The Hero’s Journey Feels A Lot Like The Loser’s Journey
By Callie Oettinger
published June 29, 2018, stevenpressfield.com
No one starts as Superman. Not even Superman started as Superman. He was a toddler lifting cars and a teenager racing against trains before he turned to nerdy glasses and clumsy behavior to hide his superhuman strength and then use that strength to oppose the forces of evil.
Luke was just a teenager with a knack for repairing robots before he met up with Old Ben—and Dorothy was just a young girl in Kansas, worried Mrs. Gooch would take her dog Toto from her.
They didn’t know it, but they were smack dab in the middle of the hero’s journey. Every experience prepared them for the artist’s journey. Fighting Mrs. Gooch was prologue to fighting the wicked witch.
In The Artist’s Journey (to be released in July), Steve wrote:
“Our primary hero’s journey as artists is the passage we live out, in real life, before we find our calling.“The hero’s journey is the search for that calling.“It’s preparation.“It’s initiation (or, more precisely, self-initiation).“On our hero’s journey, we see, we experience, we suffer. We learn.”
Looks good on paper, but what about in real life?
Steve also wrote,
“The hero’s journey ends when, like Odysseus, we return home to Ithaca, to the place from which we started. We wash up on shore. We have survived. We have come home.”
I don’t know anyone who has washed up on the shore, then disguised himself to hide from his wive’s suitors, and then fought them to the death, before being reunited with Penelope.
I do have a dear friend who struggled with alcohol and drugs, and with being a wife, and who is now the most extraordinary mother of three, on the verge of acquiring a dream job. But before? She looked a lot like someone on a loser’s journey instead of a hero’s journey. But then something changed. Something clicked. She evolved. She became the hero of her story.
And, I know she’d say the same of me. She’s seen me at my best and worst—and those times have never been accompanied by trumpeting angels, welcome home parades, or any other glory. More often, it looks like me biting my nails, skipping sleep in favor of caffeine, gaining weight, crying, wondering why “this” is all happening, and then . . . And then each time I emerge I’m a little stronger. I wash up on my own personal shores, without Ithaca anywhere in site. I’ve found that I’ve washed up fewer times, because Calm has started visiting more often than Crazy. Experience brought that. I know how to battle Crazy because I know his ways, his plays. I know his next move and I know the one after that and the one after that. But . . . when I’m going through Crazy, the hero’s journey feels like the loser’s journey.
But once on the other side . . . Once washed ashore . . . That’s when the artist’s journey begins.
Think about Erin Brockovich. She was a single mom in need of a job. She didn’t set out as a crusader and consumer advocate. She just needed a paycheck. But, then the opportunity presented itself to her.
Every day of life prepared her for that moment. She grew up struggling with Dyslexia, given a hard time by peers and by teachers who asked if she was stupid. She also relied a lot on her memory, which is classic coping for people with Dyslexia. She relied on information stored, rather than constantly having to find it. That means, that when she was confronted with “The Call,” she had already been fighting most her life, had already been memorizing names and numbers and other information, had already dealt with her fair share of jerks and naysayers, and knew how to bounce back against hardship. When “the Call” came, she tore down the walls in front of her.
In this week’s “Writing Wednesdays” post, Steve wrote about “the Call.”
“When we speak of ‘the Call’ that initiates the hero’s journey, it’s often an opportunity that suddenly appears, an imposed expulsion, an emergency that demands action.”
For Brockovich, the people of Hinkley, California needed her help.
But . . . What does that look like for you and me? What does it look like for the rest of us?
This past week, Steve also shared more information about Tim Grahl’s new book Running Down a Dream.
Running Down a Dream is what the hero’s journey and then the artist’s journey looks like for most of us.
It is being distracted by video games and coffee breaks with friends instead of being distracted by Sirens.
It is fighting against our own demons instead of the Cyclops.
It is also little things, like telling the HOA to go to Hell over it’s “no clover in the yard policy” instead of surviving Charybdis.
Black Irish Books is publishing Tim’s Running Down A Dream and Steve’s The Artist’s Journey at the same time.
Yeah . . . I’m on the Black Irish team, but I know I’d say this anyway: Check out both when they are released in July (more info to come).
Steve’s book explains the journey and Tim’s book offers a look at what that journey looks like for the majority of us. It’s not easy and I imagine Tim’s book was as painful to write as the experiences he chronicles were painful to live.
Both books helped me.
It’s easy to forget what the drama swirling around is about. It is about forging our tools and then emerging from the drama with what we need to fight during the artist’s journey.
And, it’s also easy to forget that there’s always more than one journey going on at a time. I look at my own life and there are areas in which I have it 100% together and other areas in which I’m 100% a mess.
I thank Tim for being honest with his journey in a way few people are these days. This isn’t a look-at-me-and-how-wonderful-I-am Facebook story. It is real life and how so many of us exist.
I thank Steve for breaking apart the journey and explaining it.
I’m better off for both of these books. Hope you’ll check them out, too.