Embarking on a Hero’s Journey

In March I departed for the Pacific Northwest and the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat; three days spent in the Cascade Mountains, devouring local grub and IPAs, communing with fellow writers and learning from some pretty impressive memoirists. (side note: there is talk of repeating the retreat next year, so aspiring memoir writers take note). Organizer and instructor, Theo Pauline Nestor, led my favorite session: “It’s Not JUST About You”. She introduced me to the concept of writers using memoir to tell a bigger story about the world we live in. I had an inkling of that, but when she explained it in detail, using memoirs by Cheryl Strayed and Joan Didion (writers I admire) to illustrate her point, the proverbial light bulb dinged above my head. This was what I needed — a way to connect my writing to the bigger picture, the shared humanity we all face.

As the session continued, she mentioned Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey. Days later in downtown Seattle, I came across his book at a local bookstore, but couldn’t bear lugging the massive tome home in my already stuffed-to-the-gills duffle. I placed it back it on the shelf and promptly forgot about Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey until last weekend.

In a quest to find a  movie to watch, Marc and I scoured iTunes, watching countless trailers until we found Finding Joe.

As soon as the documentary began we sat transfixed, absorbing every word spoken by the interviewees (writers, philosophers, creative types). Once the quotes began flashing up on the screen, I scrambled for the pause button so we could transcribe the words that we both had needed to hear.

“Follow your bliss.”

“Be the hero of your own journey.”

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

The words resonated in a way that made me think long and hard about my writing and who I am in this world.

I’m a writer who spends the bulk of her time in a day job to pay bills and excessive student loan payments, but what I really want to do is create, share stories that illuminate the common thread that binds us together. I want to live a different kind of life, one that’s not predicated on the societal norm of “get married, buy the house, have the kids, get a dog, work, work, work until you retire” (side note: I’m not saying it’s a bad life goal or aspiration to have. If that’s what floats your boat then more power to you. And for the record: I do have a dog).

One week after watching the film, I still find myself contemplating how I actually do this: live with courage and follow my bliss, regardless of who “gets it” (something I started exploring in my last post since I don’t quite know where I’m going or how I’m going to get there). And I know deep down that now is the time for bold, brave steps towards bliss and being the hero of my own journey. Because at this stage? Not doing it scares me more than venturing into the unknown.


46 thoughts on “Embarking on a Hero’s Journey

  1. The way I see it, if you don’t show up and live your life as YOU, then whose gonna walk your path and share your gifts with the rest of the world? You’re the only one who CAN be you … So go out there and BE WHOLE …be authentically you. Live your life from the inside out. And keep writing! Your words inspire me!

    • Thank you for your kind words! You are so right! What I’ve struggled with has been the realization that I don’t want the career trajectory that I went to graduate school for (public relations) and always wanting to write but being too afraid to voice it as a viable option.

      Now that my intuitive voice is growing stronger and leading me, there is fear and uncertainty over how to pursue it. So I’ve gone the route of trying to emulate the writing trajectory other [successful] writers who found a way to make their living writing (heck, if it worked for them, it should work for me, right?). Sadly, I don’t get far. In the documentary they talk looking down and realizing you are on someone else’s path and that you need to find your own, unique path. And that’s what it felt like. It felt inauthentic, like I’m trying on a dress that, while beautiful, is a style that just doesn’t suit…me.

      • Erin – I’d be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session if you’d like to gain some clarity on authenticity and courage. I do all my coaching over the phone (I’m in the Eastern time zone). Email me if you’re interested: Barbie@CoachBarbie.com

    • Me too! I wonder if our time at BU planted seeds that would have us contemplating the paths we now find ourselves on. Either way, I’m finally beginning to see that it’s a good place to be!

