A quest is often defined as the search for or pursuit of something, undertaken by a single person often identified in literature as the story’s hero/heroine. If this is the case, then aren’t we all heroes in our own lives?
I don’t call myself a hero. In fact, recent situations have undoubtedly proven that I am anything but. However, as I reflect on my current circumstance and consider all those college literature courses, I see just how similar this road I’m on is compared to the hero’s journey.
There’s a fantastic representation of the monomyth from the University of California that shows just how cyclic this journey really is. The circle has no end point, just as there really is no “end” to our own adventures, whatever they may be.
I’ve decided that by viewing this transition in my life as a journey, I can begin to appreciate how far I’ve come and still anticipate how far I’ve yet to go…
“Fabulous circumstances surrounding conception, birth, and childhood establish the hero’s pedigree and often constitute their own monomyth cycle.”
Ok, so my birth wasn’t all so fabulous – there wasn’t a choir of heavenly angels playing their harps or a soothsayer foretelling some grand prophecy about how I’ll achieve some great power when I turned sixteen. Trust me, I waited. I was born at two o’clock in the afternoon in a hospital on Long Island, and the nurse probably smacked my ass to make sure I was breathing. That doesn’t exactly spell divination.
However, what I believe to be very telling is that the childhood establishes who the hero will be. I’ve always believed that your childhood makes up a large part of who you are, for better or for worse. I was lucky that I had such a good childhood, which is probably why it’s sometimes hard for me to reconcile the fact that I’m growing older, growing up. My childhood made me who I am and has led me to where I am today, which, in retrospect, despite my difficulty coming to terms with it and despite my impatience in getting a career started, really isn’t half so bad.
Call To Adventure
“The hero is called to adventure by some external event or messenger. The Hero may accept the call willingly or reluctantly.”
In my own particular case, I like to consider this as having a dream, a life goal — perhaps the dream of a career — encouraged by outside influences such as teachers, counselors, parents, and peers. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, but it wasn’t until I reached college that I realized a) I already was a writer, a message ingrained in me due, in part, to words of wisdom imparted to me by my dear friend, Josh; b) I needed another dream to sustain an actual living; and c) I found a new, perhaps parallel, dream in fiction editing. I’ve kept this dream close to my heart and am currently undergoing the (mis)adventure of attempting to make this dream a reality.
“During the early stages of the journey, the hero will often receive aid from a protective figure. This supernatural helper can take a wide variety of forms, such as a wizard, and old man, a dwarf, a crone, or a fairy godmother. The helper commonly gives the hero a protective amulet or weapon for the journey.”
While I would love the idea of a wizard or a fairy godmother helping me along my way (to turn pumpkins into carriages and mice into horsemen), I know without a doubt that the “protective figures” in my life are my family. Whenever I need to regroup, recharge, and rediscover myself, I know that I can always depend on them to support and encourage me. They are the protection I seek when I find the panic overwhelming me; they are my calm, they are my comfort. And they have instilled in me all of the strength and values I’ll ever need.
Crossing the Threshold
“Upon reaching the threshold of adventure, the hero must undergo some sort of ordeal in order to pass from the everyday world into the world of adventure. This trial may be as painless as entering a dark cave or as violent as being swallowed up by a whale. The important feature is the contrast between the familiar world of light and the dark, unknown world of adventure.”
This is the crappy part, with “unknown” being the operative word. I liken this to the period of transition and uncertainty that I currently find myself in, often leading to feelings of loneliness, a loss of a sense of self, doubt, and, often and most recently, overwhelming panic. When I was first getting ready to go away to college, I feared leaving the loving support of my parents and the comfort of home for an unfamiliar journey. I adapted to college life rather quickly and had a successful college career, but the fear of the unknown was so vivid, so paralyzing, that it was, indeed, an emotional trial for me.
Now, I’m able to recognize it when similar situations come to pass and old emotions reappear. It has changed me, forced me to continue on, and I am stronger for it. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, or so the saying goes — it’s trying to navigate the darkness of that tunnel and forcing yourself to move forward that is the greatest challenge.
“The hero travels through the dream-like world of adventure where he must undergo a series of tests. These trials are often violent encounters with monsters, sorcerers, warriors, or forces of nature. Each successful test further proves the hero’s ability and advances the journey toward its climax.”
I like that they call it “passing through a dream-like world” because I believe that’s exactly what this early twenty-something stage is. I read somewhere that the brain isn’t fully developed into that of a functioning adult until one turns 25 (2 months, you bet I’m counting it down!), and I really think that there is some truth to this. I have always maintained a child-like naïveté, believing that everything is possible if you just persisted, had a little faith, and remained true to your dream. Now, as I get older, I’m realizing that this may not necessarily be the case – my dreams are changing just as I am changing; I understand that some things are truly an impossibility and wanting it doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.
