What does the hero’s journey have to do with your music career success?
The Hero’s Journey is the narrative structure that animates myths, literature, movies, religions, and psychological development. Identified by scholar Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey is the story line that fuels our imaginations. It’s the narrative we’ve all grown up with—the DNA of the Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the Odyssey.
The journey describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of their group, tribe, or civilization. The story has been used throughout cultures and history because it speaks to our collective unconscious, telling us a truth about how life works and what our role in it can be.
The Hero’s Journey is a metaphor for how we bring about change and how we can live a life of purpose and meaning.
How does this work? Essentially, the hero answers a call and sets off on a quest, traveling from the ordinary world to an extraordinary one and returns home transformed (Think Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz).
Along the way there are trials and challenges both internal and external (think Magic Flute or the legend of the Holy Grail) and there will be mentors (think Obi Wan Kenobi), allies (friendly aliens), and weapons (light sabers). In order to fulfill the quest, the hero must face trials and an ultimate challenge. She must slay the dragon to find the treasure (cue Wagner’s Ring). And once done, the hero must bring the treasure back to her community. Because it’s not her treasure—she’s serving a higher purpose.
You may be wondering, what does all this have to do with my music career?
Even if you’re not feeling particularly heroic this week—or thinking that your life doesn’t resemble an epic tale—you don’t want to miss out on the treasure, the gift that the Hero’s Journey offers us.
Myths give us a template for seeing where we are in our journeys. They provide the big picture view so that we can adjust our course as needed.
Below are the 12 stages of the classic hero’s journey with the description of how these may play out in your career and life changes. Find where you are in your current journey:
We start in the ORDINARY WORLD. The status quo of our career is starting to chafe. There’s an inescapable tension between who we are and who we aspire to be.
THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. This is a call for us to make a change. It can be initiated externally: being laid off from a job or having a significant other relocate. Or it may come from feeling that we just aren’t living up to our potential.
REFUSAL OF THE CALL. We feel the fear of the unknown and try to turn away from the adventure. We stall, not yet ready to make the leap. We say, “I don’t have the time, money, the confidence . . .”
MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero meets a seasoned traveler who provides training, equipment, or advice to help on the journey. You aren’t meant to do it alone. The more ambitious your journey, the more you need someone in your corner. Find the right fit mentor, coach, or role model. You can be mentored through the books you read and the podcasts you follow and/or work with a coach who provides insight, objective feedback, and support.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. The hero commits to the journey leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or realm (the unknown). We set out on the venture: an ambitious project, a new ensemble, job, or life in a new city.
TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World. Here we experience setbacks and challenges—we all have our Kryptonite and shadows to deal with. In the unknown territory we’re outside our comfort zone. Our fears and resistance ramp up. But if we’re determined and open-minded we also find allies along the way.
APPROACH. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world. We’ve all faced shit-shows we could see coming.
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. By a certain age, we’ve all been through at least one major life ordeal: physical, emotional, financial, or family-related. Such experiences can render us disoriented: we may lose our sense of identity because our world has been upended. It’s in facing these challenges and getting through them that we discover our new selves. We become the phoenix rising from the ashes.
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. Our ‘treasure’ is the wisdom and perspective we gain from facing our demons. It’s not simply the new position or project. It’s about the change we undergo inside. Journeys teach us who we are meant to be.
THE ROAD BACK. In myths, 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. For us everyday heroes, the challenge is to be able to hold on to and integrate our hard won new insights. Bringing it home means learning how to reconcile our new identity with our circumstances.
THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved. In real life, when we undergo a major life change, there is often internal and external resistance. Real change is difficult to make and sustain. We may grieve the loss of our “old” identity and habits. But we must bury them in order to be born anew.
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. It’s all about fulfilling your purpose—bringing your best self forward in service to the world.
As someone who’s been through a number of major personal and professional transformations—and having helped my clients go through many more—I can attest to the ripple effect this has. When we make real change in our lives, and align with our life’s purpose, the power and energy we connect with lights the flame in those around us.
The stories we tell ourselves are the ones we end up believing. The hero’s journey is about rewriting your own story and changing your future.
Are you ready?
Below are two illustrations from writer and literary consultant Chris Vogler — the first shows the hero’s outward-facing journey; the second is what the internal process is actually like: how we experience and process change. Circles are fitting as the journey is cyclical. We journey and return home and then we set off on our next journey.
What this means for you
As the heroine or hero of your own journey, YOU call the shots, you make the decisions: it’s your story, your life, your career. And while that’s empowering, it may also be intimidating. Because it’s all on your shoulders: there’s no one else to blame if it’s not the journey of a lifetime.
But you are not meant to undertake this journey alone.
I mentor musicians on their journey. As a guide, I provide tools, feedback, and advice to help you overcome obstacles and move forward. Together we can rewrite your story.
To take this further, take the FREE Musician Hero’s Journey Assessment to gain insights about where you are now and where you’re heading in your latest journey.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well!