What if I told you that your life is a story? And that you are not just any character in the story, but that you are the hero of the story?
Maybe you’re rolling your eyes as you read this. You could be thinking “Why me? What makes me a hero?” Or maybe, “Am I a hero by going to work every day to a job that I hate?”
“[W]e have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
People do not live like heroes because they fail to recognize the signs of adventure in their lives. The path of the hero is often paradoxical in nature, so most people try to escape their adventure. They unknowingly avoid their story or throw it off track in exchange for something safer and more comfortable.
paradox: any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature
The hero’s path of paradox is well-traveled: follow the thread
There are examples of the hero’s journey everywhere for us to learn from. The path is shown to us in religion, mythology, entertainment, sports, business, and in our “normal” everyday lives.
We are called to submit to the story laid before us and “follow the thread.”
A good example of the hero’s path in business is the company Uber.
Uber started in 2008 when the co-founders were having trouble finding a taxi in Paris. Their idea was “taxi time-sharing.” Soon after their trip to Paris, Uber’s founders developed an app and started testing it in New York City. They started out with only three cars.
A lot of people must have thought their idea was ridiculous at the time. Who would ride in a car with a stranger without a cab driver’s license? Who would use their own car for that purpose? How do you scale that business? How do you deal with all of the local regulations in Manhattan alone, never mind all over the world? It’s impossible! No, it’s paradoxical.
Today Uber provides a valuable service to millions of people and the company is valued at over $50 billion. Uber is having problems at the moment due to a toxic organizational culture that has developed there, but Uber’s struggle provides another lesson for us. When the hero does not live a virtuous life, he can lose his way and fall from grace.
There are countless characters in books and movies to give us a sense of how the hero’s story unfolds as well.
It was only by descending into the dark and haunted earth, engaging a fiery demon in one-on-one combat, and plunging into a pit of utter darkness that JRR Tolkien’s Gandalf the Grey could be reborn as Gandalf the White in the Lord of the Rings.
Gandalf was initially against traveling through the Mines of Moria. He knew the Mines were dangerous, so he attempted to lead the Fellowship of the Ring over the mountains through the Pass of Caradhras, but the group was turned back by a blizzard conjured by Saruman. Gandalf tried to avoid the path of danger through Moria for the “safer” route, but the evil wizard Saruman placed a snare before Gandalf in the form of a storm. However, the snare backfired. It could not stand in the way of Gandalf’s hero’s story.
When Gandalf was pulled into the pit with the Balrog, his friends were distraught and grieved for him and it appeared that the Fellowship was crippled, but that event had to occur to move the story forward and to make Gandalf into something new. His descent into darkness prepared him for what lay ahead – an epic victory over Sauron.
Like Gandalf’s path through Moria, the hero’s path that lies before us in our every day lives may be shrouded in darkness.
One of my friends is having a very difficult time right now. Her brother-in-law passed away leaving behind his widow and two young children. Her father has also been very sick for almost two years. She has been forced to take on the role of caregiver to help her dad. This scenario is not anything that she would have asked for, but I believe in my heart that there is an opportunity for heroism in this trial for her and her family.
My friend may not realize it now, but caring for her dad, setting an example for her children, and being a devoted sister and daughter are all heroic actions that are sure to have positive consequences for her, her family, and her friends. Perhaps her own children may one day care for her with the same dedication and love that she has shown for her father because of the example she is setting right now. Her actions could even impact people she is not aware of. Another visitor at her father’s nursing home may witness her acts of love and kindness and be inspired to begin their own hero’s journey.
I have my own personal story of the hero’s path of paradox concerning my youngest daughter who was born with spina bifida. I will share that story with you another time.
Finally, what is the greatest example of the hero’s path of paradox is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The son of God was born in a cave. Though he was a king from the line of David, he did the work of a carpenter. As an uneducated man, he taught his disciples with the wisdom of a learned sage. And through his humiliating torture and crucifixion, he rose again to new eternal life as the glorious savior of mankind. Being reluctant heroes ourselves, we can take comfort in the fact that even Jesus experienced distress over the path before him.
He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.” He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; he said “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” – Mark 14:33-36
Life from death, joy from suffering, light from darkness. The hero’s path is a path of paradox and contradictions. Fortunately, examples of the hero’s path are everywhere. We can use those examples as guidance and inspiration to live out our own stories. While we may feel the urge to escape our hero’s path, we are called to submit to the story laid before us and “follow the thread.” We can be confident that the thread we follow will lead us to new life.