Personal heroism

I had a moment of inspiration a while ago. It’s been running around my mind ever since. I applied this to gaining understanding of a personal experience, and I think it will be useful to others. Actually, I think it’s such a good idea, someone has probably thought of it already.

If we compare ourselves to others, we could easily miss our finest hour, our moment of personal heroism. If I think I did something brave, my next thoughts might be of someone I saw on TV rescuing a family from a car sinking into a river, or of a firefighter risking her life to bring children from a burning building. Not all acts of heroism will be famous. We won’t all get on TV or into the papers. And yet, for some, leaving the house will take as much courage as it takes for a firefighter to run into a burning building.

I have a suggestion for a way to examine our moments of personal heroism, the times when we act from our values, even knowing there is a risk to ourselves.

The American scholar Joseph Campbell identified a narrative structure that appears in almost all myths, legends and old stories, and a lot of newer stories as well. He called it The Hero’s Journey. I’m going to borrow a simplified version from Erica Sosna’s excellent book Your Life Plan. In this version, the journey has these stages:

  • The invitation to adventure.
  • The commitment: stepping into the unknown.
  • The quest: challenges, obstacles, setbacks, victory (or failure).
  • The return: the hero returns, transformed by the quest.

Here is a way we can tell our stories of heroism to ourselves, and if we choose, to trusted friends. Your story doesn’t have to be a literal journey. It may have taken place in familiar locations, perhaps even in your own home. The difference could have been in your mind, your attitude and perhaps no one noticed any change.

The invitation

How does your story begin? How were you invited to this journey? How did you decide to accept the invitation? How difficult was it? How long did the decision take? Did you consider refusing? What dangers did you anticipate?

The danger could be emotional or physical. For example, if we commit ourselves to a love affair, we open ourselves to heartbreak.

The Commitment

How did you step into the unknown? What did you leave behind? How different was the new? Did you find it frightening, or exciting, or something else? What other emotions arose?

The Quest

What challenges did you face? What obstructions? Did anyone try to discourage you? Were there any allies helping? Any thoughts, books or objects that helped?

Were you victorious?

The Return

How were you transformed by the journey? What did you learn? What did you lose? Are you glad you made the journey? What would things be like if you hadn’t? Do you have any regrets? What feelings arise when you think about your story?

2 thoughts on “Personal heroism

  1. Mike, I am drawn to this post and am sitting here with tears under the “surface”. I find the connection to Joseph Campbell compelling. And the simplified process that you outlined in this post very moving. I am now drawn to tears as I write.

    We don’t think of ourselves as heroes and yet many day-to-day life decisions create that same heroes energy. What I’m finding connecting is not moving past that and not overlooking it but to recognize it and give it the honor it deserves.

    And the questions give rise to swirling thoughts as I remember struggling for many years with letting go of something that was literally killing me. I now see that saying yes to me took courage and still does.

    I am grateful for this post. I hope my words convey my appreciation and gratitude.

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