We get the wrong message in movies. If you are not saving the world, getting rich, or living happily every after by the end of the story, then it’s not worth telling.
I get it. A movie that is quiet and doesn’t have explosions will not have broad appeal. Movies are expensive to make. Studios have to recover their investment.
The unfortunate consequence of this is that we think our personal story and struggles are inconsequential, not worth talking about.
We then think that we are not the hero in our own life journey.
And that’s too bad, because it doesn’t have to be this way.
I thought like this for most of my adult life. Why create art grounded on my life experience when I’m ordinary. Why add to the noise already out there in the internet and the blogosphere?
Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art (an inspirational book I’ve re-read many times), wrote a blog post a few months ago asking the question, “What if a person produced an original, authentic body of work over a lifetime but never saw it recognized by the wider world? Would that artist’s working life have been in vain?”
His answer was no, the artist’s life would not have been in vain. It’s the journey that her soul had to take to grow as a person.
I subscribe to this view.
If no one wants to see my art or read my writing, should I still do them?
Because it’s my own hero’s journey. It’s why I’m here on earth.
But back up, What is a hero’s journey?
A Hero’s Journey is a Story Structure Used in Myths
The phrase "Hero’s Journey" was coined by Joseph Campbell in his book A Hero of A Thousand Faces published in 1949. He was the first person to identify a story pattern found in myths from around the world. The story pattern boils down to a 3-act structure: Departure, Initiation, and Return. At the beginning of the story, we see a character living in her everyday world. Then something happens that forces her to depart her current world and go into battle. Along the way, she is initiated to the way of the hero. She trains; she faces various conflicts as she approaches the final test. At the climax of the story, she passes the final test and is victorious. She then returns to the ordinary world, and shares what’s she’s learned with her community.
The story above is actually the Hunger Games. That’s what happens to Katniss. This story structure was made famous by George Lucas’ Star Wars. When Lucas was writing the script for Star Wars, he was actually reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero (short for A Hero of A Thousand Faces).
Our Hero’s Journey Will Never be made into a movie
Everyone is on their Hero’s Journey. You’re on one. I’m on another. We are all on our own journeys—even if we may not know what that journey is.
The Sad Part - Refusal of the Call
In a Hero’s Journey, there is a point in the beginning of the story where the Hero refuses to go on her journey. It’s maybe because she’s comfortable where she is (”It’s not that bad here”) or maybe it’s because of fear (”I don’t know if I will succeed. I might fail, so I’d rather not go.”)
The sad part is that people get stuck in that phase. They never start their Hero’s Journey. They live and die at that stage.
I’ve been in that stage for most of my adult life, even though I progressed in all the standard measurements of a successful life: education, job, financial, relationships. It’s not about having more. It’s about completing the picture that apparently my insides—let’s call it my soul—is seeking.
Your journey doesn’t have to save the world in an Hollywood way. You don’t have to save the galaxy like Luke Skywalker. Or save humanity like Katniss.
A Hero’s Journey can be large or small
Your journey can be large or small.
Going to Work Is Like a Hero’s Journey and that’s pretty small.
Getting a new job.
Moving to a new city
Going back to grad school
Taking up painting
Picking Up a new hobby
Starting that novel you’ve always wanted to write
These are all like going on a hero’s journey. You can go through the same hero’s path: Departure, Initiation, Return.
You’re the hero of your own story.
Why don’t you subscribe to this blog
If you liked this article, why don’t you subscribe to this blog. I write about how to Think Like An Artist at Work and the mechanics of storytelling in pictures. My current art project - A Million Suns - is a Hero’s Journey retelling.