The hero’s journey: 4 phases & 6 choices of living your purpose
The most universal story of mankind is what mythologist Joseph Campbell called the “hero’s journey.” He summed it up in his classic work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces:
“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.”
But there’s far more to the story than this. And anyone who wants to find and live their purpose needs to be intimately familiar with the story.
In the hero’s journey we find four phases of living purpose. Furthermore, within the four phases there are six distinct choices you must make.
These phases are the same for everyone pursuing a purpose at any level. Their intensity may vary depending on the quest or the task, but the process is always the same.
When you understand these phases and choices, you can navigate your purpose journey much more confidently and you’ll be much less likely to quit along the way.
The Four Phases of the Hero’s Journey
Let’s begin with an overview of the hero’s journey:
Phase 1: The Call
In this phase, the hero is presented with an opportunity, a mission, a task to complete, a quest to fulfill.
Gandhi felt the call to free India from Britain’s oppression. George Washington felt the call to lead the Revolutionary War. Walt Disney felt the call to entertain children. Neil Armstrong felt the call to explore outer space. Michael Jordan felt the call to play basketball.
The Call is essentially your purpose — the unique service to humanity that you and you alone can perform. No Call is better than another; there is no hierarchy of purpose.
If you find yourself interested in something, if you lose all track of time while you’re doing it, if you just love to do it, then that’s your call. This is what Joseph Campbell referred to when he counseled to “follow your bliss.”
You may love to write, or sing, or dance. You might love building things with your hands. Or maybe it’s organizing things.
Whatever your talents are, whatever makes you happy, do whatever you can to follow that path and develop your talents.
The Call rarely comes like a lightning bolt from heaven, with choirs of angels singing. Rather, it comes subtly in the form of small promptings, quiet whispers, persistent intuitions, flashes of insight, illuminating ideas, talents and skills that come naturally to you, paths that interest you.
Far too many people sit around waiting for God to tell them what to do before acting. But that would render the choice to follow the Call meaningless.
You must stare into the darkness, feel the fear grip you, shoulder the burden of doubts and worries — and then choose it anyway. Because then, your resolve will be that much stronger as you press forward through the fear, confusion, and uncertainty.
The clearer and more unmistakable the Call, the easier it is to quit when it gets hard because you feel entitled to everything working out just as you expect. This would rob you of the blessings that come from the struggle.
The Call must be a spur that prods you to self-motivated action, not a crutch that limits your initiative.
The number of calls you receive, the force and clarity with which they come, and your ability to recognize them depend entirely on your willingness to heed them.
You will not be called to do great things if you are not diligent with small things. The more diligent you are with your minor calls, the more major calls you receive.
Phase 2: The Roadblock & the True Beginning
When you receive your call, your energy and passion are high but your direction is low. You’re excited about it, but you’re not exactly sure what to do. You’re lacking in knowledge and skill.
But you’re ready to charge forward. So you start on your quest. Soon after following and engaging with the call, you hit a roadblock.
The roadblock is something that shows you that your quest is not going to be as simple, easy, quick, painless, or as popular as you thought it would be. You realize it’s going to take more time and effort than you initially thought.
For example, you might feel excited to join a network marketing opportunity. You start talking to your friends, and someone shuts you down.
Or maybe you set a goal to lose weight and you start exercising and realize how out of shape you are and how long it’s going to take you to get into shape.
Or perhaps you feel called to start a charity and try to solicit donations and realize how hard it’s going to be to raise money.
The roadblock is a reality check that often dampens your excitement. It forces you to take a long, hard look at your original commitment to see if you’re really committed or not.
If you choose to push through the roadblock, then your journey truly starts.
Most people think that the journey begins with the Call, but it really doesn’t start until you recommit after hitting your roadblock and find a way past it.
This is the true moment of commitment.
When you chose to follow the call, it was about excitement and passion. You saw a vision of what could be and you got excited about it.
Now, at the true beginning, you’re under no illusions that the journey is going to be easy. You have at least a better sense that this is going to take a real commitment.
So you commit and you start on your journey.
Phase 3: The Desert
After pushing forward, you reach the desert. This is the time of long, hard work in the trenches. This is the grind phase where you just have to keep working, you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
In this phase, you plant seeds without knowing if they’ll ever sprout and come to fruition. It often feels like you’re never going to make it. You feel lost, alone, confused, and discouraged.
It takes stamina, grit, and determination to make it through the desert. If you stop in the desert, as most travelers do, you will not succeed.
Phase 4: The Ultimate Test
After crossing the desert, you then hit the final phase: the Ultimate Test. This is your Valley Forge, your Gethsemane.
The Ultimate Test is so hard that you literally cannot overcome it alone. You need a miracle. You need God’s intervention to overcome it. You need the universe to realign to help you.
The good news is that if you pass the Ultimate Test, success is guaranteed. The bad news is that if you don’t, all of your previous efforts go to waste as regards that particular quest.
This is your final big choice when your whole body is screaming that it’s too hard. People are talking about you. Your supporters are leaving you.
You plant your feet, square your shoulders, look your test in the eye and say, “I will not give up. Throw what you want at me, I am doing this.”
Then, the universe shifts. Miracles come, money shows up out of nowhere, people show up to help, people have a change of heart, connections are made, doors open, mountains move.
Success comes when you stand firm against the Ultimate Test.
The 6 critical choices to live your purpose
Here are the critical choices that must be made on your journey:
Choice #1: You must make the choice to heed the call.
Choice #2: You must choose to push through the initial roadblock and truly commit.
Choice #3: You must choose to cross the desert.
Choice #4: You must choose to find your oases in the desert. If you don’t, you’ll burn out and quit.
This can be as simple as taking regular time for rest and relaxation. It can be daily meditation to calm your mind.
The best oases that I know of are engaging with mentors and attending seminars and events that rejuvenate you, teach you new principles, introduce you to new people.
Choice #5: You must find and submit to the right mentor or mentors.
Mentors are people who have been where you’re trying to go. They’ve experienced the journey. They know the pitfalls and the challenges. They see your blind spots and help you avoid pitfalls. They can help you see things in a new light so you can make better decisions.
Choice #6: You must choose to accept and pass the Ultimate Test.
Whatever your purpose, if you want to live it fully, I guarantee you must go through the four phases of the journey and make these six choices.
In my next article, I’ll give you the keys for crossing the desert.