“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
–Henry David Thoreau
I love the Hero’s Journey, and think we all have our own version in us. Being a hero I mean. It is really up to each of us to figure out what that may be, and to conjure up our version of a hero. Maybe a hero for your kids, or your wife, or yourself, or your community. We all need a hero, and we can all be a hero. Seriously.
Now you’ve all seen the Hero’s Journey a million times. Be it Neo in The Matrix, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, or even the narrator in Fight Club. It’s been broken down to a narrative pattern by American scholar Joseph Campbell as follows:
A text description:
- THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.
- THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.
- REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
- MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.
- CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.
- TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.
- APPROACH. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.
- THE ORDEAL. Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.
- THE REWARD. The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
- THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
- THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
- RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.
So where am I going with this? And what does it have to do with Thoreau’s quote about Men and Quiet Desperation? Well first, I see it in the men I coach and in my friends and in myself – most of us are on a train we can’t control and that leaves us feeling helpless. We have obligations and jobs and family, and as dependable and loving and valiant men, we take care of that shit. We make sure we have money to have the house and life we desire. Maybe we save for our kids’ college so they don’t have the burden we have. And the job is mundane or routine. And our soul is waiting to be awakened. But most don’t put up the kite of inspiration to the winds of life, and with weary shoulders drooped, go through each day in the salt mines of spreadsheets, presentations, and reports. They don’t take those few small steps each day to pitch to the Universe and see what is there. Sometimes we simply fall into stretches despite our best intentions, and like a car stuck in the mud, it is hard to gain traction and get back on track. But that is really part of the journey, isn’t it?
The muck of dissatisfaction is really all in our heads though.
It is that very current circumstance and your perception of those circumstances that shape our lives, that make the journey interesting. Are you looking at what you don’t have, or having gratitude for your wonderful life? You can shift that energy with gratitude each morning and get the day off to positive energy – feel it. Instead of focusing on how your soul is slowly being crushed each day at a job that is ultimately meaningless, focus on the energy and love with your partner and how by being present in each individual life task you can take satisfaction in a well done job. It can be very calming just staying in the moment. My wife loses herself knitting. I enjoy mowing the lawn. Simplicity isn’t bad.
Today is just a reflection of what our choices were in the past. Most people are caught in the gravity field of their past choices, and therefore simply assume that the future will be more of the same. Instead, they could be realizing that today’s decisions – if different – can make large changes in the future version of yourself. So if you feel like you are living in a life of quiet desperation, and I do from time to time – no doubt about it (a post for another day perhaps, but Dr. Chris Ryan has some great life rants I connect with), you need to recognize that, and figure out why… Is it poor food choices? Is it escaping from life through drugs or alcohol? Is it because you don’t have the right skills? There are a million reasons – maybe your kids are dicks. Whatever. Recognize and commit to something different. Commit to a better future. Commit to being a Hero.
- ORDINARY WORLD – you live in a regular dude’s life, which means your life is routine, with high spots and low spots, and usually dull. You have a feeling in your gut that there is more to this life, but you’re getting a steady paycheck, with a 401k and health bennies, so you grind away at the salt mine – only 25 more years til the golden wristwatch and Netflix 24/7. Tick….tock…. the minute hand ticks slowly away.
- CALL TO ADVENTURE – you’re here, in this corner of the web. People are doing great things. They are inventing and creating art and making a difference in whatever way the Universe has designed for those that took the challenge. You are called to look dep in yourself and take the leap. To consider that extra classwork at night, or starting a local club or group, or to start a blog.
- REFUSAL OF THE CALL – It is easier to make excuses than face your weaknesses. It is hard to move forward on something new after a long day. It takes reserves of motivation, or better, processes to be created from scrap, so you can start that snowball rolling. But you don’t have the gumption to do this. Yet.
- MEETING THE MENTOR – yet one day, you happen to get inspired by another person by happenchance. You’re talking to a stranger or acquaintance, the topic drifts, and you happen to find yourself discussing the very thing you’ve been chewing on for the last week, month, year. And it hits you like a bolt of lightning. “Things.Can.Be.Different!” you say to yourself, and this time you mean it. And you have a Mentor to help you with motivation and the details of making things happen. You aren’t left trudging alone. This is important. Whatever support person you have will play a key role in tapping into your own depths and being held accountable.
