We are born with enormous potential. As we grow up, to defend ourselves from external attacks, we become covered with fears, insecurities, and doubts. These negative emotions become almost a second skin for us and we forget what we are really made of.
At a certain point, however, something happens in our life and a “crack” creeps into that armor of doubts that we have built on ourselves. It is in that moment that we have the opportunity to bring out what shines in us, there is a hero who is hidden in each of us, and to finally get rid of the layer of fears, insecurities, and doubts, we must embark on a journey: the journey of the hero.
The Hero’s Journey includes 12 specific stages, understanding which one you are in this moment and using that knowledge can help make meaningful strides towards the next stage.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL and the Hero’s Journey
Prof. Joseph Campbell, the author of the book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces“, has long been considered one of the world’s leading experts in mythology. Joseph Campbell in fact dedicated his entire life to the study of the myths of various human civilizations: from Native Americans to the ancient Greeks.
What he discovered was that in all the myths of heroes, handed down for millennia by human beings, there was actually a single story, a story that took place in 12 stages. This archetypal story is so powerful that every time it has been picked up in literature or film, it has led the authors to enormous success.
Star Wars, The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter: each of these sagas takes up the journey of the hero discovered by Campbell!
But the hero’s journey is not just a narrative formula that guarantees box office success, it is part of the DNA of mankind, and represents the path taken by thousands of heroes and heroines of our history. The psychology behind the Hero’s Journey, its meaning, can be a tool to give direction to what is going on right now in everyone’s life.
THE TWELVE STAGES OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY
The twelve phases of the Hero’s Journey could be briefly summarized as follows:
The hero, who lives in his ordinary world, receives one call. Initially, he does not accept the call and refuses, but instructed by a mentor, he overcomes his fear of him and crosses the first threshold, which allows him to enter the extraordinary world. From here a series of tests will begin, which will gradually approach the central test. After passing this test, the hero gets the prize and takes the way back. Before he can go home, however, he must also face a resurrection. Only then can he end the journey with one new elixir.
Below we will see in detail the meaning of each of the phases, trying to understand how this path can be translated into our lives and how it can help us face our daily challenges, to bring out our inner hero.
1) Status Quo / The ordinary world
Every great story begins with the hero represented as a nobody in his ordinary world. For example, he thinks of Neo (Keanu Reeves) in The Matrix when at the beginning of the film he is a simple employee of a multinational company.
Many of us are in this first phase of the journey: in our youth, it is not uncommon not to have had time to prove our worth yet, or perhaps we are no longer so young, but inside we have the impression that the life we are living it doesn’t belong to us and we know there must be more out there.
2) Call to Action / The call
At a certain point, an unexpected event occurs in the hero’s life: a serious problem, a wrong to be repaired, an unexpected challenge, an encounter with a special person, an adventure to be undertaken. This event will force the hero to come out of his shell and leave his ordinary world or “comfort zone”.
Even in our lives, we are often called to face unexpected difficulties and when this happens we have two options: to cry on ourselves and curse the universe or to take the situation on our own and face it with our own means.
3) Refusal to Change / Rejection
The hero does not always accept the call with enthusiasm, quite the contrary. As tight as he may be, leaving the ordinary world is not an easy choice. The hero hesitates and expresses reluctance. In other words: he feels fear.
This is perhaps the phase that most unites us in reality to the heroes of history. Faced with a difficulty that upsets our daily life, our first reaction is refusal. We just want things to go back to the way they used to be. We are afraid of what lies ahead: we do not feel like leaving our comfort zone. It is a completely normal phase.
4) Gathering Aid / Meeting the Mentor
To succeed in his enterprise, the hero needs help. To be precise, he needs a Mentor to guide him (the famous archetype of the Wizard). The relationship between the hero and his mentor is one of the most common themes of mythology and is rich in symbolic meanings; in fact it represents the relationship between parent and child, between god and man.
Throughout history, the mentor has had multiple representations: the wise old wizard (Merlin), the severe sports coach, and so on. The mentor’s task is to prepare the hero to face the challenges that await him, give him advice and tools with magical power. However, the mentor cannot face the hero’s challenges instead of him.
As far as we are concerned, it is essential that each of us find our own mentors.
