The Journey of the Hero

In his classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (public library), Joseph Campbell describes the journey every hero takes to become just that – a hero. He traces myths from all parts of the world and shows that they all follow the same arc, which has set thresholds.

As he describes it: “The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation–initiation–return.

He explains the full journey:

“The mythological hero, setting forth from his common-day hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds to the threshold of adventure … Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward … intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued … At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir).”

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell

In other words, and in a very simplified manner, a hero is first in a normal situation and then receives a call to adventure. We can choose to answer it or not. If we decide to go forth, we are thrown into the experience where challengers/challenges and allies spring up. The challenger calls on us to take our capabilities to a new level, and our helpers can aid us as coaches who guide us along the path. Everyone can teach us something as we go forward. Through the journey, we start to develop our next capacity.

[Photo: Oleksandr Kurchev/Unsplash]

[Photo: Oleksandr Kurchev/Unsplash]

Eventually, after many challenges, we are transformed, and we discover the elixir we have been seeking. We are often so happy with the stage we have reached that we do not want to leave where we are and share it, but the journey calls on us to return that elixir to the very world we initially left so that others might have it too.

The hero’s journey is a universal myth, and therefore, it is applicable to all of us. We can choose to use the mythical journey as a perspective to see our paths, as it might help light the way.

Crises demand transformation, and you might have already heard or followed a call to adventure due to COVID-19. The pandemic is providing a ready-made situation that requires more from us than has been demanded in the past. So, applying the journey as a point of view, we can start to look at what the pandemic is calling for us to do.

As we start on our journey, we will inevitably meet trials. Sometimes a trial will be a person that becomes an opponent, while other times it will be a challenging situation. These types of difficulties may be hard to face. However, we can choose to see them as part of the journey instead: they are there to challenge us to create a new capacity and reach a new level. Similarly, we may have encountered helpers, who are there to guide us along the way.

The idea of challengers and helpers is particularly useful. In one of my previous careers, I had a colleague who said that I should stop working and go home simply because I am a woman. I could not believe I was hearing this in the 21st century, yet I was.

[Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash]

[Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash]

Needless to say, I never stopped working, and I separated myself from that working relationship. If I see this colleague in the light of the hero’s journey, he was absolutely a challenger. That encounter served as a catalyst that quickly moved me toward my current role as co-founder and CEO of a real estate company. I also had helpers along the way, mainly my husband and partner, who has always supported me and my career. He coached me through many ups and downs, and we have built our company together.

I wonder what COVID-19 has in store for all of us but let us listen and heed the call when it comes. Or as Joseph Campbell says at the end of his book:

“‘Live,’ Nietzche says, ‘as though the day were here.’ It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal—carries the cross of the redeemer—not in the bright moments of his tribe’s victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.”

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Third Edition. New World Library, July 28, 2008. Hardcover.


Pamela Ayuso is an author and the co-founder and CEO of Celaque. She is a real estate entrepreneur and developer who has executive leadership experience in two of the most successful real estate developers in Honduras — managing operations at Alianza and leading Celaque. Celaque develops office and residential buildings and manages a broad portfolio of properties. Pamela’s focus is on growing Celaque into a model for the 21st-century company.

In addition to her role as CEO at Celaque, Pamela is the author of Amazon best-selling book, Heptagram: The 7-Pillar Business Design System for the 21st Century. She offers practical business and personal development insights for other entrepreneurs and business leaders on her blog and LinkedIn. Her husband and her three wonderful daughters inspired the story of her first children’s book, Alicia and Bunnie Paint a Mural.       

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