June 20, 2017

The Hero’s Arc: What’s Your Journey?

Silhouette of a woman with sword with text: What's *Your* Hero's Journey?

In storytelling, we often talk about the arc of our hero—the path of change and improvement they follow while trying to reach their goals and satisfy their desires.

At the start of the story, something is holding them back from what they want. The something could be tangible, such as being imprisoned, or it could be psychological, such as being insecure—or any other wound, false belief, or fear. In many stories, both tangible and psychological somethings could be involved.

At the same time, the protagonist often doesn’t know what they really want, what they really desire. Their deepest longing or need might be known only on a subconscious level.

As I’ve pointed out before: All these psychological things that make our characters seem real apply to us too. After all, we are real. *smile*

Also like our characters, we have an arc—a path of change. Unfortunately, we don’t have an author behind the scenes of our life, making sure we succeed, and there’s no guarantee of a happy ending. However, we might be able to take lessons from the hero’s journey of our characters and apply it to our life.

Our Real Life Hero’s Journey

In our stories, by the end, our character is able to do something they weren’t able to do at the beginning. Maybe they learned how to overcome their fear, or maybe they were able to give up unhealthy behaviors. In the big picture, the hero’s journey is about learning to do things they don’t yet know how to do to become “better” than they are.

The same applies to us. There’s plenty we don’t yet know, and thus, there’s plenty we can learn to better ourselves.

Our problem often isn’t finding something to improve. Our problem often comes down to how we can improve.

How Can We Further Our Journey?

Just as our characters face external and internal obstacles, they also have external and internal resources to overcome those obstacles. They might have money or friends or mentors to help them along their path, and they might also have strengths and insights about themselves as additional tools.

Likewise, we can reach outward and inward to make progress along our journey as well. The key to our progress, however, might be our resourcefulness. How good are we at identifying and applying sources of assistance?

Reaching Out:

Reaching out to external resources to help us learn new things and overcome obstacles includes:

  • Asking friends and family for help
  • Honing our “Google-fu” to find online advice
  • Searching for mentors, real or virtual (those we simply imitate without direct mentoring)
  • Practicing our skills
  • Offering our talents to others to improve our financial situation
  • Etc., etc.

Reaching In:

Reaching into our internal resources to help us learn new things and overcome obstacles includes:

All of those resources, however, require effort. We must expend effort to find them, do them, and apply them. That effort is where we often run into trouble.

We Are Worthy of the Effort to Improve

We don’t always have control over our external resources. Sometimes the money we need to fulfill our goals simply isn’t there. Sometimes our family and friends aren’t supportive or able to help us. But our internal resources are under our control.

Taking advantage of those resources doesn’t cost money. They just require us to put in the effort and be self-aware (which is often easier said than done, but isn’t impossible by any means).

That said, our internal issues can cause more than internal obstacles. They can also constrain our resourcefulness for external resources. So addressing our internal issues will often help our external situation as well.

For example, if we don’t think we’re worthy of being helped, we’ll hesitate to reach out and ask for assistance. If we doubt our talents, we won’t put in the effort to improve.

We can improve if we see ourselves as being worthy of the effort. Click To TweetThe internet is filled with resources for us to improve ourselves. People have learned to build an entire house from scratch by watching YouTube videos. If we’re resourceful, we can find just about any type of advice on almost any subject.

But resourcefulness will get us only so far. If we’ve ever known how to fix some aspect of our lives but didn’t implement the change, we might want to ask ourselves why we held back. (*raises hand* Been there, done that. Every day.)

Maybe we have a solid reason—such as prioritizing other aspects of improvement—but maybe we don’t. Maybe we’re just holding ourselves back.

So the first thing we have to do is identify and address any internal issues that prevent us from seeing ourselves as deserving of being better. We have to see ourselves as being worthy of the effort.

