“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”, so wrote Helen Keller in 1940.
It’s one of our favourite quotes – inspiring, but also confronting. It challenges you to pause and ask yourself: is my life a daring adventure? If not, what is it? Nothing?
At about 4am this morning my three-week old son pooed into three separate nappies within 10 minutes. He pooed; I changed his nappy. He waited 30 seconds and pooed again. I changed it, another 30 seconds…you get the picture.
My point is this: as I changed that third nappy my life didn’t feel much like an adventure. It felt about as mundane, tedious, tiring, and unadventurous as life gets.
And I can recall these moments with my eldest child, my daughter – the amazing, articulate, loving, fun little person I’ve watched grow over the past four and a half years. I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed changing her nappies, or that many moments I’ve had raising her haven’t been mundane, tedious and tiring.
But now I can look back on these moments from a different perspective. I can see that these were essential parts of an incredible journey – one that we’ve shared together and that has changed me in more ways than I can begin to calculate.
So here I am again, at the beginning of a new journey, being called forth into a new adventure. The only question is: will I resist, or will I answer the call?
Recognizing when adventure is calling
Every now and then in life you have moments that you know are important – ones that you know will shape you, that will become part of your story. You feel the weight and the significance of them as they are happening in real time. They may be moments of triumph or celebration; they may be moments of pain or loss. But you know that things will never be the same again…that you will never be the same again.
More often it is only in retrospect that we can identify the moments that formed us, the ones that propelled our lives in new directions. The moments when adventure came calling.
But what about the adventures you weren’t even conscious of declining? Who knows how many times adventure called, and you didn’t respond? How many opportunities have passed each one of us by because we weren’t alert to them? Or because we chose to ignore them?
The moments that hit you straight away are great, but they are rare. And it’s not good enough to just rely on joining the dots in retrospect. Learning to identify the “call” when it arises – so that you can embrace those moments of opportunity and inspiration when they come along – is an art, and one that the best leaders learn to cultivate.
The Hero’s Journey
Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey was formed around the idea that beneath the narrative elements of virtually all traditional stories and myths there is a common structure. While several different interpretations now exist, the essential pattern is this: our hero embarks on a journey, faces challenges, and is transformed – as Campbell puts it, they ‘Return with the Elixir’, the fruits of their endeavour.
While the model began as an analysis of story structure, it is not just of relevance to fiction – you can see the Hero’s Journey being played out in your own life all the time. If you use it as a lens through which to view your everyday experience it can change everything. What if what is happening right now wasn’t just some random happenstance – what if it were part of an important, even epic journey? How might that influence how you respond?
A key stage of the Hero’s Journey is the moment that everything changes, when the hero’s ‘Ordinary World’ is disrupted irrevocably. Campbell called it ‘The Call to Adventure’. In fiction it tends to be something dramatic – an incredible opportunity, or more often a dire threat, that presents the hero with a challenge or journey that they are compelled to follow.
In life the Call to Adventure may well be something dramatic – falling in love, losing a job. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you are willing to listen, the Call to Adventure is sounding constantly. But most of us have become accustomed to ignoring it or pretending it’s a false alarm.
Refusal of the Call
In Campbell’s model the stage that follows the Call to Adventure is ‘Refusal of the Call’ – the moment when the hero, faced with the scale of the challenge ahead of them, demurs, and retreats to the safety, comfort and familiarity of the Ordinary World.
In life this is where most of us get stuck. Because we are awaiting the big thunderbolt – the dramatic call that cannot be mistaken – we ignore the subtle ones that are sounding within us all the time. Those moments of instinct or intuition; the moments when your heart speaks before your head has the chance to.
We’ve all been there. Perhaps you are watching the news on TV and see a report about a humanitarian disaster somewhere in the world, and something in you stirs, some deep pre-conscious yearning to act, to help somehow. Then your brain kicks into gear, and tells you there is nothing you can do or that can be done, and before you know it you’ve changed the channel.
Or maybe you meet someone and feel a sense of kinship and connection – not necessarily in a romantic sense, just a feeling that this is someone who might be important. And while your heart is telling you this, your brain is already making its exit – because what are you going to do, ask for their phone number like a teenager?
We are constantly receiving signals. The world around us is speaking to our heart-minds all the time. And yet, through fear, self-consciousness, and limiting beliefs we have learned to refuse these calls to adventure before they even register.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can start to train your ear for adventure today. It’s just a matter of perspective…
Be a Hero!
Our invitation to you is to be a hero this month; to consciously bring the Hero’s Journey lens to your experience; to pause in those moments where you feel your heart talking to you and ask yourself: “What if this were a Call to Adventure? What if there were some great learning, some treasure, some elixir to be gained if I follow this voice wherever it might be leading me?”
Pause and reflect on your values. What is important to you? Get a sense check – does it feel like this potential adventure might be leading me towards an important value, or away from it? And from there make a conscious choice.
Life doesn’t have to be just a great adventure or nothing at all. We get to choose! In every moment! Now every time I am faced with a third dirty nappy in a row, or I’m woken up from a deep sleep by cries, I get to choose how I engage with that moment – either as an inconvenience, or as part of a wonderful adventure!
So, this month, this week, for the rest of this day, why not choose adventure? Choose Courage. For us, this is what lies at the heart of Warriorship.
Listen out for the calls, pause, and choose consciously. Maybe even leave the door open for some courageous action, something that pushes you out of your comfort zone. A tiny choice made today could be the beginning of a journey that changes your life…