The Hero’s Journey: How good are you at dealing with obstacles?
I know there is a school of thought that says, if you think there will be obstacles on your path, then hey presto they will appear, and that all you have to do is be positive about your goals, don't for one moment think that anything will interrupt you on your journey and you will achieve them. But in my map of the world, life is not like that! So my approach to succeeding is to learn how to manage any obstacles that may appear, and even turn them into something positive, and if they don't appear, great!
I've been a Buddhist for 22 years and have always been inspired by the following quote from the 13th Century Buddhist, Nichiren Daishonin:
‘There is definitely something extraordinary in the ebb and flow of the tide, the rising and setting of the moon, and the way in which summer, autumn, winter and spring give way to each other. Something uncommon also occurs when an ordinary person attains Buddhahood. At such a time, the three obstacles and four devils will invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat.'
My understanding of this is that whenever we move our lives forward in some kind of way, obstacles will appear, in fact, they are a sign that we are moving forward. So rather than be put off my setbacks, we can accept them as part of the journey and learn how to deal with them. Taking the metaphor of a car on a journey, you can stay parked outside your house and not encounter any traffic jams, diversions, or oil changes. But you won't get very far sat outside your house! Once you venture out there may be difficulties ahead, but you also might find yourself somewhere new and fantastic.
As I started to write this edition of Inspire, I was reminded of Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey (for more information click here). Having studied many different religions and philosophies, Joseph Campbell found a common pattern emerging, which I will attempt to summarise and relate to us achieving our goals that we have set for 2013:
- We set ourselves a goal, and at this point we are on the threshold to the journey, but have not as yet set out on the journey. There is often a hesitancy about crossing the threshold, some procrastinate and others give up at this stage.
- We take some action, we start to move forward, and we meet obstacles, most of which come from within. Many of the dragons and monsters in myths are of course metaphors for us wrestling with our inner demons. And, again, some people get stuck at this stage and give up.
- We encounter a mentor or something which happens to help us on our way, it could be a kind friend, a wise colleague, an inspiring book or something else that helps us move forward.
- We have a revelation and learn something about ourselves, and life, which helps us on our journey.
- We continue on our journey eventually returning ‘home' a changed person.
There are of course Hero's Journeys that are momentous, perhaps caused by outside events, but I also think that whenever we decide to move our lives forward, change ourselves in some kind of way, we have the potential to embark on A Hero's Journey. We might have many Hero Journeys during our lifetime or even in a year. It all depends on how much you move outside your comfort zone, and start to embark on your journey.
Sometimes circumstances force us in to the Hero's Journey. For example, critical illness of ourselves or a loved one, redundancy, a partner unexpectedly leaving us or even joyful events such as the birth of our first child, marriage, moving jobs can potentially lead us on a Hero's Journey. However, if you do not realise that you are on The Hero's Journey, you can get tangled in the obstacles or fail to grasp the opportunity for growth, and you do not return a changed person.
‘The future will be different. Our fear is that it will be the same.'
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – the character played by Judi Dench
Obstacles do not always come bearing a sign that says, ‘Hey, I'm an obstacle designed to stop you from moving forward with your life'. Sometimes they are obvious (you start a new fitness regime and pull a muscle), sometimes much more subtle (your child is sick and you can't get on with your plans).
Think back to goals you have set yourself, in and out of work, and the obstacles that you have encountered. Think about your response to them, did you rise to the challenge or fall at the first hurdle?
- Many years ago before becoming a Buddhist and before I had undertaken any ‘personal development', I decided to start swimming one New Year. I went along to the pool and found it closed for two weeks for maintainance, and didn't go back for about a year!!
- I remember very early in my Buddhist practice I was going on a Buddhist course in Lancashire, and my car wouldn't start. Having called the AA and they got it started, I went on my way many hours late. When I arrived, I was congratulated for getting there despite the obstacle, and for the fact that I hadn't let this get in my way of attending.
- This year I had lots of goals both in and out of work, and on 2nd January I fell ill and was laid low until the 7th, but this time I said, ‘OK, I'll start the year when I'm better, in the meantime I'll take good care of myself'. I welcomed the opportunity to sit on the sofa and read a book that someone had sent me, and took small steps when I was up to it. And since then I've been firing on all cylinders.
‘The only real failure is the failure to try. And the measure of success is how we cope with disappointment.'
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – the character played by Judi Dench
Do you think:
‘That is it, I knew this would happen, whenever I try and achieve something, I always get problems, why do I even try.' My response about 25 years ago!
‘I knew this would happen, I always get ill or something happens, I'm hopeless.' My response about 20 years ago!
‘OK, another obstacle, I must be doing something right to encounter such resistance!' My response nowadays!
From clients' experiences, and mine in the past, it is easy to get disillusioned, feel defeated, beat yourself up when things do not go as planned. When, in the face of obstacles, you need to do the exact opposite. You need to honestly admit any frustrations and negative emotions you feel, be kind to yourself, re-group, and if necessary, change your strategy. You need to get practical, emotional, mental and/or spiritual support to keep you going and moving forward.
‘The block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong.'
Joseph Campbell says that in the Hero's Journey a mentor or wise person appears to help you on your journey. Now, you might be sat there thinking, ‘Where are they?!' But if you look around you they are probably there, but you have not noticed them. They might be:
- At work – a colleague, manager or even client who you connect with, and always seems to say the right thing and inspire you when you speak to them.
- Within your family and friends – is there a friend who you usually turn to who gives you new perspectives on a situation? Sometimes within families it is not the person closest to you, but a wise aunt, uncle or cousin.
- Within you – tapping into your wise self, your own inner wisdom which is always there, but often gets clouded out by the negative chatter of your inner critic and fearful child. Click here for more on Master Your Inner Critic, Release Your Inner Wisdom.
- Around you – is there a particular book, poem, website or quote which inspires you to look differently at your situation?
- Activities – are there activities that you do that help to keep body and soul together to help you move towards your goals? This could be meditation, exercise, singing in a choir, walking in nature. Whatever lifts your spirits.
If you are struggling to overcome obstacles and want some support on your own journey, whether that is in terms of achieving your business goals, developing a specific skill, mastering your inner critic or dealing with issues outside of work, then take my free coaching audit to see if coaching could assist you. Email me on mailto:email@example.com for the free audit questionnaire.
‘Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, Power and magic in it.'