When I was a kid, I was a big history buff. I read almost everything that I could find that had anything to do with history, especially ancient history. A big part of understanding a culture is through reading its myths and legends, and I devoured countless books describing the exploits of ancient heroes.
During those years, I read many stories and watched many movies, with some of my favorites usually being about an ordinary guy rising to greatness in a variety of ways. The ultimate story of this genre was Star Wars (the original trilogy), which I could watch over and over again, never getting enough. The films seemed like the modern version of an ancient tale.
Over time I began noticing patterns in all these different stories. These different tales of heroes seemed to have some common trends. Even stories coming from cultures separated by thousands of kilometers and thousands of years, still shared similar storylines and moral themes.
This finally clicked together when I ran across a book written by Joseph Campbell called “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.”
Having gone through countless myths and legends, Campbell realized that there is a certain pattern inherent in all of them. The hero of the story has to go through a series of steps in order to achieve whatever he set out to achieve and to accomplish his quest.
Campbell called this the monomyth or hero’s journey. This description served to inspire several authors and film-makers of modern times. The reason why Star Wars seems to follow the monomyth so closely is because George Lucas was one of the guys inspired by the book.
“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is not the first work to come to these conclusions, but it has certainly proven to be the most influential in the United States. For example, in the former Soviet Union, this work was preceded by the ideas of Vladimir Propp, who studied Russian folktales and broke them down into several elements.
The hero’s journey is divided into several stages through which an ordinary man turns into a hero. Let this serve you as a manual for your journey, your own Hero’s Guide To Succeeding In Life:
1) Ordinary World
Every hero begins as an ordinary man, living an ordinary life in an ordinary world. He goes about his business and there is nothing that seems to predestine him for greatness.
In Ancient Greek mythology, in the story of Odysseus, at the beginning of the Illiad, the future hero is living as the King of Ithaca, with his wife and small son, Telemachus. He goes about his everyday business, ruling his country and his life is ordinary and predictable.
The same thing happens in modern stories. At the beginning of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is living the ordinary life of a moisture farmer on Tatooine, with his uncle and aunt. He hangs out with his friends and does other ordinary things.
For most of us, our ordinary world is the life we are living right now, with our daily routines and troubles. Sleep, work, home, repeat is the common cycle that many of us have to undergo daily. This is everyday life for us.
2) The Call to Adventure
The story of any hero begins at one point. He hears a call to adventure. It can be a single event or a series of events that shake up the life of the hero.
For Odysseus, it is when the Greek commanders come to his island to try to recruit him for their war against Troy.
For Luke Skywalker, it is when the two droids show up and all the events surrounding their arrival.
In our own lives, different events can serve as our calls to adventure, the wake up calls that make us realize that we are wasting our lives and need to shake things up in order to live a better life.
3) Refusal of the Call
Most heroes are usually reluctant at first. They have real life problems to worry about, their daily routines and other things they need to take care of. They don’t have time or the will to take on new tasks, especially things that are risky.
Odysseus wants to stay home with his family. Luke Skywalker needs to help with the harvest.
You might have your daily routines, your work, family and hundreds of other excuses that you use to refuse the call. There might be some fears or mental barriers that are holding you back.
4) Meeting with the Mentor
However this refusal is only temporary. Usually the hero overcomes his initial reluctance and his refusal of the call and does set out on the path of adventure.
There is usually an event, such as him meeting an older wise figure, that convinces him that this path can be taken, that in fact this path needs to be taken.
Odysseus is usually aided by the Goddess Athena, while Luke has Ben Obi Wan Kenobi as his mentor. Actually the word mentor comes from another Greek myth, that of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, who would end up going on adventures of his own, guided in this by an old man named Mentor.
In our lives, mentors are hard to come by. Unfortunately, most people in the modern world are lost without having anyone to guide them. There are a lucky few that do have one or several role models that have shaped them, such as their grandfathers, but most don’t.
That’s why they need to create their own mentors. Luckily, with every bad comes a good. Our time is full of constant stimuli and instant gratification, the bad, but it also has brought us all types of information available right at our fingertips. Your role is just to sort the bad from the good and find the information to help guide you on your path.
5) Crossing the Threshold
Once this reluctance is overcome and the hero is determined to go on this journey, he needs to bridge the barrier between the ordinary world and his quest. He needs to take that first step that will take him on his journey. This step can be physical or emotional or a combination, but it needs to be taken.
The hero makes a concrete decision to leave the ordinary world behind and to enter the world of adventure. There is usually an act that he does that sets him on his path. The hero overcomes his fear and his reluctance and finally says “fuck it”.
