There’s a reason the universal narrative of the Hero’s Journey has persisted throughout thousands of years of human storytelling. It’s compelling not just because of familiarity, but because we can identify with it. We identify with protagonists facing great odds and difficulties because human life has always been defined by strife and struggle. So if we all identify with the monomyth in one way or another, why not embrace it?
Hero Without a Cause
The feeling of meandering through life permeates through much of society. We fall into routines, boredom and yearning for something more compelling. Whether by circumstance or of lack of motivation, we lack a driving force to make a change. If viewed through the lens of the Hero’s Journey, we’re stuck in that stage of the story before the Call to Adventure.
It’s time to separate fact from fiction though, most of the time adventure won’t call to you, so you need to choose one for yourself.
Power of Purpose
Human beings are weird, we inherently yearn for purpose and drive in life. Most animals are content to eat, not get eaten by something else, and reproduce. In the First World, most people have the Physiological and Safety levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs fulfilled, so our minds drift to the higher tiers. Finding a higher purpose, or the quest of your Hero’s Journey, helps you climb to the top of that pyramid.
The German language has a word for this concept: sehnsucht. Like schadenfreude, it lacks a direct English equivalent. The closest translations are yearning or longing, but it represents a deeper concept. It represents a psychological state of searching for happiness while coping with the reality of a harsh world. A psychological study entitled Toward a developmental psychology of Sehnsucht (life longings): The optimal (utopian) life defined sehnsucht by six core facets:
(a) utopian conceptions of ideal development; (b) sense of incompleteness and imperfection of life; (c) conjoint time focus on the past, present, and future; (d) ambivalent (bittersweet) emotions; (e) reflection and evaluation of one’s life; and (f) symbolic richness.
To put it laconically, our brains are wired to seek a purpose in life. It’s time to dust off your sword and pick one.
A purpose, or your quest, brings psychological benefits even in the midst of the obstacles we face along the way. A grand, driving purpose simplifies our state of mind. This hero’s quest gives us a constant source of activity. It occupies our thoughts and attention, shutting out those nasty feelings of boredom, anxiety, and depression.
Sure, your Hero’s Journey will deliver its own payload of stress, doubt, and roadblocks, but that’s part of the process. The Illinois Senator Adlai Stevenson III once stated, “You can tell the size of a person by the size of things that bother him.” The undisputed king of awesome quotations, Winston Churchill, once echoed the same sentiment. Our own wibber jibbers seem less significant, and waste less time dwelling on them, and thus our sense of well-being grows. Focusing on your purpose takes you out of your own head and keeps you moving forward.
With a greater sense of well-being comes self confidence. Little victories on your quest yield moments of self-validation. Concern for a higher cause or even just dedication to a hobby overrides tiny doubts and anxieties. Plus, there’s an undeniable allure for people with a burning passion or purpose. It’s the perfect way to recruit friends, colleagues, and of course, love interests to the part for your Hero’s Journey.
If you want to see this principle in action, look no further than this clip from Mission Impossible 3:
Quick note, I have to credit Dr. Nerdlove for sharing this video.
Outward Quest or Inward
Don’t take this as a preachy command to go out and devote your life to some charitable cause. Your quest is what you choose it to be. Just because your Hero’s Journey isn’t striving to end world hunger or dig wells in Africa doesn’t mean it’s worthless.
A personal goal or dedication to a hobby is still a valid purpose in life. It brings the same feeling of validation and fortification of self confidence. Even your purpose would be deemed nerdy or lame by some, the burning passion drives you along just the same. If your driving force in life is to nail the best time on a naked speedrun in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, then own it.
Start Your Hero’s Journey
It doesn’t matter if your Hero’s Journey is saving the whales or winning the Pokémon Video Game Championships. Take a leaf out of Dale Carnegie’s book and dramatize this idea. Envision yourself as a spiky haired chosen one or strike dramatic poses atop rocks with a grand sunrise as a backdrop. You’re a fucking hero. You have the power to go out there and make those barriers and obstacles your bitch.
Don’t sit around expecting life to begin or opportunity to present itself. A mystical deity or cliche-riding author isn’t going to present a quest, you have to choose it for yourself. It won’t be easy. There will be thresholds to cross, mountains to climb, and Death Stars to blow up. You’ll probably fail, a lot. The quest may not even have a true end. That doesn’t matter though. Endless possibility and powerful transformation is out there, just itching for a hero to claim it.
Your grand adventure awaits.