Be the Hero(ine) of Your Own Story
While talking to a friend, Joel-Ji, he said this gem:
Life is a battle, a fight. We are all heroes in our own journey/story
This resonated with me, because it answered a question / dilemma I had: We are all now richer and happier than ever, but people still complain and bitch about life all the time.
I don’t want to turn this into a damn kids are lazy post (though they are, tots).
Instead, I want to talk about WHY people are so unsatisfied with their lives.
Life up to very recent times
Even as back as the 18-19th century, people had very little control of their destiny.
You were born in a family and would take your father’s profession, usually by the age of 14. Which was good if your father was a Lord; but more likely, he was a farmer or coal mine worker, which meant goody good hard work, and a possibility to die horribly young at age 15!
Women had it easier. All you had to do was marry by age 14, and try not to die when giving birth, your life safe in the hands of a doctor who believed washing his hands before operations was for losers, even if it meant killing the mothers
Your destiny was set before you were even born. And that is why medieval stories (which live on in the fantasy genre) were about a common man, usually a pig farmer, who went out for adventuring and became a hero.
The hero’s cliche
The Hero’s Journey has become a cliché. I blame Hollywood. There is a best-selling book by a guy who used it for writing scripts. The problem is, a good idea was turned into a formula, such that Every. Single. Movie. Has to use it. You have writers jump through hoops just to fit the formula, and it ends up looking stupid.
For those who don’t know, the Hero’s Journey was written about by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell wasn’t saying that every story HAD to use this formula. Instead, he said that most myths follow a version of it.
The basic version is: Our hero (or heroine) is an ordinary dude/chick, living a life of ordinariness, eating ordinary corn flakes (not the 30% reduced sugar ones), drinking ordinary milk, and having a boring life.
And then something happens. They are called to adventure. There might be danger.
The interesting thing is, though our Hero is bored to fuck with his life, he still prefers it to taking a risk on something new. We will come back to this point.
Anyway, the Adventure knows where you live, and it comes knocking at your door, and the hero is forced to go on an adventure. Luke Skywalker has the Empire kill his family, Frodo faces the danger from outside his tiny village that is hunting him. The hero can no longer hide or pretend it’s not their problem.
On this journey, the Hero faces many challenges, meets friends and allies, as well as people who challenge him. But the hero overcomes the odds and defeats the enemy, whoever it might be. The Evil empire, the Evil Mother in Law, the Insurance Company that Won’t Return Your Calls, Now They Have Your Money.
And the story doesn’t end there. The hero returns to his ordinary life, his ordinary village, and is now a changed person. One scene cut from the movie was when Frodo and Sam return to their village, they find Saruman and a bunch of Orcs have enslaved their people. Our heroes have to free their village , this time alone.
The hero maybe changed internally– they might become more thoughtful, or patient, understanding or compassionate, and this shows up in how they relate to people.
And that is the Hero’s Journey.
And it’s not just a story. Campbell found this story in multiple myths, myths that were used to train children in the ages past, before the word myth just became “other people’s religion”.
These myths showed us how to live, how to act with courage and honour, how to face life’s challenges while not coming across as a prick.
And I believe the reason we are so miserable is that our lives are too easy. We don’t have enough challenges. AND we have lost touch with the ancient myths that gave our lives purpose and meaning. We are living longer lives, but the lives are often meaningless and empty.
The Meaning of Life?
If you search for Meaning of Life or similar terms, one of the top books will be the excellent Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, who discovered that even the horrors of Nazism couldn’t take away a person’s dignity.
Frankl learnt to remain calm and dignified even as people were being murdered around him.
The problem is- we can’t use this approach more generally. Frankl did find meaning in his life through suffering, but his was such an extreme example, we can’t really replicate it. Neither would we want to.
Suffering builds character, but only up to a point. After that, it just kills you.
And yet, we still need a little bit of suffering in our life, a little bit of challenge.
Without this challenge, we become weak; and not just individuals, but societies start dying as well.
