Parable of the Sower: 10. Take the Hero’s Journey–Become the Mythmaker


This year I read a biography of Ronald Reagan by Rick Perlstein called The Invisible Bridge:  The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.   I was fascinated by the turn of events that caused Ronald Reagan as an inwardly-focused, shy boy to transform into the outward-going, charismatic individual he would be for the rest of his life.  It was not an external event, but an internal one.   He went to the library and started reading tales of heroes such as the “rags to riches” stories by Horatio Alger, and the Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.   He decided that he would embody the hero’s journey that he had been reading about.

It’s important in having a passion in life to recreate it from being the mere prosaic concatenation of events, the everyday version of what the historian Arnold Toynbee once called history as being described in dull textbooks as “one damned thing after another,” to being a hero’s journey or adventure.

1.  The Hero’s Journey:  the 10 Elements

What is the Hero’s Journey?   If you look at the illustration which I have borrowed from Jeff Salzman’s website The Daily Evolver, you can see that it has the following 10 elements, which I will illustrate using a modern myth that most people will recognize, that of Star Wars (the first trilogy).

a.  Call to Adventure

The hero is living a normal life, when he or she suddenly gets the call to adventure.   In the case of Luke Skywalker, he is living a prosaic life of what is the future equivalent of being a farmhand, when he purchases two droids, C-3PO and R2-D2. R2-D2 goes off in search of Obi Wan Kenobi, a “retired” Jedi master.

b.  Supernatural aid

In following the droid R2-D2, Luke gets to meet Obi Wan Kenobi, who invites him to help him on his quest to save Princess Leia.   Although Luke initially declines the invitation, his return to the farm brings the horrifying discovery that his aunt and uncle have been brutally murdered by agents of the Empire.   He decides to go with Obi Wan and so they go to town to sell Luke’s speeder and to gain passage on a space ship that will take them to the Princess.

c.  Threshold Guardian(s)

The Mos Eisley Cantina, (a “space bar”) is the threshold between the “known” (the planet Tatooine) and the “unknown”.  Here Luke sees people who have been out there in space, and has his first glimpse of aliens.    The guardians are the beings at the interface between the known and the unknown which test the readiness of the hero to move forward.   In the Star Wars saga, you could say that the aliens in the Cantina are the first test of the hero, because of them threatens Luke, who is rescued by Obi Wan Kenobi.

d.  Threshold (beginning of transformation)

Once they meet Han Solo, they leave the planet in the Millenium Falcon, which gets caught in the tractor beam of the Death Star.   When Luke decides to risk his life to save that of Princess Leia, to whom he is inexplicably drawn, that is the first step on his journey to becoming a hero.

e.  Challenges and Temptations (Mentors and Helpers)

Obviously, Obi Wan is the first mentor that appears to help Luke on his journey.  But as Joseph Campbell pointed out in his analysis of the Star Wars saga in his conversations with Bill Moyers, Obi Wan not only gives Luke a physical instrument of power (the lightsabre), he gives him a new psychological center as he teaches him about the Force and how a Jedi must work with it as the source of his power.

When Obi Wan sacrifices himself to allow Princess Leia, Hans Solo and Luke Skywalker (and the two droids) to leave on the Millenium Falcon, it is a temporary blow to Luke.   However, at the key moment when Luke is approaching the Death Star with a missile aimed at an exhaust post, he hears the voice of Obi Wan encouraging him, and with that encouragement, he manages to blow up the Death Star.   This is the end of the first movie.

In the second movie, he gains training from a new, even more powerful Jedi Master named Yoda, and with the training, he goes of to confront Darth Vader.

f.   Revelation

In the ensuing battle with Darth Vader, Luke has his hand cut off by Darth Vader’s lightsabre, and in the ensuing conversation with Luke, Darth does not kill Luke but invites him to join him and fight the emperor, and rule the Empire in his stead … as father and son!    Luke at first refuses to believe he his Darth Vader’s son, but after he escapes, he realizes it.   When I saw this in the theater for the first time, my shock was almost as great as that of Luke.   I thought this was simply going to be a Disney-like good vs. evil story, but it gained a level of intensity when I found that in this story, good was related to evil.

g.  Abyss (Death & Rebirth)

In a key scene at the end of second movie, he is given a prosthetic arm and it is clear that he is wondering if he himself is becoming part machine, like his father.   He decides that he must fight on the side of the good, even if it means doing the unthinkable, namely, killing his father.   This is the end of the third movie.

h.  Transformation

In order to get guidance from Yoda before the final battle, he returns to Yoda’s planet only to find that Yoda is dying.  Before his death, Yoda reveals that he has a twin sister from whom he was separated at birth … namely, the very Princess Leia whom he saved in the first movie!

