Your Mythic Journey

By David Lee


Reprinted from Inner Tapestry: A Holistic Journal Celebrating and Supporting Life’s Exploration, Feb/March 2006


Note: To Learn More About Applying the Mythic Journey (or the Hero’s Journey) Concept to Your Life, Check out the Free Teleseminar “The Courage to Begin” That Will Be Held on June 21st

Jack, a high profile physician, set himself up for a fall. Although he didn’t need the money, he sold contraband to an under cover agent and is now looking at prison time.

Rebecca just lost her job. Her whole sense of identity having evaporated, she feels lost and bereft as she steps into unknown territory.

Kristine, a successful attorney, finds herself reflecting on her life and wondering “Is that all there is?” She wishes she felt more alive and interested in what the day may bring.

Recognizing You’re On a Mythic Journey

While in the midst of their respective dramas, each of these people could benefit from seeing their lives as a mythic journey. When we see ourselves on a mythic journey, we bring greater hope, vitality, and meaning to our lives. In this article, we’ll explore how to apply the Mythic Journey model to our lives in today’s world.

First, let’s briefly describe the Mythic Journey model and its roots. It is based primarily on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey model. Dr. Campbell was a brilliant anthropologist whose work was made popular by the PBS series The Power of Myth. His studies of mythology throughout the world revealed that every mythological system had a common theme: the Hero’s Journey. The theme goes like this: the hero is an average person who is living an average life when he or she gets “the call to adventure” – that still small voice inside that won’t be ignored. For awhile, just like most of us, the hero tries to ignore that still small voice.

The voice refuses to be ignored. The hero finally relents, and crosses the threshold, beginning his journey into the unknown. There is no path to follow, he must carve it out of the unknown with each step taken. Along the way, the hero faces trials and tribulations that test his courage, intellectual prowess, and resolve.

Somewhere along the way, when it looks like all is lost, a helper appears, sometimes disguised as an unsavory character or frightening beast. At other times, the hero discovers a clue to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem or stumbles upon just the right tool to overcome an obstacle. Each trial and tribulation contributes to his transformation. His journey exerts an alchemical effect; when he returns home, he is not the person who first ventured forth. He is far more and has far more to offer.

This is the Hero’s Journey.

This forms the framework of viewing your life as a Mythic Journey. I like to use the term Mythic Journey, because “Hero” tends to connote a masculine, “take charge” approach to life, while mythic journey speaks more of the mystical, mysterious path that we are on. Furthermore, for many in today’s culture, their Mythic Journey might be about abandoning accustomed forceful, stereotypically masculine ways of approaching life.

You can use the Mythic Journey model to bring greater meaning and richness to your life, to cultivate wisdom, and to face your own difficult passages with greater courage and hope. More specifically, you can use it to:

Examine the reoccurring themes in your life, especially those that involve high drama, trial and tribulation. By thinking of your life as a Mythic Journey and yourself as the Hero on a journey, you can look at your drama with greater objectivity and discernment. Using the lens of the Mythic Journey, you can examine the various struggles and challenges you’ve faced throughout your life and ask: “What clues might these common, reoccurring themes offer me about the lessons this Hero is here on earth to learn?”

What Lessons Are You Here to Learn?

So for instance, let’s say you notice that a common thread running through many of your dramas involves being unwilling to speak your truth until a situation becomes unbearable. When it reaches this point, you unconsciously create a crisis that ejects you from the painful situation. Observing this, you could say: “Ah, part of this Hero’s Mythic Journey is to learn to speak her truth. It also seems that another lesson she’s here to learn is to trust her intuition, rather than stifle it until a toxic situation becomes unbearable.”

You could then use this awareness to become more mindful of opportunities to speak your truth, rather than suffer in silence. You could also use this awareness to propel you to learn more about using and respecting your intuition.

Difficult Person or Valuable Helper?

Practice viewing people you find difficult as Helpers in disguise. Using the Mythic Journey model invites you to shift your perspective about difficult people. Rather than wasting time and energy in turmoil, saying to yourself “Why do they have to be that way!” “They shouldn’t be that way!” you can see them as Helpers in disguise. Using the “speaking your truth” example, you could see them as helpers in disguise who provide you with opportunities to practice a new, more evolved response.

Thus, the Mythic Journey model invites us to see even the most difficult person as a helper in disguise. It allows us to adopt the perspective of Reverse Paranoia – imagining that everyone is out to help us. Using this principle when dealing with challenging individuals, we can ask ourselves “What lesson might this person be offering me? Will I get caught up in my anger, frustration, and judgment and miss the lesson… or will I choose to learn the lesson?”

