The Hero’s Journey Feels A Lot Like The Loser’s Journey
No one starts as Superman. Not even Superman started as Superman. He was a toddler lifting cars and a teenager racing against trains before he turned to nerdy glasses and clumsy behavior to hide his superhuman strength and then use that strength to oppose the forces of evil.
Luke was just a teenager with a knack for repairing robots before he met up with Old Ben—and Dorothy was just a young girl in Kansas, worried Mrs. Gulch would take her dog Toto from her.
They didn’t know it, but they were smack dab in the middle of the hero’s journey. Every experience prepared them for the artist’s journey. Fighting Mrs. Gulch was prologue to fighting the wicked witch.
In The Artist’s Journey (to be released in July), Steve wrote:
“Our primary hero’s journey as artists is the passage we live out, in real life, before we find our calling.
“The hero’s journey is the search for that calling.
“It’s initiation (or, more precisely, self-initiation).
“On our hero’s journey, we see, we experience, we suffer. We learn.”
Looks good on paper, but what about in real life?
Steve also wrote,
“The hero’s journey ends when, like Odysseus, we return home to Ithaca, to the place from which we started. We wash up on shore. We have survived. We have come home.”
I don’t know anyone who has washed up on the shore, then disguised himself to hide from his wive’s suitors, and then fought them to the death, before being reunited with Penelope.
I do have a dear friend who struggled with alcohol and drugs, and with being a wife, and who is now the most extraordinary mother of three, on the verge of acquiring a dream job. But before? She looked a lot like someone on a loser’s journey instead of a hero’s journey. But then something changed. Something clicked. She evolved. She became the hero of her story.
And, I know she’d say the same of me. She’s seen me at my best and worst—and those times have never been accompanied by trumpeting angels, welcome home parades, or any other glory. More often, it looks like me biting my nails, skipping sleep in favor of caffeine, gaining weight, crying, wondering why “this” is all happening, and then . . . And then each time I emerge I’m a little stronger. I wash up on my own personal shores, without Ithaca anywhere in site. I’ve found that I’ve washed up fewer times, because Calm has started visiting more often than Crazy. Experience brought that. I know how to battle Crazy because I know his ways, his plays. I know his next move and I know the one after that and the one after that. But . . . when I’m going through Crazy, the hero’s journey feels like the loser’s journey.
But once on the other side . . . Once washed ashore . . . That’s when the artist’s journey begins.
Think about Erin Brockovich. She was a single mom in need of a job. She didn’t set out as a crusader and consumer advocate. She just needed a paycheck. But, then the opportunity presented itself to her.
Every day of life prepared her for that moment. She grew up struggling with Dyslexia, given a hard time by peers and by teachers who asked if she was stupid. She also relied a lot on her memory, which is classic coping for people with Dyslexia. She relied on information stored, rather than constantly having to find it. That means, that when she was confronted with “The Call,” she had already been fighting most her life, had already been memorizing names and numbers and other information, had already dealt with her fair share of jerks and naysayers, and knew how to bounce back against hardship. When “the Call” came, she tore down the walls in front of her.
In this week’s “Writing Wednesdays” post, Steve wrote about “the Call.”
“When we speak of ‘the Call’ that initiates the hero’s journey, it’s often an opportunity that suddenly appears, an imposed expulsion, an emergency that demands action.”
For Brockovich, the people of Hinkley, California needed her help.
But . . . What does that look like for you and me? What does it look like for the rest of us?
This past week, Steve also shared more information about Tim Grahl’s new book Running Down a Dream.
Running Down a Dream is what the hero’s journey and then the artist’s journey looks like for most of us.
It is being distracted by video games and coffee breaks with friends instead of being distracted by Sirens.
It is fighting against our own demons instead of the Cyclops.
It is also little things, like telling the HOA to go to Hell over it’s “no clover in the yard policy” instead of surviving Charybdis.
Black Irish Books is publishing Tim’s Running Down A Dream and Steve’s The Artist’s Journey at the same time.
Yeah . . . I’m on the Black Irish team, but I know I’d say this anyway: Check out both when they are released in July (more info to come).
Steve’s book explains the journey and Tim’s book offers a look at what that journey looks like for the majority of us. It’s not easy and I imagine Tim’s book was as painful to write as the experiences he chronicles were painful to live.
Both books helped me.
It’s easy to forget what the drama swirling around is about. It is about forging our tools and then emerging from the drama with what we need to fight during the artist’s journey.
And, it’s also easy to forget that there’s always more than one journey going on at a time. I look at my own life and there are areas in which I have it 100% together and other areas in which I’m 100% a mess.
I thank Tim for being honest with his journey in a way few people are these days. This isn’t a look-at-me-and-how-wonderful-I-am Facebook story. It is real life and how so many of us exist.
I thank Steve for breaking apart the journey and explaining it.
I’m better off for both of these books. Hope you’ll check them out, too.
“Calm has started visiting more often than Crazy.” It’s great to get to that point, isn’t it? Thanks for another thoughtful post Callie. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on both books next month!
That’s exactly the phrase I highlighted to comment on. Story of my life.
It feels so obvious, in retrospect. That’s what makes this whole concept so powerful, eh?
Great post. Just what I needed as I sit down to write.
Love this post!! I can relate so much, and would love to hear more about your journey. I know you’re a mother too, and it’s so rare to see artists talking about the journey of that along with the journey of motherhood. Right now I’m in the weeds of it all, and these posts have helped keep me going <3
Thank you for your post. I love the idea of how we all start as losers. Sometimes it feels like we will always be losers, but your post provided an optimistic outlook. I’m glad I read it.
