A Mudmap for Living: the Hero’s Journey as a template for life

‘We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us’

Joseph Campbell

Campbell’s quote is a gentle, possibly frustrating, reminder that life does not always go to plan. It’s a reminder that all the complaining, blaming and distress about not having the life we want is simply a waste of time and effort. This simple quote to encourage us to accept what is, is often a really difficult lesson to learn.

hero's journey
Joseph Campbell

I wrote this book as a response to making what I thought at the time was an incredible discovery, yet one I was too ashamed of to share. When you read the preface of my book, you will see that I had spent a lot of time and effort trying to create the life I thought I wanted and it just wouldn’t fly.  Doors kept closing in my face.  Expectations were dashed.  People I wanted to impress weren’t.  People I wanted, didn’t want me.  My life felt like a continuous exercise in huge effort with little reward.

I came to understand Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s Journey when I was learning how to write plays.  I had previously heard of Campbell from his interviews with Bill Moyers: The Power of Myth, completed just before Campbell’s death in the early 1980s. I was captivated by Campbell, initially by his idea of ‘following your bliss’, but also by his persona. This was a man near the end of his life and he appeared fully alert, much involved and genuinely engaged. His words contained a simple insight to the complexities of living a full life.

When I eventually came to read Campbell’s book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, I found much of it as if speaking directly to my own life, yet other parts were challenging to read and comprehend.  So much information.  In his book, Campbell suggests that one familiar storyline underpins a particular story found across the millennia.  Initially, I thought this idea stupid. 

But by this time however I needed to write a play so I needed to cover all my bases. Chris Vogler’s book ‘The Writer’s Journey’ explained the ideas of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and lay them out in a clear and concise manner.  It was this book that provided me with a solid underpinning to then more fully understand Campbell’s.

So off I went to write my plays and become world famous but every now and then, I thought recognised bits of this storyline, the Hero’s Journey, happening in my own life.

Being a psychologist and adhering to evidence-based approaches with which to frame life and problem solve, I dismissed these thoughts as silly. But these moments of recognising aspects of the hero’s journey  happening in my own life continued more and more.  I soon found myself considering my life as a hero’s journey.  If I was the main character what was my story about?  If events in my life were a Call to Adventure, what was I going to do?  How would I resolve my significant life problem? If the hero’s journey is essentially a series of increasingly more difficult tests for the main character to resolve, what were the tests in my own life? What would I need to do to address them?

Treating my life as a hero’s journey turned out to be exactly what Campbell had promised.  Doors opened where previously I had only seen walls.  I made progress with my life problems, not usually in the way I had hoped, but still real progress and then many rewards.  I began to create a life, that resonated with who I really was, what I was really interested in and that adhered to my own values and not those that others wanted me to have or thought I should have.

None of this was easy but it was worth it! Without knowing it, I had left the familiar path and wandered off on my own hero’s journey.

Using the Hero’s Journey to navigate your life won’t make you rich or famous or perfect.  You will still make mistakes, get frustrated, have bad things happen to you.  It will however give you a clear idea of what to do to resolve your life problems.  Whether it’s work, studies, family or relationships, significant life problems require us to navigate change in a manner that is true to who we really are and that is the true gift of the Hero’s Journey.  It will help you identify where you are in your own Hero’s Journey, what to expect and what you will need to change and how.

It was an incredible discovery to make and now I hope to share it with you.

Clive Williams PhD
Psychologist

Find out more about the Stages of the Hero’s Journey here.

discover your heroes journey A mudmap for Living the Book
The oldest storyline of all time turns out to be a mudmap for navigating everyday life

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