Many people in modern societies cannot even handle the smallest of stress. We have been brainwashed into believing that stress is bad for us, we need to have a chilled life etc etc. And that is true if you are working 80 hour weeks while being screamed at by your boss.
But most people fall apart at the smallest amount of stress:
- Called into a meeting with the boss? OMG, something bad’s happening!
- Want to reply to an important email? Better check it a 100 times, in case I slightly offend someone
- Stuck in a traffic jam? AARGH, the world is ending, people are sooo stupid!
- Stuck in a call centre where your call is fucking important, and they will remind you every 2 minutes? Kill someone
- Overspent slightly this month? OMG I am such a spender, I will starve to death, I need a better job, omg my boss hates me he’ll never give me a pay rise, that bastard; but he will give one to Sarah because she’s pretty, that bitch, probably flirts with him. Also, why don’t I have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet? I’m going to die alone, my parents were right, I AM SUCH A LOSER
The Story in Our Head
We are all telling ourselves stories in our head. In our story, we are the heroes/heroines, and the world is out to get us.
- Our parents / friends never understood us
- The boss doesn’t appreciate us
- I want the perfect partner who will do anything for me
- But s/he must accept me for who I am!
Fake psychics (read: ALL psychics) are so popular because they can repeat a few silly things we all believe are unique to ourselves, but are actually common to everyone. Things like
- You work so hard, but are not appreciated
- You love everyone, but people don’t love you back
- You are very trusting and people take advantage of you
Even Al fucking Capone believed he was a nice guy done in by the system.
We can’t really stop the stories in our head. What we can do is replace them with more positive ones.
Our Own Hero’s Journey
We face 3 problems:
- We have a lot of free will, the ability to choose our destiny. Unlike our ancestors, we can do anything we want. But this freedom comes with the Fear of Missing Out, so we end up doing nothing. In some ways, we are worse than our ancestors, who had at least a clear goal in life (even if it was to work in the coal mine until age 22 and then die)
- As our life has become better, thanks to advances in medical science, and the economy has become more industrialised or “computerised” (ie no more working in coal mines or breaking stones in the harsh sun), we face less and less challenges, which means even the smallest stress brings us to our knees.
- We have continuous stories running in our head, with which we try to interpret the world. The problem is– these stories are usually wrong, and exist only in our head.
Because we are not growing as humans, materially or spiritually, we feel incomplete.
The Quest to Become Great and Shadow Calling
A part of us- call it the divine or spiritual part or anything else you want, wants to become great.
It wants to break all boundaries, change the world, make a difference.
From an evolution point of view: This is important as it helps the species evolve. Animals that were happy to chill out got eaten pretty quickly. Same with whole species.
From a spiritual point of view– the divine in us wants to express itself in the world, to expand, to become the world.
And so we want to become great.
The problem is, most people think that means:
- Becoming a millionaire, preferably by age 30
- Getting a million friends / likes on social media
- Being on TV
The last 2 examples are pretty important, as they show the concept of “fake status”. We’ll come back to money in a moment.
Fake status, or as Steve Pressfield calls it, Shadow Calling or Shadow career, is when you spend all your time on a calling that has no real meaning or impact on your life.
- Getting a million likes on social media
- Becoming the number #1 playa on your favourite online video game
You can even have a whole shadow career, where you have no interest in the job, but do it anyway because
- Your parents expected you to
- You wanted to be rich, and dammit X is the way to go, where X can be law, banking, politician
- People will only respect you if you have the big dollas’ in your bank account
The problem is, running after money for the sake of money doesn’t work. Best case– your career explodes and you find something you love
Worst case (also most common)- you keep doing a shitty job you hate, till you turn into a bitter old person and die early. But not before you made a lot of money (that you never enjoy).
Don’t Become the Purple Haired Arteeste
Another trap for creative types: The purple haired arteeste. (If you have purple hair I have nothing against you)
The purple haired arteeste is very popular on reality TV shows. OMG, they are so rebelling against the system!