i.   Atonement

Luke’s atonement is the killing of his father, or symbolically killing off the evil within himself.   During the very enervating battle, Darth Vader reads Luke’s mind and suddenly realizes that Luke has a twin sister.    Luke’s wanting to protect his sister from harm finally gives him the strength to subdue his father.   At this crucial moment, the Emperor comes to Luke’s side, and asks him to kill his father and take his father’s place at his side.   Luke refuses, throws away his weapon to signal that he rejects evil entirely, and then the Emperor starts attacking Luke.   This rallies Darth Vader, and he ends up killing the Emperor.   However, in doing so, he uses up his last ounce of strength.   He takes off his mask, thus essentially denouncing the evil role he had decided to play in life, and he and Luke have a reconciliation.    His father passes away having been saved spiritually by Luke’s overwhelming dedication to the light side of the Force.

j.   Return (Gift of the Goddess)

Luke returns to help celebrate, and he reconciles with his friend Han Solo and his sister.   The spirits of Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Luke’s redeemed father appear reminding him of the victory that he has won.   That is the end of the third movie.   In this case, the “boon” or “gift” he receives is knowing that he has saved his sister, and allowing her to pursue a romantic relationship with his best friend Hans Solo.

This is a typical Hero’s Journey and one of the reasons why the first triilogy (the less said about the second trilogy, the better) of Star Wars resonated with a generation of young people is because it told the timeless tale of that Hero’s Journey in a new, modern guise of science fiction and fantasy which George Lucas rightfully thought would appeal to that generation.

2.  Become the Mythmaker

Although my politics are very different than Ronald Reagan’s, I did come away from Rick Perlstein’s biography with an admiration for how he rewrote the script of his life, by making himself its centerpiece and hero rather than just a sullen observer from the sidelines.   He did it by imbibing the hero myths embedded in the stories he read in the library, but then he made the leap by deciding to become the hero himself.

So how do you become a myth-maker?   Here’s some ways to take the hero’s journey.

a.  Your play is your passion

What do you do when you play?   What do you think about when you are by yourself and day dreaming?

b.  Read fiction, watch fiction movies

Find out what type of books you like to read for fun, and among those books, which protagonists are the ones you identify most with.

c.  Record your dreams

What do you dream about?   What kind of plots are there, and if there are larger dreams that have a plot, what kind of obstacles or challenges do you face?

This method of inspecting the contents of your conscious mind when you are playful, or when you are unconscious and REALLY playful, is a good way to connect with what your passion is.

3.  My Journey

A few years back, I found myself, like many others in my company, suddenly told we were no longer working there.  I tried to go back to the same type of job for another company, but I found obstacle after obstacle where I had never found any in similar searches in the past.   I realized I was going to have change direction, but … what direction?  What new career should I embark upon in the middle of my life?

Toastmasters helped me change the narrative of my life, in a way similar to how Ronald Reagan changed his life by changing the narrative of it.   Now rather than focusing on the past and what society liked labeling as “failures”, I was now focusing on the successes I was having in the present, and extending that in my imagination to future successes I would continue to have.

I went through a period of introspection where I networked and asked others about what direction I should take, and I ran into someone who convinced me to look into project management because my work experience and my interests, she said, would make me a great project manager.   I took an introductory class at a community college and was fascinated.   This is really interesting, I thought.   Then I took a course on Microsoft Project to learn one of the tools of the new career I was contemplating.   I took to it like the proverbial duck to water.   Maybe this is for me, after all!

So I took a course that helped me prepare for certification as a project manager.   I took the class and passed!   But rather than resting on my laurels, I decided to volunteer and help put on the course the next time it was held.   As I did this, I started to help the next class of students study for the exam, and so I started my blog (the one you are reading now) where I would put the study group notes for the students to read between classes.

When the project manager putting on the class quit, I ended up being the project manager and put on three additional classes, and I also got project management experience by helping organize a job search seminar for project managers who were looking for work (like me).

At that time, I was called back to Chicago by my father who was having health difficulties.   When he had improved, I made the choice to stay here rather than going back to California, because I was starting to really connect to the community through my joining a local Toastmasters club.   I joined a church, and felt comfortable there as well.   And finally, I got project management experience again by being the project manager for one of the tracks of programming at the Professional Development Day event in 2013 put on by the local Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute.  This lead, in turn, to my being named the Chief Project Manager for the entire event this year.   And then, in July, I was chosen to be the Director of Certification for the Chicagoland chapter because of my experience helping run the PMP/CAPM certification exam prep class.

All of these experiences happened because I decided to leave the known and enter the “unknown”, in this case, a whole new career in the middle of my life.   But when I started taking that journey, people and experiences that helped me a long the way started to appear, and I am passionate about my career for the first time in a long, long time.   That passion makes me constantly look for ways to improve my knowledge base about project management, and to pass such knowledge along to others in the form of this blog.   Since others helped me along the way, it is natural for me to want to help others who are taking that journey as well.

One of the most satisfying things I do is to take phone calls as the Director of Certification from people who are wondering about the profession, or who are wondering how to further their profession through certification.   I want to help other’s take the Hero’s Journey as well!

That is why I look forward to 2015, as a way to go further on the adventure.   When you come to your profession as a calling rather than just a job, then you know you have made the right choice!

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