The hero's journey
There is a concept known as 'the hero’s journey' which was explored in detail during the 20th century by a man called Joseph Campbell, where he spotted that myths and stories, across centuries and all continents, nearly all have a common theme, involving the main character (the hero) being called from his/her ordinary world into an extraordinary adventure or quest. After several callings, the hero reluctantly crosses the threshold into a new world, often accompanied by a wise mentor or guide, where (s)he meets allies and enemies and faces a number of tests and trials, through which learning and strength are gathered.
Eventually the hero journeys into the darkest and most dreaded place (a cave, the depths of an ocean, a desolate wilderness) where the ultimate enemy must be faced. At this point, the mentor/guide will disappear, leaving the hero to face his/her fears and biggest challenge alone. Which of course (s)he succeeds in doing, thus realising this previously impossible-seeming ordeal was within his/her capability all the time. The hero makes their way back towards their previous ordinary world, perhaps having to face one further unexpected trial along the way, but now in possession of new knowledge and power to deal with anything. (S)he returns to the old world, changed forever and ready to share the learning and resources with other people.
Test this out - from ancient religious texts such as the stories of Jesus, Mohammed and The Buddha, through simple fairy tales such as Snow White and Red Riding Hood, and to contemporary best-selling books and films such as Harry Potter, The Matrix and Star Wars, the theme is there, along with common archetypes, not just the hero, but the mentor, ally, herald, shapeshifter, trickster, threshold guardian and the shadow (villain).
In coaching, the use of archetypes and the hero’s journey is very helpful when working with people who recognise themselves as being somewhere on their own “journey” but are unsure where they are, where they should be, or how they can identify and then reach their ultimate goal. The hero’s journey has also resonated in my own life, with reluctant but necessary journeys taken to face and overcome fears and make life-changing decisions.
Using these as metaphors for the numerous journeys we take during our lives, into new situations, towards scenarios that cause anxiety for us, through risks and dangers, and so on, you can recognise that you have already gathered strengths and resources from earlier cycles of your journeys, which you can utilise when you are called upon to cross the threshold again to confront another challenge or fear. You can also be reassured by your realisation that you have survived each journey into the unknown so far, and so can do so again. Moreover, you are not alone - people have been confronting and surviving their “difficult stuff” in this way from the dawn of humanity, and have shared stories to illustrate this.
For many people, a life coach fulfils the role of the mentor, a temporary guide who walks alongside you to support you on your journey, helps you define your goals and name your fears or obstacles (the shadow) that you want to overcome. Whether you have a significant issue or difficulty in your life that you want to address, an unwanted behaviour or feeling that you know you need to leave behind or are just ready to have a neutral person to act as a sounding board for you to reflect on your current life choices and possibilities with, never underestimate the value of a life coach to be your mentor in that journey.
About the author
Liz Ostrowski, NLP master practitioner, life and well-being coach, specialising in emotional and behavioural change processes.
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