It’s one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn, letting go of this part of myself. I don’t mean in that it is all gone – I think I’ll always remain an optimistic dreamer, that’s a part of who I am. But I’m becoming more accepting of situations, more realistic. I’m taking off my rose-colored glasses and seeing the world for what it is. Still beautiful, still hopeful, just a little more…real.
“The hero is often accompanied on the journey by a helper who assists in the series of tests and generally serves as a loyal companion. Alternately, the hero may encounter a supernatural helper in the world of adventure who fulfills this function.”
I think of the helpers as your support system, your army. They may not be supernatural in form, but they are wonderfully amazing people who seem supernatural in their love and support of you. I know exactly who is behind me, as was recently evidenced when two great friends were able to lift me from the previous week’s funk and encourage me to have faith in myself and my dreams. They knew to be there when I needed them, knew exactly what words I needed to hear.
Whatever struggle you’re going through, whatever your adventure, these are the people who will always be there guiding your way and walking beside you, offering words of wisdom or just a shoulder to cry on.
These are the people that make it all worth it.
“This is the critical moment in the hero’s journey in which there is often a final battle with a monster, wizard, or warrior which facilitates the particular resolution of the adventure.”
I feel like this is where I am right now, in this new adventure I call After College. I am being tested in patience, flexibility, and internal strength. However, the monster I am facing is only myself, in the face of an uncertain future.
I’ve seen glimmers of hope — some days I feel confident in myself and my abilities, and that makes all the difference. On these days, the future seems promising, as if nothing can hold me back; I have faith that I can achieve my dreams and I believe in myself to do so. But there are other, more trying times where it’s difficult to see past the day, where I feel overwhelmed with emotion and the world seems small and impossible. It’s difficult to face an uncertain future when all the while you’re struggling to rediscover who you are.
I know that I’m going to incur so many more battles in my life. I also know that the point is to triumph at your little successes, to learn not to give up, to continue fighting for your dreams. I also know that what I’ll find at the end of it all will be greater than anything; what I’ll find is myself again.
“After accomplishing the mission, the hero must return to the threshold of adventure and prepare for a return to the everyday world. If the hero has angered the opposing forces by stealing the elixir or killing a powerful monster, the return may take the form of a hasty flight. If the hero has been given the elixir freely, the flight may be a benign stage of the journey.”
It’s smooth sailing from here on out, right? Actually, no. But I do feel as if something is going to change, whether due to my own making or by some opportunity presenting itself. Closely resembling the next section, it seems as if these past few months have been a preparation for whatever is to come — it has forced me to take actions that I may never have considered before (moving away on my own, for one example). I certainly wouldn’t have been ready had it been ten months ago, but I believe it’s true that things happen for a reason, no matter how much you don’t like it and no matter how hard you try to fight it.
So maybe now I need to enjoy the rest of this ride and use it as an opportunity that I may not have otherwise had.
“The hero again crosses the threshold of adventure and returns to the everyday world of daylight. The return usually takes the form of an awakening, rebirth, resurrection, or a simple emergence from a cave or forest. Sometimes the hero is pulled out of the adventure world by a force from the daylight world.”
For almost a year, after I quit my job, I’ve struggled with this restless feeling, coupled only by a loss of self-esteem and self-worth. Ever so slowly, I’m beginning to appreciate myself again, to regain my confidence and self-identity. Of course I wish I had never felt like this in the first place. Of course, I wish my situation was one of immediate success, rather than an emotional struggle. But in retrospect, I have truly learned so much. And I have discovered something remarkable: a strength, a quiet confidence, a transformation.
“The object, knowledge, or blessing that the hero acquired during the adventure is now put to use in the everyday world. Often it has a restorative or healing function, but it also serves to define the hero’s role in the society.”
Whatever adventure you‘re on, you‘ve undoubtedly taken away some knowledge with you, be it through reflection or direct experience. I haven’t reached this point yet, and I’m not sure when I will.
Two years out of college and I’m still trying to figure out who I am and what I want, as everything has turned upside down for me inside of this past year. But slowly, slowly I’m getting back to where I was, only a little bit older, somewhat wiser, and a lot more self-aware.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
I’m still trying to figure out my own journey, but I believe that this is the step where you can do that — where you offer what you have learned, where you become the sage, the wizard, the godmother to the next hero who sets forth on his or her own adventure.
I don’t feel qualified to give advice. My blog consists of my thoughts and my stories because I’m still struggling to make sense of it all. But from everything I’ve learned so far, I can offer this: there really is no end to it all. We’re going to continue facing various battles, of all shapes and sizes, masked and transparent. And there are going to be times when you want to hide and escape — we all have a vice, we all have an escape — and you will wish that you never began this journey at all, or maybe you’ll wish that you can go back and start over.
The point is, every action you take has meaning. Like connect the dots, each action leads to some other action, and it’s up to you to take the next step. So take a step back, look back and see how far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown, and know that the future has so much more in store for you than what you could have ever foreseen for yourself.
Life’s waiting to begin.