Hero's Journey

What makes a hero? | Matthew Winkler

The Hero's Journey


What trials unite not only Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins but many of literature's most interesting heroes? And what do ordinary people have in common with these literary heroes? Matthew Winkler takes us step-by-step through the crucial events that make or break a hero.

The Hero's Journey: Return with the Elixir

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Author's note: This week is the twelfth in a 12-part series on the Hero's Journey, or the monomyth proposed by Joseph Campbell. The final stage is the Return with the Elixir. The end is the beginning is the end." -The Smashing Pumpkins

At the end of the Hero's Journey, we find contentment and peacefulness, rest assured that we have changed, remade, or otherwise saved the world. Every tree-bound feline has been rescued, every thoroughfare safety traversed by both young and old, and every threat referred to the nearest asylum, hospital, or prison.

But there is no retirement home for heroes.

In the Road Back, we returned to transform our organizations, our communities, and our worlds. In the Resurrection, we accepted our identities and committed to living lives matching our potential and our power to make a difference. In the Return with the Elixir, heroes lead change within their organizations, their communities, or their worlds, while also concluding one journey and launching a new one.

Leading Change

After an arduous and perilous journey, fairy tales, legends, and Hollywood tells us that the hero rides into the town square and delivers the elixir. The townspeople spill out into the streets and unite in celebration, as the hero quietly slips away and rides off into the sunset.

And yet, what would happen if you returned from an impactful institute, or powerful, life-altering program, presented the definitive solution for all of the world's problems, and then slipped out of the room to watch your favorite reality TV series? You probably could find your magic solution precisely where you left it: unconsidered, unnoticed, and untouched. (If not, you ought to investigate the nearest trash receptacle.)

Countless blogs, books, seminars, etc. have been devoted to the challenge of leading change (such as the groundbreaking book and online resource by that name), but the most important and relevant part for the Hero's Journey is that the Return with the Elixir is not just a destination or outcome, but an ongoing process. It is a process of changing, of healing, and above all, of leading.

"The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become." -Joseph Campbell, the Hero with a Thousand Faces

In this process, you also have the opportunity to become the mentor, to lead others to discover their own potential, and to traverse and triumph through their own heroic journey.

The Next Journey

At the moment you think you have achieved everything you can achieve, you choose to either stop living or to start venturing. For those who have chosen the hero's journey, there is no cruise control, no pause button, and no vacation.

Look again at the image of the hero's journey. The Return with the Elixir brings you back to the Ordinary World, albeit a world with a "new normal".

"Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world." -Lauren Bacall

I oftentimes marvel at the Chicago Bulls of the 1990's, my favorite basketball team growing up, which won six championships that decade. Many professionals in the sports world have said that it is much more difficult to win a second consecutive championship than to win the first. The reason is that, if you put forth the exact same level of performance the second time, chances are that everybody else already is prepared to match, or to surpass, that level of performance.

Imagine the amount of focus, motivation, and strength it must have taken for one team to win six championships in eight years.

Now imagine the commitment, focus, motivation, and strength for those people who have given their whole lives to a cause, to an issue, or to an organization.

What are the causes, issues, or organizations that matter for you? Who are those people who inspire you to step up, to take a stand, and to make a difference?

Is that commitment a single journey, or a series of journeys?

Whatever your response, the most pressing question is: Are you ready to be more than ordinary, to be extraordinary?

The Hero's Journey: Resurrection


Author's note: This week is the eleventh in a 12-part series on the Hero's Journey, or the monomyth proposed by Joseph Campbell. The eleventh stage is Resurrection.

"No prophet is accepted in his hometown." (Luke 4:24)

If you have ever gone to a compelling conference, an impactful institute, or powerful, life-altering program, you may have experienced a hero's Resurrection.

At the end of such an amazing experience, you may have felt like you could change the world, or at least, make a positive difference for your organization or in your own life. The environment of the experience; the colleagues, friends, or fellow journeyers; and the immersive, albeit somewhat isolated nature of the program can make you feel like you are far, far away from the Ordinary World.

Then, reality strikes.

When you return to your community or organization, you may feel like you are leading a double life. For example, as a prophet is born and raised in her hometown, the people may remember her faults or immaturity from a previous time, or their own experiences and history with her, rather than the insights and wisdom she now brings as a prophet.

When you returned from your amazing experience, it is easy to forget that the people in your community or organization did not "drink the Kool-Aid" and have that same experience.

For those people, they see you as the person who boarded the bus or plane three, four, or five days ago, and not necessarily the new person you have become through your journey.

I have had this experience, whether coming back from LeaderShape as a participant in 2000 with a vision to address hazing in my organization, or returning from a professional conference, brimming with best practices and innovative ideas.

This is the challenge of the Resurrection. Whereas it is challenging in and of itself to become the person you have the potential to be, the final challenge of the Hero's Journey is to return to your community or organization, accepting, combining, and even reconciling the person you were with the person you have become.

Throughout the Hero's Journey, you have changed, you have grown, and you have become more and more the person you have the power to be. The Resurrection is a moment of acceptance and transformation, where you commit to living and owning your new identity.

Throughout the Hero's Journey, you have developed the Heroic Arts: Question, Courage, Strength, Speed, Sacrifice, and Team, you have confronted your fears in the Innermost Cave, and have triumphed in becoming your authentic self through the Ordeal.

Abraham Maslow, a pioneer in the field of psychology, identified Self-Actualization as the highest point in his presentation of a human being's heirarchy of needs, which begin with physiological needs and progress to "higher order" needs such as love and belonging, self-esteem, and ultimately self-actualization.

For the journeyer, this self-actualization also is the pinnacle of the Hero's Journey.

“Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it.” –Buddha

Writing Wednesdays: The Hero’s Journey in Real Life | Steven Pressfield Online


Andy may not admit it, but he has “heard the call” (and tried to avoid it); he has launched himself with trembling tread into the unknown; he has dueled monsters, received aid from unexpected sources, experienced All Is Lost moments, and at length returned home, bearing a gift for the people. The gift Andy brings is his writing. His gift is an album of life as it is lived in Konar and Paktia, under the helmets of Marines in the field and in the shit.

The hero’s journey in real life begins in darkness. A seed burgeons, way below consciousness. This seed is the germ and kernel of ourselves-in-becoming. It is not us-as-we-are. It is who we will be.

We are pregnant with ourselves, as Andy was, and we feel it. We experience it as restlessness, dissatisfaction, anger, shame, irritability with ourselves and with others. We experience it as Resistance.

The hero’s journey in real life is personal. It is about us and us alone. Our gift—which is unique to you and me and which no one else on the planet possesses—breaks through the soil like a fiddleheaded sprout, which is ourselves-in-becoming. No wonder our knees knock as we launch on the journey. No wonder we feel fear and pain. No wonder the stakes seem like life and death. They are.

The hero’s journey can take place on a battlefield or in a cubicle. We can live it out amid public clamor or in the soundless vault between our ears. The demons we are dueling are always the same. They are our own fears of becoming who we are. No one who has ever lived—or ever will—has a journey like ours. And yet our journey is universal. It is every woman’s and every man’s.

via Writing Wednesdays: The Hero’s Journey in Real Life | Steven Pressfield Online.

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.