The concept of the Hero’s Journey is one that Peter Mohan frequently draws on in his work helping people tap into the best of themselves. As well as enabling him to support and guide his individual and team clients, the Hero’s Journey has also played a significant role in Peter’s own life and career. He recently sat down with Eamon Cullen of Huckletree to tell him about this intriguing and inspiring idea and how it can help people to transform their lives, take on new challenges and step out of their comfort zone and into the unknown.
In August 2008, Peter Mohan made a bold decision. Despite the economic recession that ravaged the Irish marketplace, Peter felt that it was now time to take his next authentic step. Against widespread uncertainty in Ireland, Peter made the choice to start his own business. Making a transition into self-employment at this time was accompanied by significant risk and unpredictability. Nonetheless, Peter went ahead and has since established his business in both personal and professional development. It was such an enormous decision that it required an abundance of inspiration. But what evoked Peter to take this leap of faith?
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Peter to learn about the framework that influenced his commitment to follow his career aspirations. Unsurprisingly, this framework has remained at the forefront of his life and is integral to his work with clients. The essence of Peter’s influence can be derived from the work of Joseph Campbell, who is renowned for his work on comparative mythology. Peter’s particular revelation was that of “the hero’s journey”. The hero’s journey, he explains underpins all great stories from Star Wars to Spiderman and The Lion King to David and Goliath. According to Peter, the logic behind the mass appeal of these narratives is that they connect deeply with our human nature as each person navigates their own path in life. Through Peter’s work, he has deconstructed the hero’s journey into eight stages. Eight stages that we can recognise and implement in our own lives and careers.
Stage 1: The Ordinary World
Before the transformation, the catalyst for change is not yet in sight. This stage of the journey is encapsulated in everyday life, comfort or routine. It’s a time of building a firm foundation and a firm sense of identity. A time for significant experiences, influences and learning which will serve future expeditions and challenges. Before Robin Hood was outlawed to Sherwood Forest and stole from the rich to give to the poor, he lived a simple life of carefree amusement, hunting and courtship. Before Harry Potter ventured to Hogwarts to pursue a life of wizardry, he spent his days oppressed beneath the stairs of his relative’s house and before Peter Parker became Spiderman, he sought a career in journalism. Meanwhile, each of these characters remained unaware of what the future held in store.
Stage 2: The Call to Adventure
The call to adventure or the “Call To Action” can emerge in many ways. A leadership role at work, the development of a character trait or a commitment to achieving a lifelong dream. Whatever the context, now is the time to step up and confront present limitations and fears if you are to truly pursue an alternative desire, passion or goal. It is at this point a new ideal is brought to the forefront of imagination, there now emerges a favourable circumstance yet to be explored. In “The Dead Poets Society” Robin Williams’ character John Keating calls his students to adventure with a simple but compelling question “What will your verse be?”.
Stage 3: Refusing the Call
Occasionally the call to adventure can appear overwhelming or exceptionally difficult. In these circumstances, it is common that the hero initially refuses the call. They may run, deny their truth or remain stuck in the ordinary world that is familiar to them. During this time, the hero may well reflect on his current reality, surveys personal concerns and confronts inner feelings of self-doubt. The karate kid finds himself unable for his painstaking training regime, William Wallace wants no part in a ferocious rebellion, and Will Hunting refuses to use his genius abilities for the purpose of betterment.
Stage 4: Meeting Helpers, Guides & Mentors
No hero is self-sufficient. Along the hero’s journey, they must acknowledge the need for support and guidance. Building a network and following the guidance of appropriate role models is a crucial stage for the development of every hero. Rocky Balboa’s fighting spirit is matched with the experience of his trainer Mickey Goldmill. While Dorothy travels the yellow brick road, she is accompanied by a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion to reach the Wizard Of Oz.
Stage 5: Crossing the Threshold
In every great story, there is a time when the hero must answer the call to adventure. Peter shares a great quote from Goethe that highlights the power of this crucial stage of character evolution, “the moment one definitely commits, then providence moves too”. The hero moves beyond self-imposed limitation, develops the necessary courage and rises to the occasion before them. It is at this point where that there is no turning back or as Peter puts it “Once I know something, I can’t unknow it”. Neo from the Matrix, in an act of courage, chooses the red pill to reveal the truth of his existence and Forrest Gump breaks out of his leg supports and starts running towards new possibilities.
Stage 6: Trail of Trials & Helpers
No story is complete without the hero facing trials and tribulations. In the face of adversity, the true nature of the hero’s character is revealed. Peter reminds us that in times of struggle, transformation occurs – “Where you stumble is, where your treasure lies.” Shrek and Donkey overcome the dragon to save the sleeping princess from the tower, David defeats Goliath and Simba battles the evil Scar to take the throne of The Lion King.
Stage 7: The Reward
After answering the call to adventure and conquering the battles along the way the hero is rewarded for their efforts. The dream has come alive, and the evolution of character has taken place. The Mighty Ducks become champions, and The “A-Teams” plan comes together in eventual victory.
Stage 8: The Return
The final stage of the hero’s journey results in the hero returning to the world in which they set out. However, the hero is not the same person, they are more complex, more experienced, and they possess greater knowledge and skill. Tim Robbins escapes the tyranny of Shawshank Prison and returns to the freedom of the outside world while Indiana Jones returns to his societal role as a professor.
The hero’s journey is not exclusive to the movies. As Joseph Campbell put it – “A good life is one hero’s journey after another. And each time the same question arises: do I dare?” Each of us is called to action at various points in our lives and careers. One of our challenges is to recognise these calls to action when they arise, and the next one is to decide on our response. With this in mind, I asked Peter for a final reflection or a call to action for potential readers. After a brief reflection, Peter gave this reply: “When you experience a call to adventure in your life, the key question for you is, do I dare? In answering this question, you may find it helpful to ask yourself – what would the best of me do.