In the Hobbit – subtitled “An Unexpected Journey” one of the favorite lines is: “It’s a dangerous business walking out one’s front door.”
In the hero’s journey one must always leave the known, the comfortable, the normal – comfort zone be damned, this is where the possibility begins. This is where adventure and growth happen.
The secret is that the same story has a hundred different ways it can be told. Perspective, lenses, motive, they all change up the tale. Do you decide to see the experience from a space of opportunity? From a space of blessing? Are you focused on what went wrong and who is to blame, or on the things you finally learned from having walked that path – willingly or not? Do you see it from a space of abundance, hope, and responsibility? You get to decide. Look at both. Tell both to yourself. Which one serves our highest self? Which one builds internal space and voices that buoy you and give you power? What story do you tell?
In the Hobbit Gandalf has a conversation with Bilbo. It goes something like this:
Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.
Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …
Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back
Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?”
Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same
Does this exchange create any amount of excitement in you? It does in me. The ante has been upped. The danger is real. The choice is there to be made. This is where living big, or living small begins – in the choices.
When Bilbo makes the gigantic leap of faith and steps out, placing his foot on the dusty hobbit path that will lead him away from everything he knows, Gandalf says, “Home is now behind you, the world is ahead.”
Mythical stories always have a hero. This main character is on a journey. Joseph Campbell termed it the “hero’s journey” and it can be broken down into very specific parts. Within the story there is a hero, a loss or obstacle that must be overcome – a journey that will test the hero. Along the route there are often animals, magic, other people to help or give clues, but the hero has to conquer his challenge if he wishes to come out the other side of the story with the title of hero, where he then collects the kingdom and reward. While it’s true that the journey is fraught with danger, disappointment, often initial failure or setbacks, it is also true that the big picture is about the hero learning, growing and proving worthy of the challenge and the reward. Let’s bring this home and I’ll state the obvious: You are the hero of YOUR story.
This is a fun perspective. This is a perspective that can help you stand back up when you’ve been leveled. It’s a perspective that can remind you who you truly are no matter what dragon you’re facing. It’s a perspective that can help you create the story you want. So, the parts of the hero story that are so exciting in the movies, in the books, in the theatre, are the parts that we hate most in real life. No one likes the loneliness of waiting for Prince Charming, or the depressing sleep brought on by a poison apple, or the blood-loss when the unexpected dragon descends upon you. That’s pretty universal – we don’t like to suffer. YES, it is soooo true that having crappy or downright horrible things happen to us sucks. Here’s a reality check for you—when the big fights come that define the hero, in the stories does the hero stay in the space of the fight (whether he wins or loses) or does he move forward? Can you picture if he stayed in the space, the clearing of trees where he was jumped by the band of trolls that robbed and beat him – and if he paced and cussed them and claimed that they had ruined the rest of his life. And he did this year after year, never leaving the clearing because he had been wronged and dammit if he left somehow this would never be made right? That’s not how the hero stories play out. That’s not how the hero moves on to become the hero. If you stay in that space, that victim space, that tortured space, that place where the challenge, the antagonist and the obstacle that arrived to challenge you are all you focus on, even long after the event or person has passed, where does your story end? Does it end at all? Do you ever become the hero with the reward, or are you stuck in the whirlpool of reliving the dragon’s lair?
A few years back I spent time with a family who had some rough and life changing abuse as children. The mother of the family had been molested as a child. Now, at almost 70 years old, around every holiday family gathering, was the long going discussion about the past. About how “mom couldn’t be held responsible for the things she said or did because of this event in her childhood.” The event with the creepy uncle that should have been put in prison, was a travesty. There is no excuse for child abuse of any type, but I wondered why it was always the topic of conversation, and found the negative energy they generated, day after day, year after year, family party after family party to be a sad loss of their lives. She had allowed the creepy jail-bait uncle to steel huge portions of her entire life, and to define her children’s perception of her and their life together.
I’m not making light of our dragons. Not by a long shot. We all have them. Sometimes they are large, fire-breathing, armored things, and other times they are smaller but with jagged claws and sharp teeth. Whatever they look like they are our dragons. They are real. They are mean. They are heart-wrenching. But here’s the take….You don’t have to stay there. When the battle is over find the lesson, find the takeaway, heal, move on with more wisdom, insight, and empathy for other travelers in their own stories. Move on toward your happily-ever-after, because one thing is certain – everyone has them, the dragons always show up, and while the path to moving forward is much easier said than done, it still must be done in order to be the hero you truly are.
Now, this food for thought is about choosing the perspective that will best serve our forward progress as the powerful hero of our own story. That being said, as with all things, this does not mean that we hide our stories, our journeys, our difficult times in shame. All the heroes have fights they win and fights they lose. They are heroes because they are out on the quest trying. They stepped onto the path, away from safety (safety of a risk-free job to follow an entrepreneurial dream, the safety of a terrible but predictable relationship to find a healthy love, the safety of keeping ourselves from vulnerability by not being open) To be whole we must accept what has happened in our lives and along our journeys – we get to accept the fights we won and learn from the fights we lost. But we are both.
Brene Brown, for those of you who are not familiar with her work, is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social work. She’s also the author of a number of NY Times best-selling books like “Daring Greatly” and “I thought it was just me” You may know her from her Ted Talk on vulnerability. In her book Rising Strong, she says,
“The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our whole heartedness – actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including the falls.”
What a beautiful concept. Our hero’s journey is the real thing. It’s got the difficult stuff, the falling down, the spaces before the hero proves himself/herself, the spaces that the hero may want to hide because he/she feels shame or guilt. But who are we really? Aren’t we a true conglomeration of the total of our experiences? Hell Yes We Are! We got bloody in the fight, but we chose not to stay in the dark hours. We chose to celebrate the moments of magic, of learning, of serendipity and of strength. We get to tell our story – accepting the moments when we were not our best selves because without those moments we don’t become who we are now. It’s all a part of the big picture. There’s no shame in the times we miss the mark, when we aim and try again.
Now I’m not saying that all the dirty laundry of our lives should be posted on FB. What I am saying, is that we need to be at peace with our own hero’s journey, with the full acceptance that YOU ARE the hero. I am the hero. And we ARE the sum of our journeys, both the good and the bad. Without the times where we are face down in the mud, we wouldn’t appreciate the times when our faces are turned to a blue sky with a summer sun and the cool breeze at it skips across our skin.
Brene Brown also said, “People who wade into the discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.” And, it’s true. Vulnerability really brings power. Truth brings peace. If your story needs a perspective change so you can leave the victim behind and walk into your power, then revisit the story. Reframing is a powerful tool. How does the story change? How does the ending change? How does the perspective change so that the hero learns, triumphs, and moves on down the path of his journey? You ARE the hero. And like the Hobbit, you are on an unexpected journey, and yes it is dangerous business walking out one’s front door, but that’s also the business of living, and YOU are writing the story.