- CROSSING THE THRESHOLD – The day has come to take the leap. Join the class. Put the call out to Facebook for a new trail building group or whatever your passionate pursuit may be. Sign up for those guitar lessons or mindful meditation or yoga or Brazilian jiu jitsu (I’ve done all those). It is time to commit and fucking do what you said you’d do. One step over the threshold. Then a second. It gets easier with each step and habit formed for the better. You begin to change and see the world in a different way. It is the Red Pill. It is when Neo decides to unplug from the illusion of his life. It is your chance to shed your old self or bad habits, and start on a different path altogether. First and most important step is starting the path. Lao Tzu: “Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
- TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES – or as I call it “Haters gonna hate.” People fucking love to nay say. Maybe even your spouse or good friends or parents. This is always going to be tests of your resolve, but you need to trust your instincts and continue to make slow, steady progress. This is really a minor test of everything at the end of the day. Your coworkers don’t find your new Paleo or Primal diet to their advantage and try to lure you to Shit Shack for another fast food lunch. But you find who your allies are – other likeminded folk in your gym, or an on-line forum going through the same thing. Other people who know what you are going through and have tips and cheats and hacks for the problems you inevitably come to see. This is an important part of forging the new version of yourself.
- APPROACH (INNERMOST CAVE). So we begin preparing soap. In Fight Club the movement grows and people train and projects conceived in the mad lab or Tyler’s brain and rapidly underway. You are now all in on galvanizing your life choices, your improvements, and new friends who have more in common with the new you.
- THE ORDEAL. But things are never status quo. Someone dies. You get injured. You lose your job. Your life becomes unhinged and the stresses compound. But this is when the real test begins, when you are tested fully on if you have the explosive rocket power to leave Earth’s gravity, or if you’ll fall back to earth again. If you’ll continue to trudge to the monotonous job or make changes to start that side hustle, or find time to take that one long-ass night a week class at the local college to make some progress in the next chapter. This is the time when you think you will give up…. And then the storm is over. And it is calm.
- THE REWARD. After all the hard work, you end up with an MBA. Or with a successful business. Or you’ve lost that 100 pounds that was your stretch goal. Or you rock it at open mic night. CELEBRATE! You’ve deserved it! But remember, success is fleeting.
- THE ROAD BACK. And so you go back to work, with taco Tuesdays and donuts and pizza working lunches to discuss that project. You thought you were out of the woods, but there are some strong Come.To.Jesus moments. It is an inner battle, or maybe a shit test battle as your wife doesn’t believe the changes you’ve made to be more of a leader in your family are for real. It is battle as you figure your new life, its rules, and defense mechanisms on dealing with usurpers of your treasure.
- THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, before you know these changes will truly stick, your final Boss Battle happens. Your parents pull the old childhood strings of guilt and obligation to get you to give up your gains for their approval. Or your spouse throws one lass hissy fit before finally giving in like a tamed bronco. Or you have to go through that interview in front of the executive board for that new promotion or to deal with a lawsuit to you or your company for something you contributed to. But your new skills and life view has stuck and you vanquish your foe, and have resolved historic issues that have hung you up.
- RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. As one who has completed the journey, you become a beacon for others. You start a blog. You teach a class. You volunteer to help younger versions of yourself. And in doing so, you find purpose once again.
So something few movies have shown is what happens after the hero returns. Does he retire and watch reruns of Mad Men? Does he hang on to past accomplishments, drunk and happy? Just like there is no single type of hero story, there is no single right answer. I’ve only recently realized that after some heros return home, they feels empty and without purpose. Hatori Hanzo in Kill Bill had his own hero story, and retired. But rather than being a different version of a hero, he becomes an archetype in a different hero journey as The Mentor. And again, the hero has a purpose. He isn’t floating through life. That is what the quiet desperation really is. Most men lack purpose. Their place is lost in this crazy world. Company are their own organisms, the family unit is eroded, the family structure and gender dynamic is ambiguous, and nature is taking a backseat to virtual worlds. No wonder many of us feel lost. I have to say that this is common, and while it doesn’t make it any easier, you aren’t alone. Listen to some of the great podcasts by Dr. Chris Ryan, or others that understand the Red Pill like Joe Rogan. Or reprogram your brain by reading a book I really liked: Mike Cernovich’s Gorilla Mindset.
What I want leave you with the idea that you can be a hero. That a hero’s journey is never really finished, and multiple cycles happen throughout our lives as circumstances change and we are constantly evolving. Take each day as another opportunity to take a step across the threshold, and find gratitude and joy in the mundane, as you continue to work on your secret power. You’ll one day reveal to the world that you’re a hero, or rather, you’ve been a hero your entire life but are now unbound by your chains that prevented your kids.wife.boss.community from seeing this.