Author Christopher Vogler explains in his book, “The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers,” that when he went looking for a set of principles to explain the art of storytelling, he found something even more profound. He discovered what he called a “set of principles for living.” Vogler describes these principles as the hero’s journey, which he drew from the depth psychology of Carl G. Jung and the teachings of the great mythologist Joseph Campbell.
According to Vogler, stories that are based on the hero’s journey are “…accurate models of the workings of the human mind, true maps of the psyche.” They deal with universal questions and themes, encourage emotional healing, and empower pathways toward emotional growth.
Becoming aware of and practicing these “set principals for living,” can build confidence, as well as foster personal development. Below are the stages of the hero’s journey noted by Vogler, followed by ways in which you can actualize them into a blueprint for your own inner hero.
1. “Ordinary World” The ordinary world is where most stories start. It’s where we see Dorothy on the farm in Kansas. It’s the mundane backdrop of where most of our lives are lived. In recognizing your personal inner-hero, realize that the most incredible life-changing events can start right in your own backyard, and sometimes even evolve and end there as well.
2. “Call to Adventure” This is the stage in which the hero of a story is presented with a problem. The question is how the hero will deal with his or her challenge. In real life, we are bombarded with a multitude of dilemmas each and every day. To set forth on your own hero’s journey, plan to deal with your ongoing challenges as if you were a protagonist, who at the end of the story will change for the better. That is, be cognizant of what kind of actions you will take to deal with your problems, actions that will lead you to a better, more transformed you in the future.
3. “Refusal of the Call” Vogler notes that this stage is often about fear. In the structure of a storyline, it’s the time when the hero thinks about turning back. In real life, be aware of how your fears may stop you from moving forward, and take steps to push through them. While at the same time, remind yourself of your ultimate goals, and call forth all the influences—and people—in your life who help increase your motivation.
4. “Meeting with the Mentor” The role of the mentor-like character in stories is to help the hero face the unknown. Mentors in stories are just the same as our real-life mentors: They provide advice and give guidance. Just like in fictional world, though, our real-life mentors can only go so far. Yes, our mentors, be they our family, friends, or therapists can only do so much for us. Eventually, just like the hero in a story, we must ultimately fight our own battles.
5. “Crossing the First Threshold” This is the moment in the story when the protagonist has overcome her trepidation and has decided to confront her problems. In your own hero’s journey, this is the time when you have decided that accomplishing your goals takes precedence over the holding-back drag of your fears.
6. “Tests, Allies, Enemies” Heroes in stories often face new challenges, while making both allies and enemies along the way. Part of the storyline function that these tests, friends, and antagonists provide is to show character development. If you want to encourage your own emotional growth, you may gain perspective by taking a look at how you’re reacting to the challenges in your life.
7. “Approach to the Inmost Cave” This stage represents the hero’s approach to the darkest and most dangerous of places, sometimes even near death. How the protagonist reacts is often the biggest test of her journey. In order to strengthen your inner-hero, take steps to prepare for the some of the most challenging aspects of your life, while acknowledging your vulnerabilities. Perhaps this even means facing your own mortality.
8. “Ordeal” The ordeal moment of the story is the part when the hero hits bottom. It’s a critical section in any story. In your own real-life story, recognize how you’ve dealt with hitting the bottom and confronting your greatest fear. And if you haven’t been there yet, ask yourself what steps you would take in order to emerge a better person for it.
9. “Reward” Nearing the end of the story, this phase is the part when the hero celebrates her survival over all the ordeals and challenges along the way. In your own journey, take time to acknowledge your accomplishments. Take time, also, to recognize how you may have changed through your ordeals, and ask yourself how this knowledge can help you teach others.
10. “The Road Back” In this stage, the hero is nearing the end of her journey and is about to come back home, yet realizes that there are still dangers and tests ahead and may need to reconcile with any of the negative forces still biting at her heels. In your own journey, take a look at relationships or situations that are still causing you grief. Perhaps it is time to either make amends, or confront your worse antagonist.
11. “Resurrection” During the resurrection stage, the hero is cleansed one last time in a kind of replay of the death and rebirth of the ordeal phase. It is the final test to see if the hero has really learned all her lessons. In real life, ordeals and challenges are always around the corner. Remember to employ all the life lessons you have learned thus far in order to greet them with as much grace as you can.
12. “Return with the Elixir” In this final stage, the hero returns to the ordinary world with an elixir. An elixir has the power to heal. It is often depicted as some kind of treasure or lesson. For example, in the “Wizard of Oz” Dorothy returns home having learned the lesson that she is loved and that “there’s no place like home.” Take a look at your own life. What is your elixir? What life lessons have you gleaned so far that can help you heal yourself, as well as others around you?
Tracy Shawn, M.A. lives and writes on the Central Coast of California. Her award-winning debut novel, The Grace of Crows, is about how an anxiety-ridden woman finds happiness through the most unexpected of ways and characters.