The (S)hero’s Journey
photo by: Gabriel Bassino
I am writing this about myself, for myself, because I’m scared. I’m scared that going after what I want from life is not ok. This fear ranges from very real issues like disappointing my parents and making those around me uncomfortable to dogmatic issues like going to hell. But I’m writing this because, despite not receiving a permission slip, a green light, an “everything will work out,” or a billboard sign from the universe that can direct me in which way to go (trust me, I’ve asked), and being scared shitless, I’ve decided to go for it anyway. Perhaps, if you’re reading this, you’ve thought about going for it too.
When asked about her bestselling memoir, “Eat Pray Love,” and why she thinks so many women resonate with her story, Elizabeth Gilbert shared, “For some reason, and this just boggles my imagination, there are huge swathes of women who never got the memo that their lives belong to them, and there’s this instinct they have that they need a permission slip from the principal’s office for anything.” Sometimes we (and by we, I mean me) get stuck in the idea of “thirteenth grade.” See, you’re supposed to go to school, then to college. You get married, you buy the house, you have the baby. The idea that you have the ability to alter or steer from that path not only feels like an unwise option, it feels like it isn’t an option at all.
The Hero's Journey
In mythology, the hero’s journey is the common template of tales that involve a hero (you know, Odysseus, Frodo, Luke Skywalker) who goes on an adventure and, in a decisive crisis, wins a victory and comes home changed or transformed. The literature professor, Joseph Campbell, popularized the hero journey through his “hero myth pattern” research. He found that across civilization, religions, and peoples separated by bodies of water and language barriers, the story was always the same. However, the stories never included women as the protagonist; they were kept as supportive characters, waiting for the hero to return like a soldiers wife but never leaving on a ship of their own. What I’ve learned from studying these stories is that “every quest begins with questions.” My first question may have been “What lights me up?” or “What am I here on earth to do?” or specifically, “Is this the life I’m meant to live?” And most recently? “Is this the person or are these the people I’m meant to spend my life with?”
Answering the Call
So it starts with questions, then the call. You get glimpses of what you could do. Maybe you feel like you should move to a new country and start over, or leave your cushy startup job and start freelancing or put all of your savings towards starting your own business. But then comes the refusal. We ask God, the universe, or whatever you’re comfortable calling it, “Please take this cup away from me. I’m not the hero, I don’t have the power. I’m just a regular person. Don’t look at me.”
Unfortunately (and fortunately), the call won’t leave you alone. It irritates you constantly, waking you up at 3:30 AM. It gives you the kind of anxiety you can’t drink away. It keeps nagging you and pointing out a now inexorable truth: you’re not living the life you’re meant to.
Oprah says that when she got “the call” to move from her hometown of Baltimore, everyone around her was saying, “Don’t do it there’s no way you’re going to succeed.” Yet she felt that if she didn’t leave and go to wherever she was being called to, a part of her would die. Not so much physically, but she knew that she’d no longer be emotionally or spiritually herself, because, as French novelist, Anaïs Nin once wrote, “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
So, you decide to go for it; you being the journey. Then comes the road of trials. So far, for me, since this “journey” started, trials have come in the way of friends getting sick, my partner losing his job, my company being acquired by another company, and my laptop - my one source of income - crashing all within a few weeks’ time. You start to wonder if you’re making the wrong decisions...or if you’re cursed (this is a real thought I’ve actually had).
Your mind becomes frazzled from overthinking and volleying between making big change and going back to the status quo. Your face gets puffy from crying and lack of sleep. You lose your keys (twice, if you’re me), you lose your debit card (still haven’t found it), you lose your lipstick (it was MAC, and it wasn’t cheap), and for a while, you lose your sense of self. But you don’t give up because you know being in the trenches is far better than being numb and scared to go through them to get to the other side. You hold on to the belief that these trials are just the universe asking, “Are you sure you want this?” Or even better: “How badly do you want it?” You square up to fate. You ask the universe (or again, whatever you like to call her) not to move the mountain, but to give you the strength to climb.
Writing Your Own Story
A tarot reader in Bushwick once told me after an eerily accurate read, “This is your current story, so make it a good one.” After seeing the somewhat worried look on my face, he pulled another card, adding that this was just my story now and that my fate was my own. “You get to write your own story,” he elaborated. At the time, my arm was still wrapped in plastic from a tattoo I had gotten hours earlier: spiraling letters in French on my right wrist spelling out “j’ecris.” Translation? “I write.” I try to remember during the down times that yes, I could have refused to answer the call. I could live my life in contentment, in the sweet land of could've, would’ve, should’ve. I could have closed the book right there. However, what I’ve realized, and what I’m sure you’ll realize as well, answering the call makes for a better story.
You can change your life. You can save yourself. You can write your own story. The hero you’ve been waiting for is you.