Thinking of Your Career as a Hero’s Journey is a Key to Success

Joseph Campbell popularized the idea of the Hero’s Journey and explains it simply as:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

You find this same story structure in religion, great films and novels, and also in our own personal lives. The most significant times of personal evolution follow a very similar path.

But our lives are not just one hero’s journey; they are made up of many. We are working through concentric hero’s journeys. You could imagine these hero’s journey narratives on a clock with a second hand, a minute hand, an hour hand, a year hand, a lifetime hand.

There is life-long narrative, but also a narrative about a 5-year span, a year, a month, or even a day.

To put it another way, at the micro and macro level we are moving through hero’s journeys.

Getting Stuck on Your Journey

When you are feeling stuck and dissatisfied with your work and life, it is valuable to step back and think about where you are on your hero’s journey.

What you may find is that you are stuck along the way.

When you feel uncomfortable with the way life is going and have a strong urge to escape, it is usually not because you are in a situation that is fundamentally wrong, but because you have accepted a call to adventure but now you’ve reached a point of fear and want to return home. You have seen the gates of Mordor and want to run back to Hobbiton.

You’ve accepted a call to action but are not fully committed. So the solution to your problems, stressors, and dissatisfaction is not to escape, but to step forward and commit to more.

Quitting Is Probably Not The Answer

Leaving your job is a valid thing to do. But the proper time to do it is at the end of your quest—after facing challenges and evolving into a better version of yourself—not at the halfway point when things get hard.

They quit the job and search for a new one, imagining it will be better, but inevitably they encounter the same resistance again.

But halfway is exactly where most people quit. They start something new and bask in the glow of low expectations during their first few months. They gain mentors and allies and encounter minor challenges which start to cause stress and anxiety. As the challenges grow and they realize more and more how much they need to improve, the urge to escape arises. Feelings of unworthiness persist and temptations for safety and freedom from responsibility become more alluring.

So people abandon the journey there. They quit their job and search for a new one, imagining it will be better, but inevitably they encounter the same resistance again. They will get stuck before the abyss and quit to repeat the cycle once more.

Becoming a Hero

The path to satisfaction and self-esteem is found by moving forward into the unknown, facing the abyss, accepting personal transformation, and becoming a hero. When you do that, you could find that you outgrow your environment and a new call to adventure arises to start the process once again.

The feelings associated with this state are not the pain, discomfort, or anxiety that causes most people to quit; it is dissatisfaction with a good life. You do your job well, you live well, but something is missing. You have transformed, become skilled at what you do, but reached a plateau of comfort. It is at that point when you have completed a hero’s journey. That is the right time to look for the next adventure and step to growth.

Reprinted from the author's blog.