Worthy of Being Better? Change Might Be Easier

Change is hard. Our characters know this. If change were easy, our stories would be one page long. *smile*

Just as our characters can improve, so can we. Click To TweetBut we also know that our characters often get into their own way. Their fears about what they’re capable of, their wounds telling them something is impossible, or their false beliefs whispering how they’re unworthy all hold them back from their potential—their essence.

In our stories, something triggers our characters to start on the path of change. For us, there’s no “first page” of our lives to create that trigger. We get to choose what that trigger might be.

Our trigger could be anything that gets us to see ourselves as being worthy of improvement—a moment of confidence, a good review or feedback comment on our writing, or a recognition that we’re not unworthy simply for not knowing yet. Our trigger might even be a blog post, pointing out that there’s enough crap in the world holding us back already and there’s no reason to add to our obstacles with doubts of our worthiness. *smile*

As writers, we see evidence all the time that change is possible. We know how change happens for our characters. We know the benefits they experience when they improve their lives and make progress toward their goals.

So as writers, we should understand better than most what might help us along our hero’s journey, how we might overcome our obstacles. And we know more than most about the rewards we can find along the way. *smile*

How are you trying to improve yourself? What are you trying to learn or change? Do you feel that you deserve to be better, or is putting in the effort hard? Does viewing your life like one of your characters help you see how to make changes? Do you see yourself as the hero of your life?

Comments — What do you think?

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Hey Jami! To answer your last question, no, I don’t see myself as the hero of my life, haha. Instead, I see myself as this amazing, cool, stunning ALLY who helps heroes all around me save the day. 😀 Or at least, that would be my ideal, haha. As a general point, though, I think there’s something to be said about having a purpose of helping /aiding others. I think some part of society believes there’s something wrong about “living for the sake of others,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a big sense of power when you feel you have the ability to make someone else’s life better and happier. And not just someone, but many people you meet. I believe everyone has the power to improve another person’s life, even if it’s just to joke around with a friend who was feeling depressed and thus cheering this friend up. And I find I really enjoy this sense of power. 🙂 Not that I don’t care about my own projects and stories, obviously. I care EXTREMELY about my stories and characters! In my counselling courses, I’ve been learning a lot of things about human psychology, and I’m gradually learning to accept even the darker sides of myself. And I can USE these “darker sides” to do good things. E.g. I’m secretly a rather competitive person, and I’ve tried to suppress this competitive streak for years, to no avail. So instead, I’m thinking of using FRIENDLY competition…  — Read More »

Nan Sampson

Jami – you must be psychic. I recently took a few days off the day job to regroup and figure out how to get past my own inertia. One of the thoughts that came out of this was that I don’t prioritize what my father referred to as my “little hobby”. Well, it’s never going to be a kick-ass career if I keep treating it like a hobby, even if it isn’t paying the bills at the moment! So your blog post was unbelievably timely. Thanks for the kick in the keister, as well as some terrific advice!

Donovan Quesenberry
Donovan Quesenberry

Great post.
Would like to suggest what I think is the greatest help anyone can give themselves for self improvement, advice, help, etc. READING 15 minutes each day.
I suppose that should be obvious to us that write, but we would be surprised at how many people don’t read for self improvement.
“The Magic of Thinking Big” is a classic and has answers for those of us who may feel un-worthy.
I am currently reading “No Excuses” by Brian Tracy. Excellent book.
Stay Well,

Jerry Marquardt
Jerry Marquardt

I fully love the help in keeping reading on track and not only very interesting, but We Are Wkeeping it all worthy of the whole effort while leaving room for improvement. I love your books especially Unintended Guardian. I wish the best in keeping up the good work in the future.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Thanks for a great post.
Sometimes when I read of how much another lady has accomplished in a field I work in – like conservation – I think I have achieved very little. But then I remind myself that the other person has been having all her costs including studies covered by an employer or the civil service, and I have always been self employed.
Yes, limited resources can be a problem, but as you rightly point out, today we can find resources to learn from the miracle of broadband internet. Our most precious and limited resource is our time. We need to look carefully at what is stealing our time. They’re not making any more of it.

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