  2. I found the contrast between these two ideas interesting:

    ***what I really want to do is create, share stories that illuminate the common thread that binds us together. I want to live a different kind of life, one that’s not predicated on the societal norm of “get married, buy the house, have the kids, get a dog, work, work, work until you retire”***

    The idea that you want to illuminate the common while living a different kind of life is, I think, the conflict many of us struggle with when searching for identity. You’ve illuminated for me that finding yourself doesn’t have to mean searching too far from home…as Dorothy found out. 🙂

    • So true! I’m also finding that my true identity has been buried under societal norms, expectations and pressures — but now that I’ve tapped into my intuition, I’m finding I can no longer ignore it. All these “guides” in the form of people I meet and documentaries I stumble across keep pointing me towards this new direction.

  3. I love this! I want to do those things too even though I have gotten married and have great kids and a house. I want to tell stories, which is so much fun and so healing. Sounds like an awesome retreat.

    • Thanks! The retreat really was a life-changing experience (as clichéd as that sounds) — I didn’t get out of it what I thought I would, but it really changed the way I viewed my writing and what it is that I really want to create. Here’s to our journeys as writers!

  4. Sounds like such a great retreat. I also want to tell all the stories that are inside of me just waiting to be written.

    • It really was — it was my first “official” writing retreat. It felt a bit like drawing a line in the sand and saying with authority that I am, indeed, a writer.

  5. i’m going to put my pencil in the pack with y’all. I think every life is fascinating, even my ordinary, boring one. it’s all about how you tell the story. 🙂

    • Love that analogy — every life is fascinating and it’s all in living authentically and respecting others for their life choices as well. And your life definitely isn’t ordinary or boring!

  6. I would love to hear more about the memoir retreat – it sounds really great. And I’m so with you on the not wanting to live the way you’re “supposed” to, but rather finding your bliss. I get that.

    • I thought the retreat was amazing — it was my first writer’s conference so I really had no idea what to expect. Each course was led by women who were published memoirists who ran different sessions on specific aspects of memoir writing (dealing with multiple narrators, overcoming rejection/fear, how your voice defines your story). What I found most interesting was the dialogue between instructor and students — we were able to brainstorm and share our ideas. The whole weekend was very collaborative and people were so unbelievably kind. Oh, and I met Cheryl Strayed who delivered the keynote…she pretty much rocked the house.

  7. I agree that its more frightening to not live and follow your heart. Earlier this year I kinda woke up to the realization that I have survived but havent been living for a while…THis speaks to the crux of that problem.

    • Zoe, I totally feel your pain. The last few months have been a bit of that slow realization that I’ve been going through the motions, surviving as you put it. But once we wake up and move forward without fear, then we’re really onto something, right?

  8. Yes, yes, yes !!! Follow your bliss. I make fun of myself all the time for walking away from a “normal” life in order to have more time to create, but I have never been happier. I am pretty broke though ; )

    Joseph Campbell is one of my favorites. I can honestly say that “The Power of Myth” changed my life. Watch the video (Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers) if you haven’t already.

    • I had no idea this video existed — adding it to my watch list now! I love that you followed your bliss and have the happiness to prove it. Sorry about the broke bit though — why can’t bliss = a bit of financial ease too? 🙂

  9. Our stories are powerful and they help to define our path in life. What a wonderful gift to write and explore, then to share and unfold the connecting threads! Thank you for sharing. (I found your post on the Yeah Write grid.)

  10. “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” Amen. It’s true. Every word. We all want to live our own lives differently and somewhere succeed in doing that while still remaining ordinary (and even having a dog, as goes the norm). It is very possible to have a work-work lifestyle and still do things we want, like you said you want create and share stories. Moreover writing is a great respite from daily hubbub. The way you say you would and do cherish is what makes your writing so special. 🙂

  11. Hi Erin – This documentary has been on my list for a long time! I’m glad you enjoyed it and shared how it struck you. “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is on my nightstand and I’m about halfway through. Keep writing. You are already on your way.

    • Thank you for the kind words. I have to say, after your comment and a few other praises for Joseph Campbell, I’m definitely picking up this book sooner rather than later. It’s as though the universe is sending me a sign!