In his story, Odysseus tries to appear as if he had lost his senses and was mad and starts doing crazy things. However once his small son is placed in his path, he drops his disguise and joins the fight. He boards the ships and sets sail for Troy.
Luke too decides to join Obi Wan and after meeting Han Solo, ends up flying away from Tatooine in the Millennium Falcon.
6) The Challenges
Once he is away on his path, the hero needs to overcome many challenges and obstacles on his way. These are often blocking his path and if he wants to continue on his journey, he needs to muster up his courage and strength and deal with them.
The challenges might be physical challenges, or they might be people he comes across. Sometimes these people are trying to trick him and he needs to be able to determine friend from foe. This is the most perilous part of the journey and any of these problems can knock the hero off his path and destroy his quest. Yet the hero continues on fighting and overcomes anything standing in his path.
Odysseus needs to fight many battles against Troy and even once the war is over, his quest has not ended. In fact, the hardest part has just started. He needs to overcome many challenges, slay many dragons and outwit many foes in order to continue on his path and return home.
Luke too needs to deal with many challenges, being pursued by the Empire, he needs to escape, rescue the Princess and defeat the Death Star.
7) Approach To The Inner Most Cave
However even though the hero overcomes many challenges and starts becoming better and better, there is usually one hidden challenge, one hidden minefield that is more powerful than all the others and can destroy the hero. This is the make or break point, the point that separates the ordinary man from the superhero.
It is oftentimes an inner struggle that needs to be resolved, an inner Achilles Heel if you will that needs to be reigned in. It needs to be faced and vanquished. Resolving this conflict is crucial to the entire quest.
For Luke Skywalker, it is his continuous temptation by the Dark Side that is his greatest weakness. While training on Dagobah, he discovers a cave that tempts him to enter.
Once inside, he meets his greatest enemy, Darth Vader. He is enraged and starts dueling him, with the fight ending by Luke chopping off his head. The head rolls off and the mask starts melting. It reveals the face of Luke.
All along he had been battling himself. He came to realize that his greatest enemy was in fact himself and his mind.
We all have some innermost deamon that is haunting us and preventing us from reaching our true potential. This is the main obstacle that we need to overcome if we want to succeed in life.
8) The Ordeal
Once the hero comes back from the cave and realizes what his greatest weakness or fear is, he needs to use that lesson and confront it.
In Ancient Greek mythology, Odysseus must descent to the Underworld and face death. In Star Wars, Luke chooses to confront his Father, Darth Vader.
In our world, different people need to face their greatest fears head on if they want to emerge victorious. There is no way to bypass it.
9) The Reward
However once that final battle is over and done with, the reward comes. The hero emerges as a stronger person. Odysseus returns home to Ithaca. Luke sees what his own weaknesses are and returns to confront Vader. He sees that there still is light in him.
For you, once you reach your goal, not only will you get the satisfaction of achieving it, but you will also get real-life benefits from it. For example, if your goal was to get get bigger muscles, then there will be real life effects from that in real life, for example better health, being able to carry heavier things, or more respect from people.
Once you overcome that last challenge, you become a stronger, happier person, one who can achieve anything.
10) The Road Back
Even though the hero has achieved his goal and won, he should not rest on his laurels. He must now return to the ordinary world, carrying the new found wisdom and strength. He may still need to use that wisdom and strength for another combat.
Even though he returns home, Odysseus still needs to defeat all the suitors to his wife. Even though Luke chose to confront his father, he will still need to fight Vader in order to prove that he is right.
In the real world, you are never really done. You might have achieved your goal, but new challenges arise all the time.
11) The Resurrection
The resurrection is that final moment, when facing that greatest challenge, when almost at the edge of defeat, the hero pulls through and wins, restoring balance to the world.
Odysseus gets his son on his side and defeats all his enemies. Darth Vader turns to the Light Side, the Force Field is shut down and the Empire is defeated.
You have finally conquered your challenges and come to see yourself as a new person. All your struggles have given you a new, better life. You have been transformed and can finally live the life you have always dreamed about.
12) The Return with the Elixir
Now with these great powers, the hero needs to return home and share them with the world, to use them for good.
For Odysseus life returns to normal, his family is safe and he is a wiser ruler. Luke is now a new man, who will lead the New Republic and shape a new generation of Jedi – he is the Master now.
A man, when he succeeds in life, should not forget about the rest of the world, but needs to remember his great fortune and share it with the rest of the world, giving back to others. He has acquired great wisdom and grown as a person.
The lessons he has learned can be of great help to others also trying to go on their own journey and he needs to share his knowledge and skill with them. That’s what a real hero does.