You all know by now that I’m (just slightly) obsessed with The Lord of the Rings – both movie and book versions. This week we’re looking at Square Three of the change cycle – the Hero’s Saga.
This where you start moving from dreaming and scheming to taking real action towards your dreams. So if LOTR wasn’t your thing, pick your favorite story that involved some kind of epic quest or “unsolvable” problem, because it’s the only way I’ve found to understand and embrace this phase of the change cycle. In this phase, we become the hero/heroine of our own stories. And, as you know, for the vast majority of the story, the heroine is facing some major obstacles, and there’s some serious doubt as to whether or not she will ever make it. Sounds great, right? Don’t worry, we’re going to break it down so you know exactly what to expect. I hope by the end of this post that you will be ready to jump straight in to this phase with arms wide open.
To review from prior weeks, the pretty blue portion above is Martha Beck’s Change Cycle. (For info on the pond, read this.) Martha’s model was designed to show the process of fairly dramatic life transitions, and she includes what she calls a catalytic event between Squares Four and One. It’s incredibly useful to know it when you are facing one of these major life changes, but I find it equally as helpful for the smaller changes, and that’s what I’m focusing on for this series of articles.
You know the part in LOTR between the time when Frodo and company set out from Rivendell to the moment he destroys the ring in the fires of Mt. Doom? Well, that’s about what you can expect from Square Three. He faces countless challenges. He finds himself going in directions he never anticipated, with people he could never have imagined knowing. He messes up quite a bit, and only survives through luck, tenacity, and the company of some incredible friends. He keeps walking. He makes really bad decisions, trusts the wrong people, wants to quit and faces nonstop temptation to just give up. He makes some great decisions, accepts help, stays true to his purpose, trusts his instincts and offers kindness. He keeps walking.
The challenges you face in your own hero’s saga will (likely) not be as bad as those that Frodo faced. But you can expect basically the same thing – plans will not work, you will make poor decisions, you will fall down and get hurt. But you’ll get up and keep walking. You’ll meet amazing people, see things you never thought you would, do things you never thought you could. You’ll keep walking. If you don’t quit, eventually you will make it to your promised land.
The hard part is taking the first step. I think we’re all a little afraid of our own Hero’s Saga – taking action on a dream that is meaningful to you can be really scary.
I’ve seen two ways of avoiding this (and practiced both of them):
- You cling to Square Two, perfecting the dream and never actually make it happen. I discussed this extensively last week.
- You look like you’re wildly engaged in your hero’s saga – taking risks, creating, “doing” the things of this square – but all your action is going to a dream that you don’t care about. You might see this in someone who has climbed the corporate ladder, and is involved on several Boards of Directors in their spare time, but their secret heart dream is to run a small start-up. There’s no real fear to your hero’s saga, because the path you’re on has no meaning to you.
If you are on a path with no heartfelt meaning, it might be fun to try out the hero’s saga on a small dream you do care about. Maybe pick something that is not too threatening – you want to make a beautiful scrapbook for your sister, for example, but you can’t fit it in because you have so many activities. Trying something light might help to ease you into a heartfelt Square Three.
For all of you – this week I’m inviting you to walk straight into any real hero’s journey. It’s fine to be scared, to not be ready, and to think you don’t know enough. You’re completely right. If you spent the next six years perfecting your plan, you would still be scared, not ready, and not know enough.
I’ll be back next week with many tips and strategies on making this phase as fun as possible, but for the moment, I’d like to offer you two reasons to give your hero’s saga a shot.
Clarity Comes from Taking Action
I’m loosely quoting Marie Forleo with this title. She runs an online business school, and says something to this effect quite often. I took her course last year, and found this philosophy terrifying. For years, I’ve been a hardcore Dream Junkie, and what I call a Square Three Chicken. I would far rather analyze, dream, and envision something than actually do something. Don’t get me wrong – I consider my Square Two abilities to be major assets, both for me and my clients. (and friends and relatives!) I love them. I wouldn’t trade them for anything…but when it came to ‘making things happen,’ I always thought of it as an endurance test, run purely on willpower.
Never, ever have I been more wrong. Square three rocks. I started some overdue hero’s sagas this year, and fell wholeheartedly in love with this phase of the change cycle. If you’re a fellow Dream Junkie, get ready, because Square Three is like a feast of information. You don’t have to dwell on what might happen if you try this…you get immediate, clear feedback from trying it. It’s awesome, and after a year of playing with the idea, I realize Marie was completely right – clarity does come through taking action. And it often happens so much quicker than you think! And it’s so much more fun than you’d think! Trying and failing and revising your plan and then repeating the whole cycle is energizing.
Try it for yourself and tell me where I’m wrong!
Journey Before Destination
I’m just going to geek out completely, and quote part of the first ideal of the Knights Radiant, a completely fictional creation of Brandon Sanderson. “Journey before destination.” His characters in The Stormlight Archive discuss this often, and since I’m often reading the series, I think about it a lot. A loose translation of the idea is that the journey you take to get somewhere is more important than the place you are striving to reach.
This last weekend I had the opportunity to attend an amazing workshop about walking the labyrinth. The labyrinth is an ancient form of walking meditation – it looks like a maze, but there are no tricks or choices in this path. There is only one path; it twists and turns, but leads to the center. This same path is the path out.
In my own life, I’m usually trying to get to the center of the labyrinth, where many mystical things are reported to happen. I’ve considered it ‘the point’ of walking the labyrinth for years.
This time was different for me – I realized on my walk in that no part of the path was better than another, and that the center was not any more special than the journey out. Freed from this idea that I needed to get to the center, I was able to enjoy the entire journey, connecting with other walkers, noticing the speed my body wanted to move, enjoying the beautiful tea light candles around the edges. It was lovely.
The labyrinth is said to be a metaphor for your life. What I got from the walk is this – “journey before destination.” It’s how we walk our life paths that matters, not the goals we reach.
Right now, think of the end goal of your hero’s saga. One of mine is to be debt-free. Let’s pretend that the goal is achieved. Woot! I’m debt free…but so what? Yes, it’s awesome, and I’m looking forward to it, but it’s not like once I’m debt-free I’m done with life and can just hang out on the beach. That would be so astoundingly boring.
The exciting part about becoming debt –free is the journey I had to take to get there – from unconsciously spending and being terrified of money to negotiating deals, hustling income, and learning how to make my own soap. That’s the fun part.
Goals are just excuses to go on journeys.
(Damn I feel like that rates a “Tweet that” but dealing with Twitter is somewhere down the road on my hero’s saga.)
Picture how dreadful LOTR would have been if we had to just watch Frodo hang out in Rivendell, agonizing over why he had to be the one to take the ring. Or sit around with Elrond analyzing why Sauron is such a psycho and visualizing how they could defeat him. Or even if we had to spend more than ten minutes watching all of middle earth celebrate reaching the promised land after destroying the Dark Lord of Mordor. Instead, we were gripped, watching eight hours of the hero’s saga, rooting for Frodo the whole time.
So it is with our own lives – we’re always going to be on a hero’s saga, because as humans we will always have desires. They lead us forth into the unknown, into things we didn’t think we could do, into relationships we never thought we could have. The hero’s saga is when we’re most engaged with life, learning and growing.
In my opinion – yes, it’s scary. But it’s also fun, riveting, joyful, adventurous and exciting. This week, I’m inviting you to take any tiny step towards your dream.
Leave a comment below and share your step with us.