  12. So true, and the older I get, the more I realize that we only get once chance to do what makes up happy. I discovered, at the age of 40, that I enjoy writing, and I intend to seize that bliss as much as I can for the rest of my life. The kids make it more difficult now, but I know they won’t be little forever, and then I will have something I actually enjoy doing to fall back on when they leave. As opposed to my Advertising job, which gives me hives 🙂

    • Too funny, I feel like PR gives me hives! 🙂 Joking aside, I wonder if there is a certainty a level of certainty that comes with age that makes us braver and more willing to take steps towards our bliss in a way we were never able to before. Either way, it’s so worth it!

  13. I love the last sentence here. Not doing something IS scarier than trying to do it. Every time I venture into the unknown…. even into the world of wearing a weird pair of earrings 😉 … things turn out not to be scary at all. Best wishes on your journey!

  14. I am right here with you, trying to live life differently, according to who I am. It’s tough – I’ve got the 9-5 job too, which interrupts the creativity, but I find setting a practice helps. Guess I’m the type that needs guidelines. Good luck!!!

  15. Lovely post – left me feeling inspired and excited to keep taking my own “bold, brave steps” and follow my writing dreams. Thank you for this. And congrats on the retreat! Exciting times!

    • Thank you for the kinds words. I’ve gotta say, I love the camaraderie from the YeahWrite crew on this post — we are all making our way towards our bliss, nurturing our creativity and sharing our hearts, souls and writing with the interwebs. The support is unlike anything I would have imagined. This is a whole other level of bliss. 🙂

  16. Sounds like an amazing retreat! And it’s nice when you get to the point of being too scared NOT to. Look forward to hearing more about the adventure.

  17. It is so scary to take the leap, but even scarier when you look at the rest of your life being unhappy. I’m changing my life in baby steps and it’s working!

  18. I understand where you are coming from, as far as the struggle between day-to-day life and truly living goes. For quite some time, I contemplated majors and careers; when I couldn’t decide, I tried to pick the ones that would make me the most money so that I could be comfortable, and spend more time with my family. It wasn’t until I let go of the financial worries that I was able to pick a major that I was passionate about. I won’t make much money in my career (unless I’m very lucky), but I’m so excited for the future now. I also had to face my fears about leaving my family behind and seeing the world; that, too, I have come to terms with. I am glad that, despite your job and loans, you are still very passionate and committed to your dreams. Your desire to create something that will really affect people is inspiring. I hope you get there!

  19. I believe that drive, hard work, good choices and a little luck are the keys to accomplishing your dreams. I bet you will be successful because you are determined. I was an English major in the 70’s and I recently returned to school to improve my writing. It is the scariest thing that I have ever done and I often question myself because I am totally out of my comfort zone attending classes with college students. Even though I stand out among the students, they are kind and respectful which makes me feel a little more comfortable.

    I wish you the best. Many of my friends have drive and worked hard to live their dream and they are living it today. Go for it.

  20. I know exactly what you are going through. I was, and still am to a degree, in that same position. I was following the normal, safe path with a full time technology job. I wanted to try something new, I felt I was destined for more – like so many others. I wanted to write, I wanted to travel, I didn’t want the same ol’ same ol’ anymore.

    My husband and I love fitness and the outdoors so we worked toward personal trainer certifications. I also joined a writer’s critique group to improve my writing skills. Nearly a year ago, I had the opportunity to leave my job and gain experience in the fitness industry. So we took it. It entailed me living in another state while my husband stayed and floated the boat.

    I have a completely new perspective on life now. I think this is the journey I’m meant to take but it’s not easy. Once you make the leap and find your self on the other side – with more time, more grand ideas, and less money – you’ll have a whole new set of quandaries to work though and overcome. That’s when you’ll really have to face the fact that your future success in life is totally up to your ingenuity and hard work. A hefty dose of Faith certainly helps too! Good luck with what you decide.

  21. I love your last sentence. You have all this figured out. You’re almost ready to be mu geru 🙂
    Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is worth reading. If anything, you’ll understand Star Wars, Finding Nemo, and countless other movies. Seriously, this is a great post and I wish you well.

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  23. Yes! I need to hear / watch / read stuff like this more often to keep me motivated. This is weird timing because hubby and I just finished having an hour long conversation about how we want to live our lives braver and truer to who we are without letting others hold us down.

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