Entrepreneurship as the Hero's Journey
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Entrepreneurship is a path, a lifestyle and ultimately a journey. You begin, face have challenges and, eventually through struggle and hard work, you succeed. Whether you’re about to begin your path, or are perhaps floundering in the dark and stormy woods along the way, knowing the three basic elements of a good story just might help you survive entrepreneurship.
In 1949, Joseph Campbell published The Hero With A Thousand Faces, a book of comparative mythology. It’s still relevant today. George Lucas has said it influenced his Star Wars series.
Campbell examined the mythology of every culture and their iconic heroes. He found the same monomyth structure in every one and broke it down into what is now commonly known as the hero’s journey.
As Campbell’s introduction explains, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
It sure sounds like Luke Skywalker. It also sounds a lot like many of the entrepreneurs you might know and love. Much like the hero of a great story, you too are undertaking a journey of heroic proportions as an entrepreneur.
Knowing the three stages of the hero’s journey just might help you identify where you are on the entrepreneur’s path and help you reach your intended goal. Remember, it’s not just the destination, it’s the journey.
Step One: Departure or Separation. Entrepreneurship requires departure from the comforts and security of “normal” life. Sometimes, your departure from the standard path is solely your own choice to follow the vision you just have to follow. Other times, your journey might be prompted by a layoff, downsizing or other unexpected change in your previous corporate status.
Whatever the reason for the departure, it often feels scary and exciting simultaneously. Just how frightening or amazing it feels has a lot to do with how much choice you had in making that leap versus being pushed but, regardless why you stepped on your path, enjoy and congratulate yourself that you’ve gotten this far. As the Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu said, “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
Welcome to the path, fellow traveler.
Step Two: Initiation. Campbell calls it initiation, but you can think of it more like challenges. Maybe, when you started, you thought the world would embrace you with open arms but, now that you’re on your way, you realize it isn’t quite so simple.
Just like the hero in every story or myth you’ve ever been told, you have to earn your success through trials and challenges of growth, discovery and failure. This is rarely a brief stage of the story. In fact, this is where the bulk of the journey takes place. As an entrepreneur, this is where you can expect frustration and the agony of lots of setbacks, even failures. Luke Skywalker lost a hand. Odysseus had to face the Cyclops and almost died from the lure of the Sirens.
You will face a series of serious, sometimes disastrous challenges along the way but, if you remember the hero’s journey, you’ll find the skill, mindset and wit to overcome. A good peer group can help! Luke had the rest of the crew to help him defeat the Death Star and get back the empire. Odysseus had his men tie him to the mast when he otherwise would’ve succumbed to the call of the Sirens and jumped ship to his ultimate defeat.
Keep your good friends and an understanding support group close by to master the challenges and overcome the failures of your entrepreneurial initiation.
Step Three: Return. The hero must eventually return to the beginning place to realize how far he’s come. So, too, will you at your success moment. You will know you have come far and that the starting place, while still there, it’s forever changed because you are changed from the journey.
You will repeat the hero’s journey with each pursuit you have in life but never again as a novice. You can never return home from the journey the same person. That’s what ultimately makes the entrepreneurial journey worth it. When you’re battling initiation and grappling with defeat, you are also gaining experience, honing great skills and developing priceless relationships. You’ll start another project when you realize the success of this path, yet you’ll never travel as the same person again.