The reason I hate this cliche is: It’s more about being an artist to impress others than for the love of art. Google the image of your favourite artist– could be author, painter or comic creator: Chances are they look more like the people you would meet at the grocery store than on reality TV.
Love your art, but don’t do it to impress others.
How to Become GREAT
Note: How to become GREAT, not necessarily rich or sexy (though you might end up becoming a rich sexy person, let’s not gamble on it though).
To become Great, you need to go on your own Hero’s/Heroine’s journey (I’ll just use Hero from now on to save typing). We must treat life as a battle, with our own inner demon/monkey. We choose the battleground and the weapons, but we must fight, or improve.
- You can choose to improve physically, get a perfect body
- You might choose to become more peaceful via meditation
- You might choose an art like writing or painting, and master that
- You might want to become the best in your field or career
Though be careful about the last, because do you want to be the best in your field for internal reasons (to be proud of yourself, to be the best you can), or external (money, boasting)?
This includes goody shoes things like working to save the world or ending poverty by working for some charity. Remember, the ego is very cunning, and humblebragging is its best weapon.
So what do you do?
Me? Oh nothing much. Just saving the rainforest and indigenous tribes, ending world hunger. It’s a hard job, but someone’s gotta do it, haha. Now, can I get a blowjob?
Your motives MUST be internal, though you can brag a little 🙂 We are all human after all.
- If you spend hours in the gym, no harm is sharing photos on social media
- If you write a great book, no harm in sharing it
- If you finally play a good tune on your violin, no harm sharing it on Youtube.
Your rewards must mainly be internal, so that you would continue doing what you love even when no one is paying attention to you.
And you must challenge yourself to become the best you can. Grow as a human, as a spiritual being. That’s why things you do in the outer world don’t matter so much. You could be playing the piano, writing a book, meditating. You don’t even have to stick to the same thing- I have in the past written novels, run a business selling programming courses, trained to run 10 miles (and failed at all 3 🙂 ) It doesn’t matter as long as you grew spiritually, learnt a few lessons that could help you in life.
The idiotic advice winners never quit assumes you stay the same person throughout life. And there is nothing wrong with that, but if you are not changing, you are not growing spiritually, and your soul will start to die. You might become a “winner” by some cheesy business coaches metric, but you will be a very sad winner, one who conquered his mountain only to find it was the wrong one, and die defeated.
Like my man Jesus said: What would you gain if you won the world but lost your soul?
Our main goal in life is to keep our soul, to keep the Inner Being happy. Outer stuff like career, hobbies, goals are just tools in this. Never make the tool your master, and be prepared to throw away the tool if it no longer supports your goal.
I have jumped into the details without explaining the background, so let’s step back a bit.
We need to challenge ourselves, to push ourselves, to grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
And the best way to do that is to have your own Hero’s Journey.
Choose Your Own Hero’s Journey
Choose Your Own Hero’s Journey Life is a fight, like my friend Joel-ji said. If you don’t pick your fight, the place where you will challenge yourself and defeat your inner demons, life will choose one for you.
You will face challenges in jobs, in relationships, and most worrisome— internally. You can never be truly happy in life; even if everything is going right, you will have to face your internal demons, those pesky voices that keep criticising you, telling you are not good enough, constantly bringing you down.
Everyone has those voices— you are either very aware of them (if you meditate, or are in touch with your feelings), or you have suppressed them, usually by distracting yourself. If you watch TV or play video games for hours, if you can’t “off yourself” without porn, if you are constantly sitting on the Internet watching one cat video after another, or other shit you don’t care about, you have been suppressing the critical inner voice.
You can feel it now, if you are feeling masochistic. Take out a watch, or use your phone’s timer. Sit quietly for 5 minutes. Do it now. Seriously. Sit quiet, and do fuck all for 5 minutes.
I’ll wait for you to return.
The blog will continue after these messages
Ok, I hope you tried it, and didn’t just scroll down. If 5 minutes is too much, try it for 2 minutes, but do give it a try.
