Step 2: Completing the Hero's Journey follows Step 1: Conceiving the Heroine's Journey.
Over the past seven years I’ve gone alone.
For my twenty-first birthday, my dream was to go to New York City to celebrate. I spent months planning the trip and invited my best friends at the time that said they were "IN". When push came to shove for many reasons whether it be money or time constraints, they couldn’t go. I was left with a choice, go alone or stay back with my friends.
I chose to go.
I knew a couple people in New York and on my birthday itself I had planned to meet a friend of a friend. For some reason, her phone went straight to voicemail and no matter how many times I tried, she just couldn't be reached. We had planned to go to the Museum of Modern Art and by noon I finally stopped waiting. “I’m here. I’m going.”
Through that experience and many others over the past several years, I've learned that pursuing your dreams often requires a solo journey.
A psychologist friend recently took my colleagues and I through a powerful exercise called “Biographies” (above) where you chart your life in seven year stages. In each stage you record the significant events and then examine it for themes and unfolding patterns. What I discovered from looking at my "going alone" stage from twenty-one to twenty-eight is that it strongly correlates to the “Hero’s Journey”.
After decades of studying ancient myths and stories, Joseph Campbell, developed the “Hero’s Journey” to describe the “monomyth” or universal storyline present in each. The general arc of this story unfolds where the hero (often male) hears a “call to adventure” and leaves the “known world” of home and family to undertake the “unknown world”. Whether alone or with the assistance of minor characters helpers, the hero conquers adversaries, obtains treasure and returns home with greater status or goods where he is welcomed and validated as a new leader and master of two worlds.
What Campbell also discovered through his studies is that we can apply this same storyline to our own lives and that each of us is experiencing our own hero’s journeys.
For me, my hero’s journey has been one of growth, learning, and exploring. I’ve traveled across twenty-five countries from the U.S., Europe, and Southeast Asia. I’ve held over twenty-four jobs ranging from serving in restaurants to managing graphic design firms to leading coworking spaces and doing global culture consulting.
Through these adventures, I've been blessed to meet many mentors, helpers, and friends and though it's taken many forms, I can see that the Hero's Journey is a cycle I’ve repeated over and over and over again. I answered every call. I went all in. I threw myself into the ocean and became a “Yes woman” or “Yes-mad” a digital nomad that says “Yes” to life.
As I round out this last year working and traveling in Southeast Asia, I see my hero's journey coming to an end. While it has been an incredibly insightful and useful framework, I’ve made a new discovery.
“The Hero’s journey is a search for one’s soul and is chronicled in mythologies and fairy tales throughout the world. This quest motif does not, however, address the archetypal journey of the heroine. For contemporary women, this involves the healing of the wounding of the feminine that exists deep within her and the culture.
In 1990, Maureen Murdock wrote The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness as a response to Joseph Campbell’s model. Murdock, a student of Campbell’s work, felt his model failed to address the specific psycho-spiritual journey of contemporary women. She developed a model describing the cyclical nature of the female experience. Campbell’s response to her model was, “Women don’t need to make the journey. In the whole mythological tradition the woman is there. All she has to do is to realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to” (Campbell, 1981). That may be true mythologically as the hero or heroine seeks illumination but psychologically, the journey of the contemporary heroine involves different stages.
The first part of the heroine’s journey is propelled by the mind and the second part is in response to the heart. The heroine has been working on the developmental tasks necessary to be an adult, to individuate from her parents, and to establish her identity in the outer world. However, even though she has achieved her hard-earned goals, she may experience a sense of Spiritual Aridity. Her river of creativity has dried up and she begins to ask, “What have I lost in this heroic quest?” She has achieved everything she set out to do, but it has come at great sacrifice to her soul. Her relationship with her inner world is estranged. She feels oppressed but doesn’t understand the source of her victimization. (Article: Heroine's Journey, Maureen Murdock)"
The Heroine's Journey describes with absolute accuracy what I am experiencing now. I’ve achieved a “successful life”. I’m doing work that I love, traveling around the globe with the support of a community of family and friends but in the process I’ve sacrificed much of my body and soul.
Though the soul is eternal and cannot die it has still suffered and been silenced beneath the noise of my mind. Additionally, my body has struggled to do all the things I demand it to do. My inner man has been in control with lofty performance goals and ambitions to live a life rich in life experience. And while this journey has been enriching it has also left me quite exhausted.
The body is an amazing vehicle for the soul and at a young age, I’ve found tools that allow me to heal just enough so I can keep going. That said, this isn’t sustainable. One mentor has said to me, “the biggest reason brilliant people fail is they burn out.” I know I have an inner journey of healing to surrender to do. My soul needs me to slow down, to listen.
Though I've been offered a full-time role with an amazing innovation company in Southeast Asia, I've decided to shift my focus from "doing" to "being" by taking the next three to six months off.
Sounds easy but keep in mind, I've built my entire identity on what I do. In making this decision my spiritual teacher asked me, "What feels like the hardest thing you would have to push yourself to do?" I replied, "Letting go. Letting go of "what I think I know" and "who I think I am" to explore my undiscovered multitudes, my "unknown unknowns" asking gently, who am I?"
As I step into my next seven-year stage from 28 to 35, my sense is carving out space to reset the currents of my life is timely.
“Finding out about being instead of doing is the sacred task of the feminine. Being requires accepting oneself, staying within oneself and not doing to prove oneself. It is a discipline that is accorded no applause from the outside world, it questions production for production's safe. Politically and economically it has little value, but it's simple message has wisdom. If I can accept myself as I am, and if I am in harmony with my surroundings, I have no need to produce, promote, or pollute to be happy. And being is not passive, it takes focused awareness." (The Heroine's Journey, Murdock, 1990, pg. 128)
So here’s to the next stage, a time of going inward, of healing, recovery, and rediscovery.
With gratitude and grace,
Kelsey Lotus Wong