Unfortunately, it has become all too easy for us to stay in our comfort zones thanks to the ready availability of… everything. Too often, the greatest challenge we will face on a daily basis is completing an assignment for work. The newest discovery we will make is often taking a different route home from work and if we ever decided to embark on this new found route home we might get lost and even worse be home late to watch the latest season of Game of Thrones and for some of us that’s too much to bare.
The fear of failure for everyone as we all know is at different levels in response to our individual journeys and view point of life, but what is universally the same is that we all at some point in our lives face the fear failure.
Right now today as I’m writing this, I hold some level of fear, fear of my present and fear of future. I’ve learnt over the years to be okay with that because I now know that the right amount of stress and pressure is necessary for anything to present a challenge and it’s the challenges we face in life that makes us come truly alive.
The problem is that most of us are chronically stressed and we’re stressed about things that we ultimately don’t really matter in the great scheme of things and that we just don’t care about.
The Empowered Life
Have you ever wondered why we watch movies and read books? It’s for escapism. It’s so that we can escape the dullness of our every day.
The heroes we read about aren’t ‘unstressed’. Usually they’re saving the world, fighting bad guys or getting the girl. But the point is that they are going on adventures, they are challenging themselves and they are growing. This is crucial for our own sense of development.
According to literary theorist Joseph Campbell, every single story in films, books, comics, legends, myths and yes even games is essentially a re-telling of the same tale. That tale is referred to as the ‘hero’s journey’ or ‘the monomyth’ and while different examples of fiction might veer from the structure more than others, most will still make the same critical stops along the way.
These stages include:
- The ordinary world
- The call to adventure
- Refusal of the call
- Meeting the mentor
- Crossing the threshold
- Tests, allies, enemies
- Approach to the inmost cave
- Return with the Elixir
During the first stage, the ordinary world, we find our hero in their ‘normal’ environment and get to know what their life is like.
While things are ‘just okay’ at this point, usually, the hero will experience some kind of pull or desire for adventure. Often the hero feels somewhat out of place, like they don’t quite belong.
This is a call in itself but often it will be compounded by a catalyst of some kind the discovery of a mysterious trinket, new information about themselves or their world, or quite often the death of a parent. In superhero stories, the hero will often receive new powers.
At first, the hero will be reluctant to accept the challenge. They’ll turn down the offer of adventure and need further persuasion and encouragement. This is ‘refusal of the call’.
Often, the hero will now meet some kind of mentor – often an older figure – who will give them words of encouragement and perhaps some kind of trinket or weapon that they will be able to take with them to help on their way. This is ‘meeting the mentor’ and in some cases this will happen later in the story.
Crossing the threshold is the point at which the hero accepts their road ahead and embraces the journey. Sometimes this will literally involve crossing a threshold into a world of adventure, other times it will be a less literal decision to try something new, or to take on a challenge.
Tests, allies and enemies describes the initial challenges faced in this strange new reality. Often this means meeting new allies and facing initial challenges and obstacles that aren’t too hard to overcome.
Eventually, the hero will make progress on their journey into this strange new world and they will begin to uncover its ‘core’. This is often described as the ‘inmost cave’ – the belly of the beast and the most dangerous and crucial part of the challenge.
The ordeal is the biggest challenge that the hero will face – and one that will often leave them battered and defeated. It is at this point that we normally see the end of act two, the point where all seems lost for the hero.
The next stage is when the hero turns things around, sometimes by accepting a higher cause/having a personal epiphany or by going through a literal physical transformation. My children’s favorite examples are Goku’s transformation into a Super Saiyan, or Neo’s into the One. Of course, this theme is also seen very commonly throughout religions and myths, with many messiah’s literally returning from the dead only to be stronger and more formidable than before. In other instances, the hero may receive a reward of some sort – such as an elixir, a weapon, knowledge or love. This may be the ‘MacGuffin’ that motivated the hero to leave in the first place, or it may be something unexpected.
Finally, the hero will journey home and then return with their newfound power and confidence, completing the coming-of-age story. They will often face down an evil in their home territory and may face a parental figure in order to become their own person and mature into an adult. They are now masters of both worlds. Of course, sometimes this elixir is love, in which case they will likely live happily ever after.
Finding Your Hero’s Journey
These themes are universal because they speak to our unconscious desires and commonalities. In particular, they speak to aspects of our psychology that are shared across all of humanity as vestiges of our evolutionary history. It is no coincidence that Joseph Campbell was influenced by the psychologist Jung who suggested the existence of a shared ‘collective unconscious’. Jung too, pointed out the many recurring themes across cultures, history and works of art in the form of ‘archetypal characters’.
We respond to this story because it is the story that we all shared when humanity was in its infancy. We would all have been born into a small, supportive tribe and then have been forced to venture out into the wild outdoors to discover pastures new and new resources.
We would have battled with monsters, foraged for food and become stronger and more formidable in the process.
And this is still our story to a degree. We still are forced at some point to leave home and to make new friends, to decide what we want in life and to grow as people. And we all strive for actualisation, that point at which we will feel we’ve found purpose and peace.
From all my years writing about health, mindset, lifestyle, business and entrepreneurship what I have learned is that the human body and mind crave challenge and new experience. Our body is constantly changing and if it is not taking on new challenges and having new adventures, then it is moving backward. It is up to you whether your body and mind grow or decay. This is why the brain releases reward hormones like dopamine and serotonin when we successfully accomplish a challenge and it’s why it becomes more plastic when we try to learn new subjects and that is why the fear of failure is predominant higher in some than others.
This is why we are more likely to enter a ‘flow state’ when we’re in an entirely new environment.
And when it comes to learning, the brain much prefers to learn through action and doing rather than through reading and theorising.
This is where we get our urge to go out and explore the world and to take on new challenges. We could stay in our comfort zone but then we would not progress forward as individuals or as a race. If we did not all share that ‘call to adventure’, then would humanity be where it is today? Or would we all still be living in caves?
‘We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.’
This is the best part of the human spirit and it is what exists in all of us. It is why we will continue to do great things and it’s why we become overweight, depressed and mentally weak when we don’t venture outside our comfort zones.
This yearning for adventure is what makes humans great and it is a fundamental, albeit forgotten part of who we are.
Take a look at this ‘monomyth’ and then compare it to the universal story of the modern man or woman. How different are those two things? So many of us are working hard just to keep living, instead of actually growing or challenging ourselves to break the ceiling and see the stars and beyond.