If you did try to sit quietly, and I do emphasise the word try, you will have heard the inner demonic voice. Why are you doing this? We should check our email. What should I have for lunch?
Give the voice 5 minutes, and it will turn critical. It WILL start attacking you, because that is what the voice does. That is why you distract yourself. The point I’m trying to make is, even if you win the lottery, or are rich enough to sit on the beach drinking piña colada and never having to work again (Hi Bill Gates!), you still have those fucking voices in your head. They will never let you sit quietly. They will bitch and bitch and bitch, making your beach stay miserable, and your piña colada warm.
And remember, even if you lead a completely protected life with no challenges, our old friends age, decay, and death will come to find you. Your body will betray you, your mind might go, you will be lying in your bed, and thinking, like 90% of people, I wish I had done more with my life.
But chances are, you are not a millionaire, because let’s be honest, if you were, you would be reading the Financial Times, not some random blog you found on the Internets. Chances are, you are reading this on the loo, or when you should be working or doing something else.
So the thing is, you can’t avoid challenges. Like Eckhart Tolle said,
The purpose of Life is not to make you happy, it is to awaken you. Life will keep challenging you until you awake
My goal for YOU is, rather than being kicked in the balls by Life and being forced to learn lessons that way, you choose your own challenges. Trust me, IT WORKS. Life, the Universe, the Spirit, will start helping you.
The advantage of choosing your own adventure is, you not only get a chance to grow spiritually, you get the chance to become a happier person, doing what you love AND understand your own deeper self.
That bitchy voice I told you about, the one in your head: It has a point, you know. You have abused and ignored the Inner Child for so long, it has turned into an angry, vengeful demon. You have to engage with it, you have to understand it and make peace with it. Or else it will KILL you. The Inner Child is your Spirit, your soul, as it were. If you want to be a happy and satisfied person, you must make peace with it. Find happiness with the Inner Self, not by fighting it.
Enough theory, let’s look at the practical steps.
Choose Your Adventure- The Practical Steps
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to become the BEST FUCKING VERSION of Yourself.
In your job, your relationships, you inner life, your outer life, EVERYTHING.
You will do so with compassion and love for yourself. If your goal is to lose 20 kilos in 2 months, or make a million dollars in 5 years, you are fooling yourself. This is the type of shit that pissed off your inner child in the first place.
If you can’t lose that weight, it’s fine. You are human after all, have compassion for yourself.
With that in mind, you will choose one or two areas in your life (to start with), and try to become the best in that. I recommend you put your career in there. Remember, the journey is Internal, not external. So you want to be the BEST worker you can. Go for further training, learn new things, try to become a great employee.
If your job sucks, find a better one, or train for one. Do evening courses, go back to college, whatever.
I don’t want you to ignore your career, but don’t lay too much stress on it either.
Choose something you enjoy, or wanted to do:
- Become fitter
- start meditating
- A hobby like writing, art etc
If you don’t know what to do, I recommend starting with meditation. If that is too boring, pick up a local college’s evening courses list, and pick something. Pick something you wouldn’t normally do, like calligraphy, wood work, jewellery making.
You are not doing this to make money, you are doing it to improve yourself. Meditation is great, because you are working directly on the cause of your problems.
Exercise is also great, but only if you are doing it because you enjoy it. Life is too short to do shit you hate. If you find jogging on the treadmill boring, try Yoga or Pilates. Try going for a long walk.
From hobby to Hero’s Journey
All I’ve said till now can be a hobby. You can write or draw as a hobby, never once learning anything about yourself.
That don’t work on the Hero’s Journey.
Here, you must be growing.
And so, you must continuously challenge yourself. You must do what you fear.
If you are a writer or artist, you must put your work in front of others, even if it means criticism (and it will, because there are always more twats willing to pull others down vs those willing to do the work).
If you are exercising, you must push yourself to exhaustion, or push your body to do new things.