From Drama to Life Lesson

When in the midst of a difficult period, use the Mythic Journey model to rise above the drama. Most of us find it easy to get tangled up in emotional turmoil when life confronts us with challenges and crises. We feel sorry for ourselves; we say “This shouldn’t happen to me.” We ask “Why me?” not as a question, but as a lament. We then heap on fear by using our imagination to create our own little internal Stephen King film festival – internal movies of all the horrible things that we know will happen because of the difficult situation.

Using the Mythic Journey model, we can ask “Is this difficult situation offering me the opportunity to learn something?” Asking this question can shift us from feeling victimized and afraid, to feeling curious and even energized. We can ask: “Is this another example of one of my common themes, one of the life lessons I’m here to learn?” Asking this question offers us the opportunity to stop re-enacting the same bad relationships, job problems, or life crises. It allows us to use the crisis as the transformational opportunity it is.

It’s a New Day and You’re on a Mythic Adventure

When you awaken to the day, play with the idea that you’re on a mythic adventure. Remind yourself that you’re on a “magical mystery tour” and there’s no telling what today might bring. Today might be the day you meet someone, and that someone will make an offhand remark, and that remark will offer you a clue to a dilemma you’ve been facing. This evening, at the grocery store, you might bump into an old classmate or co-worker, and a new career door might open. Tonight, you might have a dream that offers an insight into a troubled relationship or a career shift that will enliven you. I find that when I remind myself that – in the words of William Butler Yeats — “life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved” my energy level and excitement rise. I’ve found this especially helpful during difficult times, shifting me from feeling beleaguered and wanting to shrink from life, to feeling a sense of curiosity, and awakened anticipation.

Mindfulness and Your Mythic Journey

Practice being more mindful of clues cloaked in mundane situations. Viewed with a mythic eye, simple occurrences can offer answers and wisdom. This is my favorite way of applying the Mythic Journey model to everyday life. I find that it not only makes life so much more interesting, it allows one to mine powerful life lessons from simple, everyday scenarios. Just as the Hero must be awake and mindful in each moment – his life depends upon it – we too must be awake in each moment because the quality of our lives depends upon it.

When I move through the day alert for clues and lessons, it makes for an infinitely more interesting and satisfying day. Being alert for teaching moments embedded in ordinary life, enables us to turn each day into a classroom for wisdom teachings that can be applied for the rest of our lives.

Can You Relate to This?

Here’s one of my favorite examples… years ago, retuned to her hotel room after a long day at a conference. Tired and depleted, she looks forward to crashing. Arriving at her hotel room’s door, she slides the magnetic key card into the slot and cranks on the door handle. The door doesn’t budge. Since these locks can be finicky, she tries again, with a bit more focus and force. No luck. Now she’s frustrated. She muscles the magnetic key card into the slot and cranks on the handle with more force. No dice. This happens a few more times, her irritation mounting. Why won’t the darn door just open like it should? Then she realizes. Wrong room. Wrong door. When she goes to the right room, the right door, amazingly enough, the key works like a charm.

Being Mindful to Critical Clues

Now, if one blasts through life going 75 miles an hour, unaware that everyday occurrences offer clues and wisdom, such a situation would soon be forgotten. It’s not all that unusual; most of us have done that or something similar. But what if gaze upon this experience with Mythic Journey eyes and ask: “What is that like?” or “Is this a metaphor for anything?” My friend’s initial response is a wonderful metaphor for how we often deal with what we want in life. We try, try, try, using our force of will to make it happen. When the door doesn’t open, we simply try harder. When it still doesn’t open, we get so caught up in our willful attempt to force the situation, we don’t notice what Life is telling us. We might be so busy telling ourselves it isn’t fair and feeling victimized by Life, we don’t notice what’s going on.

It is only when we stop forcing, when we step back and take a more detached look, do we realize that the door not opening might not be Life taunting us, it might simply mean we’re at the wrong door. When we’re mindful enough to take notice, we can then find ourselves moving toward the door meant for us. Magically, that door opens with ease. Sometimes we even discover that the door opened to us is not what we expected or thought we wanted, but, in the words of those modern day philosophers:

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes

Well you just might find

You get what you need.”

About the Author: David Lee is keynote speaker, consultant and executive coach. He has worked with organizations and presented at conferences both domestically and abroad. David has taught both transformational story-telling and resilience for over 20 years. He can be reached at

This article may be reprinted with the author’s permission.