero's Journey will be both refreshing and provide insight into how to reframe your own personal story. And remember, a Mentor can be a friend, therapist, coach, even a stranger. Keep your heart open to the possibilities.
Bill Moyer’s The Power of Myth. An interview with Joseph Campbell.
For personal growth and how to live more heroically