Learning the Way of the Hero: What’s your story?

In my last piece I wrote about the hero’s journey and the central place of learning through experience. I also made the point that we cannot take any shortcuts. It is a process in which each stage has an important function. In overcoming our resistance to the call and in doing whatever it takes to complete the journey we are changed at a very deep level because completion of the quest demands that we create and access all kinds of resources – the way of being that will carry us through. We can embrace this process just as we can get very stuck in loops, and when we do engage with it we start living the way of the hero and we return to alignment with our own natural drive to grow – we get out of our own way!

There are a couple of simple things you can look out for to jump-start this learning. In this post I just want to look at narratives. Typically, as the hero grows we notice important changes in the way in which they understand their place in the world and the way they make sense of this through story. In my doctoral research, I observed major changes in the narratives constructed by the hero Achilles in Homer’s epic, the Iliad. Critically Achilles moves from a victim narrative to one of responsibility and action. Both narrative styles have a place in his journey of development but there is no doubt that the latter is the one that accompanies an empowered self.

Specifically then, what are the stories you tell yourself about your life? Are these the same as the story you tell others or is there a difference? If you find there are different stories, don’t be too surprised. Many people persist with internal stories of failure and struggle in spite of all the success they have achieved. It’s a kind of dishonesty but with one’s self rather than others. Old habits can be hard to recognise, and they are often even harder to break, but recognition is key.

Looking at these narratives, do you explain your situation by blaming others, the economy or bad luck, or do you see your choices at work – do you take ownership? Don’t try and kid yourself, that won’t get you anywhere. Just listen, don’t judge. It’s natural to shift between these but it’s powerful to have enough awareness so that you can hear yourself if you start moving into negative narrative territory.

So if you’re ready to begin, just start by looking at your stories, even just around one area of your life. It might even just be one major event. It’s also very powerful to work through this with a close but honest friend or your coach. Tell them your story and invite them to comment. Odds are you’ll also notice things you’ve missed before just by voicing this. If you have a journal this is another great use for it, otherwise it’s a great excuse to start one. In time you can then review your old stories for patterns and changes. You might be surprised what you find, especially once you become conscious of it.

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