If every 2–3 months, you can’t go look back and say, wow I couldn’t do that before,
- I couldn’t do 10 pull ups a month ago
- I couldn’t write 1000 words a day 3 months ago
- I couldn’t play that note on my violin, 2 months ago
You have not challenged yourself enough.
Remember, I started with compassion. So you must push yourself, but never forget you are a human. The body has limits, respect them. If you do not have love or compassion for yourself, you will fail.
The Inner Child will start fighting back— you will get non-stop injuries when exercising, every time you sit to write or meditate you will get angry etc.
If this happens, it is worth asking: Am I respecting myself and my body? Am I pushing myself because I want to become the best I can, or because I have some idiotic notion in my head of what I should accomplish (get a beach body, become a bestseller etc)?
Because one approach will lead to growth, the other will lead to more problems.
Sometimes, you’ll just have to power through the problems, until you learn something about yourself.
I mentioned how I wrote novels. I gave up, because at one point I lost all internal motivation. Not only that, but I started doing it for the money, to get on bestseller lists, to make money. I did succeed, for a time, until the Inner Child revolted, and now I can’t even write a short story.
But I did learn something about myself, my motives. I learnt that by forcing money onto something I loved, I lost both money and my craft.
I also said I was training for a 10-mile run. I reached as far as 5 miles running, when one day while meditating, I asked myself, Why am I doing this?
The answer was to impress others. To get that sexy body, to have people say Wow dude, love your tight ass.
And I blame meditation for this, but I said, fuck this. I hate running, I’m not doing this to impress some random twat.
It seems easy to type this, but I struggled with these feelings for almost 2 years. I felt like a failure for “giving up”, being a quitter, but at the same time, I was in touch with the Inner Child, and realised I was harming him to impress other people. I had sold my soul for money, fame and a sexy body, and lost everything. Ultimately, I had to accept myself as I was.
The problem with trying to impress others is, I found, “they” will always find a reason to criticise you. If you lose weight, why aren’t you earning enough money?
If you get a sexy beach body and are a millionaire, like Kim Kardashian, they will accuse you of being shallow and greedy.
At some point you have to say Bitch, I’m done playing this game.
You have to listen to the inner child, focus on your own spiritual growth.
For me, I might return to writing/running at some point, IF I can find a good internal reason for it. Never to impress others or make money.
What to do when you feel scared or stuck?
There will be times in your Hero’s Journey when you will feel stuck. Nothing will be going your way, you may be meditating for hours a day and still feeling shit, your weight loss will reach a plateau.
Or you will find it hard to just start. The first 2–3 days will be great, then it will be back to feeling like shit.
This is the Resistance, as Steven Pressfield calls it. On the Hero’s Journey, the hero faces challenges. He must either overcome them, or come home defeated.
Sky walker must train to be a Jedi, Frodo must deal with his fellowship being broken, the heroes in Dude, Where’s My Car must deal with the fact they are about to be eaten by an ostrich.
You must power through the resistance, but remember, sometimes the Resistance Has a Point. Sometimes, you have to change your path, because you were doing something your Inner Child does not enjoy. This is not a defeat, even Frodo found it easier to go under the mountain rather than face the angry mountain. (If you don’t get these references, you are not qualified to read his article).
So you must face the Resistance, but accept that sometimes an outright battle is not the correct way, that you might have to change your tactics or try something different.
I wish I could say more, but a lot of this advice will depend on your circumstances.
To summarise what I’ve been saying:
- Life is a challenge, a battle
- Rather than waiting for life to come and kick you in the balls, it would be better if You went out to meet it, like a Hero(ine)
- Choose Your Own Heroes Journey means: You set challenges in your own life, via external methods like exercise, meditation, writing, art.
- Your goal is to improve yourself. Any fame or money or sexy bodies are a side effect. You will ruin the journey if you run after the side effect
- Your rewards must be internal, the feeling of satisfaction for being a much better person. The only reward you will run after is Inner contentment and Joy, a satisfaction with a life well lived
- Your final goal will be, to say on your deathbed, I have no regrets, MY LIFE WAS FUCKIN’ AWESOME
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