baby dressed in a costume wearing a superman cape and an eye mask

I’ll let you in on a secret, but don’t laugh. Well…you can laugh, but try not to do it in front of me. Here goes: the reason I learned to fly an airplane was because I’ve wanted to fly like a certain superhero ever since I discovered Superman comic books in elementary school. Granted, I need a plane and Superman doesn’t, but other than skydiving, which may be next, it’s as close as I can get right now. Perhaps it’s silly to identify with a fictional character, especially one with incredible super-powers that don’t exist, but lately I’ve begun to realize it might not be so crazy after all.

Life is an adventure. Just how much of an adventure is up to us. Each of us star as the hero within our own story. Some heros are larger than life, more daring than other heros, and that’s okay. What’s important to grasp is, it’s not our mission to compare our hero’s journey with others, but rather to ensure our voyage is a success, that in the end we can look back knowing we made the most of our adventure.

But sometimes it’s hard to see your life as an adventure when you’re mired in a unfulfilling job or struck by the solemn realization that the laundry bin truly is bottomless. As kids, we saw ourselves as heros with vivid ease. The whole world, and our whole life, lay before us with nearly unlimited options. Hope was plentiful. However, as we grew, as we matured and bought into the trappings of adulthood, the unlimited options began to narrow until one day, we awoke to dead ends. Somewhere along the line we had traded life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for life insurance, liability waivers and the pursuit of credit. All the once promising paths had been cut off, gouged by a deep, circular rut of our own making.

So how do we make the most of this adventure? How do we rediscover the hero within, the one some of us buried years ago in a shallow, unmarked grave beside Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? For the answer, I’m going to borrow concepts used by Christopher Vogler in his exceptional book, The Writer’s Journey. In turn, The Writer’s Journey borrows heavily from Joseph Campbell’s study of mythology and his resulting book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The basic premise of both books is there is a universal story that repeats itself over and over, appearing in countless myths in almost all past civilizations and cultures, continuing to this day in our current fiction and movies. Vogler used this concept to vastly improve movie scripts, increasing the chances that plots would resonate with audiences and have satisfying conclusions because ultimately, they mirrored the primal elements that all great stories and myths possess.

But you need not study mythology or write fiction to benefit from this concept. It’s equally powerful when used in our own hero’s journey as it provides a roadmap of sorts, one that helps us anticipate the highs and lows that any grand adventure will bring. Sound interesting? Then let’s start our journey:

Answer the call – In myth and stories, the call to adventure is often overt, an unmistakable request coming from a king or god to protect the land from an approaching enemy, or to embark on a quest to return a valued artifact that will restore health and prosperity to the kingdom. Holy Grail, anyone? But in our own lives the call to adventure is often subtle, a whisper in our soul’s ear that all is not right, that there is something greater we were destined to be, some dream we were meant to pursue. In stories, the hero often refuses the call at first, but you can bet the refusal is short-lived. Something will change his or her mind and the journey will begin. However, in our lives, we often refuse the call indefinitely and the adventure stops cold. The refusal may sound like this: I can’t pursue this dream because I don’t have the time, or the support, or the talent, or the money. Even if we do eliminate an obstacle, we’ve created this long list of new obstacles waiting to move up the line. The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Stop your refusal and answer the call. Make that step, no matter how small, toward your dream. Adventure awaits.

Expect discomfort in your new world – When a hero answers the call to adventure, she moves from her ordinary world to a special world. Think Dorothy in TheWizard of Oz. (Dorothy answers the call to adventure by running away, setting unstoppable forces in motion.) When we answer our call to adventure, we are thrust into a new, unfamiliar world as well, one that lies outside our comfort zones. Every hero, real and imagined, feels the stress of this special world they’ve entered. But this discomfort is good for us. We do what humans do best: adapt. We become stronger. Eventually the new world becomes familiar and we learn to navigate its idiosyncrasies.

Lookout for your mentor – Most heros have mentors, usually older, wise men or women who arrive when most needed. You may believe that sort of thing only happens in the movies, but I’m convinced it happens in real life also—for those who want it. When I look back on my journey so far, I’m amazed at the many mentors that have appeared in my life just when I needed them. If you don’t have a mentor currently, it’s one of two reasons: you either don’t have a true need for the mentor yet, or you are not paying close attention to the world and people around you. Often, you discover mentors in the most unlikely places so be vigilant.

Enlist help along the way – A hero’s journey can be lonely. That’s why allies are important. Where would Shrek be without Donkey? Could Dorothy have prevailed without the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion? There are allies everywhere eager to assist you in your quest; you just have to find them. Many are current friends, but an equal or greater number are people you haven’t met yet. Find those people on similar journeys and enlist their help. We travel farther and faster when we move in groups and share the workload. My two writer’s groups come to mind for me. They are my allies in our common quest to improve our prose and make a dent in the world.

Recognize the threshold guardians – Heros in myths constantly encounter threshold guardians: individuals, creatures or obstacles that slow or stop their progress. Often, the threshold guardians in our lives may be people close to us, those that fear their life will change if you shift yours. Most of the time, you can dispel their concerns by assuring them your quest will only improve the relationship, that finding fulfillment through achieving your dreams will make you a happier, more caring person. Sometimes the threshold guardians are people we don’t know, ones we bump against whose job is to guard a threshold we seek to cross. Perhaps it’s the editor of a magazine where you wish to publish your work, or maybe it’s the credit officer that must approve your small business loan. Don’t fault them for doing their job. But remember that it’s your job to either move around them, or win them over. In many stories, threshold guardians are converted to allies and then join the hero on his journey.

Know there will be tests – All heros are tested. Period. If you are honest with yourself, you wouldn’t want it any other way. Sometimes we fail the tests. But failure is nature’s way of helping you pass the next, more important test, one that really counts.

Never give up – Any great book or movie that draws you deep into its world, refusing to let you go, often has the hero in a no-win situation. The predicament is so bleak, you question how they will ever triumph. But the true hero perseveres. She never, ever gives up. You shouldn’t either. Breakthroughs occur in real life all the time when situations seem hopeless. Never turn your back and walk away from your dream. You never know if tomorrow is the day that brings victory.

So what call to adventure have you refused because the journey was too uncertain? Perhaps its time to rethink that refusal and venture toward your dreams, armed with a basic knowledge of how the adventure will unfold. Yes, there are specifics you can’t know, but therein lies the fun. Dig deep and let that hero within emerge. The world can always use one more hero.

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