If you are facing a difficult time, it is good to look for a trustworthy person who can guide us for our good. However, the mentor can show you the way, it is then up to us to follow it.
5) Crossing the threshold
Putting aside the initial reluctance and instruction by his mentor, the hero is ready to embark on his adventure and crosses the first threshold that leads him to enter the extraordinary world. Following the example of the Matrix, this is the moment when Neo decides to swallow the red pill and finally discover the truth.
This phase can be identified, for example, with that choice that in real life you are afraid to make: on the one hand, you can continue to live in the reassuring mediocrity of life you know all too well, on the other you can decide whether to embark on your own adventure. The challenges that await you on the other side are unknown, but the reward can be invaluable. What do you choose?
6) Test and Trials
Crossing the first threshold, the hero will face new challenges and by facing them he will create new allies and new enemies.
This also happens in our daily life. The moment we decide to get out of our shell, we will find ourselves tossed into new experiences and we will have the opportunity to form new friendships that will prove to be extremely valuable. During our adventure, however, we will also meet people who are ready to hinder us. The important thing is not to get knocked down, it’s part of the game: we are the protagonists of our life and every protagonist must have a worthy antagonist.
7) Final Approach
At this point in the story, the hero arrives at the edge of a dangerous and threatening place, where the object of his research is hidden. When the hero enters this scary place, he will cross the second great threshold. Before entering, however, there will be an “approach” phase, during which the hero will have to prepare himself and will have to study the best strategies to evade the threats that will hinder his entry.
Even in real life, you can experience this phase of approaching a great test, perhaps in this period. The best way is to face the great test with as much serenity as possible, always preparing first in an appropriate way for the circumstance.
8) Supreme Ordeal
The hero is now facing the most important test of his life. The stakes are huge and the hero will have to face death and overcome his deepest fears. The central test is a “dark” moment in history and often the hero seriously risks dying or even dying, only to be reborn.
When we watch a movie or read a book, we have that reassuring feeling that whatever happens, everything will be for the best. In our life, on the other hand, we tend to get discouraged much more easily and it is how we react in this phase that makes us heroes.
9) The Reward
Once the central test has been passed, the hero is finally worthy of this title and can appropriate his just reward (a treasure, a sword, an ancient priceless relic, the beloved or the beloved, etc.).
Sometimes the reward is not an object or a person, but greater self-knowledge and self-awareness. The prize is therefore also proof of the hero’s maturity.
Often in life, we are faced with really difficult moments, but if these moments have a purpose, that is, if we can put them in perspective and see these difficulties as part of a bigger plan, going through them will be easier. It is always good to have in mind what our goals in life are, what our goal is.
10) Returning Home
Passing the central test is not enough. Now the hero must face the consequences of having challenged the dark forces in the cave of the extraordinary world. The way back is full of dangers, temptations and new challenges.
A classic example of a way back scene is Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia’s escape from the Death Star, with plans to defeat Darth Vader.
How to interpret this phase in our daily life? Just think of all those moments when maybe you reached the first milestone and then you let your guard down: sometimes it’s not great, right?
11) The Resurrection
In this eleventh phase, the resurrection phase, the dark forces launch their last and desperate attack. The hero, to return to the ordinary world, must face this last exam. Having overcome this umpteenth crisis, the hero, reborn, can finally return to his ordinary life, but nothing will be the same again.
In our life, every time we face difficult times, even after having overcome them, we feel the consequences. Resurrecting means accepting that a part of us died during that difficult trial and becoming aware that another part, stronger and more prepared, was born from the ashes.
In the twelfth and last phase, the hero returns to the ordinary world, but he does not do so empty-handed, he brings with him an “elixir”, that is a treasure, an amulet, or a technology that can benefit the entire community.
For our journey to be complete and meaningful, we must learn to share what we have learned along the way with others, become their mentors if necessary and if we want to. If you find yourself in this phase of life and satisfaction and success have already been achieved, it may be time to give something back. Often there is no greater satisfaction than helping others, thanks to our advice, our experiences.
Another important lesson that can be learned from the meaning of the Hero’s Journey and its twelve phases is that in real life every day, more times than you think, you are called to make an important decision: you can decide whether to be the hero of your life or the victim.
After all, the only meaning of our life is what we decide to give it