I’ve always used ,The wizard of Oz as. A metaphor of life,We all have to face ,lions,tigers,and bears,oh no,and sometimes the wicked witch,and after awhile we learn to go with it ,when the going gets tough,and you’ll wash up feeling better about yourself,sooner or !ater
Thank you for your real-ness, Callie. I laughed in self-recognition at the part about having areas in life that are 100% together and others that are 100% a mess.
Your (and Steve’s) posts are always worth the read, and I’m looking forward to both books next month.
Thanks for all you do.
Fantastic post! I am a designer/artist in my late fifties laid off again but I am calm. I am studying Stoicism which is really helping. I am growing my skillset, I am moving forward. Progressing. Sometimes I wonder if it is too late for me in my career. But then I read a post like this or War of Art and Turning Pro and I think hell no! I have so much to do and give. And I push forward…
I will definitely get both of these new books.
Thanks, Callie! I’m so curious to hear more about your real struggles. As women being creatives in this busy world, it’s so wonderful to know that we are not alone.
Thanks for this post. It’s a relief to know that we all have real struggles and that some of them can be so dark…and lonely. I can’t wait to read the two books next month, and it’ll be good for my soul to hear the raw struggles that Tim went through.
I recently read Steve’s, “The Knowledge,” and the subtitle was very thought-provoking about it being a too close to true novel. I caught myself wondering, “did this happen? did that really happen?” Talk about some tough times.
There’s a podcast that I recently began to listen to – Petal to the Metal. In fact, one of the co-hosts is one of your Story Grid editors. They had an episode on addiction that was raw and powerful.
We I read/hear all of these stories, I don’t feel so alone. Thanks to all of you who aren’t afraid to put it out there for the rest of us.
I hope Steve is planning to release an audiobook version of his Artist’s Journey book. I love to listen to his books while working.
I love you, Callie. This post is a perfect example of why.
You captured how we all feel.
Thanks! How did you know I was sweating saying that straight out? 🙂
Thank you for your post Callie. Your writing goes straight to the heart and the message is so powerful.
Good writing here. You got skills.
Great article Callie. For me, this also can give me a bit of relief for us late bloomers…
“Every experience prepared them for the artist’s journey / Every day of life prepared her for that moment.”
This reminds of a Ricky Gervais interview where recalled sitting down with his lifelong girlfriend after winning a golden globe for “The Office,” and he lamented to her “Why didn’t I do this sooner? (He was in his mid forties at this point.) She immediately replied “Because you wouldn’t have been any good.”
“And she was right.”
He had to go through years of drudgery in an office environment in order to completely nail “The Office’s” dry, mundane experiences that so many future watchers could resonate and laugh with. We don’t really control what volume of experiences will be required for our future calling – some simply take a bit longer than others, and that’s OK. There’s a degree of surrender required for this, where a higher part that knows better than our comparing egos…
Thanks again for writing this – looking forward to both books;)
This post speaks to me. I just finished writing, with my partner, Getting Unstuck, The Joy of Finishing Strong and sent it for final editing. The points you raise resonate exactly with my journey, it takes time to learn and prepare for . . . who knows what opportunity or challenge presents itself. I realize that we are ready when we’re ready, and not a moment sooner.
Eager to read these books.
My thoughts and feeling are encapsulated first with Callie’s words, and then, with all the comments.
Thank you many times over.
Hi Callie. Your post reminds me so much of Joseph Campbell’s ‘A Hero With A Thousand Faces’. We play so many roles in our life, and we try to be the best version in every one -it can’t be perfect every-time,. but we do what we can. Who was it who said: ‘we don’t see things as they are, but as we are’?
I guess it’s all a learning curve. I do admire your honesty, and the way you turn up every week and add something worthwhile that makes everything a little bit more and add something that makes it all seem OK. Me thinks you should take a chance a publish something of your own. If you don’t risk anything, you will never gain anything. You have nothing to lose but your chains.
I don’t comment on many blogs, firstly because I’m crap at it, and secondly there’s nothing out there that is worth commenting on. I pop into this blog every now and then, when I’m looking for inspiration – it’s like visiting a familiar friend. I do love Steve’s posts, but I do so love the truth and honesty behind your posts. Callie, you could try and promote anything on this site, but between the lines you express a writers’ soul. Now if you wrote a book…it would be worth reading!
I don’t know if this comment comes into the arena of correct blog commenting protocol…but what the hell
Sometimes you never know when a message connects with just the needed spark- that it matters not just to the writing but to the writer. The writer is on a journey too , swaying between hero and loser, battling demons of procrastination, fear and doubt. Shake it off.
Oh, Callie – another beautiful, inspiring, strngthening post. What a crew! Can’t wait to get the books! Thank you all.
Can’t wait to read those books. – My hero’s journey was to go back to my past and write my childhood memoir which will be out in a few weeks. It’s called Steel Town Girl and it’s about the abuse and dysfunction I lived with as a child. I compiled my memories as they showed up and filed them as I raised my son to the best of my ability. My call came when I had an empty nest, so I went back to my memories and kept my word to myself that I would someday write my book. I procrastinated because of the weight of the material but I finally did it. Being a hero starts with showing up for the roles we elect to do in life and ends with keeping our word to ourselves. Sometimes we are on the to do list and sometimes we’re not. I spent my life serving and taking care of others; Mom, wife, nurse, daughter. Now, I’m showing up for myself. Thanks for the post!