The Hero's Journey: The Road Back


Author's note: This week is the tenth in a 12-part series on the Hero's Journey, or the monomyth proposed by Joseph Campbell. The tenth stage is The Road Back. The Road Back is what separates the heroes from the champions, the change agents from the leaders, and those who will change the world from those who will create successes in their own lives. The Road Back shows us those who we can count on to go the distance, and those who may be satisfied by their own triumphs.

In the Ordeal and the Reward, you-the hero of your own journey-achieved the greatest triumph of your life, and through that triumph received the greatest treasure you could ever imagine.

This treasure is the power to create infinite possibilities for you or your organization, the power to transform yourself, your organization, your community, or even your world.

You've overcome the Ordeal, so you're done, right?

All of us are blessed with amazing experiences. From those moments that bring us to our knees, to those where we feel like we are on top of the world, each and every one of us has our own learnings and lessons. Through those learnings, we find great strengths and truths, which give us the power to transform ourselves, our organizations, our communities, or even our world.

"Close scrutiny will show that most "crisis situations" are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are." -Maxwell Maltz

Those who are champions and leaders climb the mountain for themselves, but heroes and change agents come back down from the mountain for others. Those who choose the Hero's Journey and confront the Ordeal find strength and truth within themselves, but those who commit to the Road Back offer those valuable experiences to benefit their organizations, their communities, and their worlds.

In the Innermost Cavethe Ordeal, and the Reward, I introduced an example from my own journey in which I wanted to address hazing in my organization. (You can find my story here.) At the time, before I was forced to leave in the middle of the night, I had not invested in the potential of others, which remains one of my deepest regrets. At the time, my focus was informing others where I stood, and then hoping that some of them may choose to join me. For example, as scholarship chairman my junior year, I had the opportunity to supervise study hours for the new members away from the chapter house.

One night, two sophomores and I read the fraternity's and university's policies against hazing, closing with the words, "If you are ever uncomfortable, you can come to our room and not participate."

The three of us could have done more. I could have done more. I could have cultivated more personal, one-to-one relationships, encouraging each person to find his potential and turn away from the empty promises of "tearing down, and building back up". I could have simply been present more, rather than working two jobs in part to avoid participating in the pro-hazing program.

After experiencing the Ordeal of my story, I found my strength and truth, but I did not find a Road Back to continue serving my former organization. Instead, I chose to commit myself, both professionally and through my volunteer work, to the fight against hazing. These are my opportunities to share my learnings to help others in some way.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero Gilgamesh experiences a fantastic journey, culminating in him obtaining a plant that has the power to restore one's youth. A snake then steals the plant, and Gilgamesh returns with empty hands, but also with a knowledge and acceptance of his own mortality. This helps the hero see that through his legacy-that is, his contributions to his community and the experiences, learnings, and truths he shares with others-he can achieve immortality.

What do you do to help others-individuals or organizations-find their own potential?

When you reach the goals you have for yourself, do you go back to your organization or your community to help others find their potential? Or do you simply say, "I've done my time"?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.