What kind of Hero are you?

As an English teacher, I am very familiar with the concept of the “Hero’s Journey.” It is an archetypal construct that we see repeated over and over again in literature, and for very good reason–it touches close to home–it is a reflection of the human experience.

Heroes-pinArchetypes, if you’re not familiar with the idea, are, in essence, symbols, ideas, or concepts that we, as human beings, all hold in common. Carl Jung believed that this commonality is part of what he termed genetic memory–in other words, memory that is quite literally passed down through our DNA.

An easy example would be mice. Why in the world do so many of us fear mice? They are itty, bitty little things but they send many people squealing, running for cover, or hopping on the nearest chair.

Why? And why only some people, but not all?

Well, in terms of genetic memory, we theorize that it stems from our ancestors run-in with the Black Plague. Mice, or more correctly, rats spread the disease that decimated Europe. For those of us who run from the furry, little creatures, our ancestors watched their friends and family die around them. All because of the little, itty, bitty creatures. And they passed the consequent fear of those little, furry creature on to us, their progeny, (however many times removed).

mouseThose of you who don’t run screaming for the hills at the sight of a mouse? Either your ancestors were fortunate enough to escape a run in with the Black Death or they simply didn’t pass that fear on to their ancestors. Thus, mice are just cute, little, furry creatures to you.

I’m quite sure that someone in my line must have watched their whole family drop like dominoes because I absolutely HATE the little things myself.

Archetypes stem from these universally held concepts such as good conquers evil. It also extends to colors: black symbolizing death, fear, and rot. Or to settings: the mountains symbolizing obstacles, adversity, a journey, etc.. Archetypes permeate our society in big and little ways–and none more so than the Hero’s journey.

The-Herošs-Journey_text-imageThe idea of the Hero’s Journey is quite basic. An ordinary person is called out from his ordinary life by something extra-ordinary. He is called to a road he never intended to travel. He struggles with what that road is asking of him. He longs to go back to the way things were “before.”

In literature, the hero or heroine ultimately come to terms with the call and rises to the occasion, overcoming the obstacles and embracing his hero nature.

Not necessarily the case in real life.

What do I mean?

depositphotos_87220294-stock-photo-boy-warrior-fighting-with-dragonsWell, just like all archetypes, I believe this one was born directly out of real life. As I’ve established before, all people, at some point, are going to be forced to wrestle with dragons (aka adversity) whether that comes in the form of sickness, betrayal, violence, death, etc….the “dragons” take many forms, but in the end, we all must wrestle with them.

Granted, it is rarely as obvious as Harry Potter being called out of the mundane life to one of wizardry or as Katniss Everdeen being called to take on the corruption of her society, but still, we are all, everyone of us, called to our own, personal hero’s journey.

But too often, we don’t come to terms with the journey. We don’t rise to the occasion. We don’t defeat the dragon.

As anyone who has followed my blog knows by this point, I am a huge fane of Brene’ Brown. In her book “Rising Strong,” she states:

You may not have signed up for a hero’s journey, but the second you fell down, got                 your butt kicked, suffered a disappointment, screwed up, or felt your heart break, it               started…it happens to every single one of us. Without exception. The only decision we           get to make is what role we’ll play in our own lives.”

If you read my last blog, and reflected on how you typically react to adversity, you should have a decent idea of what “role” you typically take in terms of your hero’s journey.

Let’s take a moment to envision it in the role of a story…do you rise to the occasion? Do you overcome? Or when Voldemort enters the scene, do you run for cover? When society is falling apart around your head, do you pretend that nothing is happening?

Do you like the ending of your story?

If your answer is no, then I have some really good news for you: in this story YOU get to choose the ending.

What kind of hero do you want to be? 

This doesn’t always mean you win, at least in one sense of winning. Sometimes our Voldemort is cancer, and the cancer wins. Sometimes that car accident steals your daughter from you. Sometimes your husband leaves you for another woman.

When looking at that sense of winning, we don’t always win, but we do still win.

An easy example for me personally is my daughter, Serena. Many of you know that my daughter died of SMA almost 16 years ago. That was my first real call to the hero’s journey. It was the initial conflict. It was the first real breaking of my heart. She died. I didn’t win in that sense of winning. But I did win.

How in the world can I say that?

hidden strengthBecause I chose my ending, and that ending was to wrestle with the pain, to “lean into it” as I like to say, and to choose to defy my circumstances, and to overcome.

I chose my ending. We all get to choose our endings.

How does this work? How do we actually do this?

I’m going to refer to Brene’ Brown a lot as I explain this. When I first walked through this personally, Brene’ Brown hadn’t written her books, and I had no clue who she was, but as I’ve read her books, I’ve seen the reflection of my own journey, and I’ve seen the reflection of the journeys others have made around me, in her work. My life and my observations validate what Brown found in her research.

If you’ve ever wondered why the same event can cause one person to rise, and the other to sink into bitterness, brokenness, or addiction, she can answer that question. She unpacks the concept of resilience.

If you want to choose to write your own story, if you want to change the ending, it means “getting uncomfortable; it’s choosing courage over comfort.” If you’re going to write your ending, you need to be willing to get down in the mud and wrestle. It’s going to get messy.

Our instinct is often the opposite, to disengage to self-protect. To deny what we feel, to hide from it. In Brown’s words “We can’t chart a brave new course until we recognize exactly where we are, get curious about how we got there, and decide where we want to go.”

Brown breaks this down into a two step process.

1) engaging with our feelings

2) getting curious about the story behind the feelings–what emotions we’re                           experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviors

This sounds deceptively simple. It’s not. Oftentimes we deny what we feel saying that “we didn’t care anyway.” Or we mask hurt with anger. Or we transfer emotions we don’t understand onto a person who is an “easy” target (aka our spouse or child, brother or sister, etc.). Or we self-flagellate. The list goes on.

All of these are methods of not engaging with our emotions. They are ways we choose to disengage.

When I lost Serena. I was angry. I was angry at God. I was angry at mothers who still had their children. I was angry at the whole world.

I remember how that anger made a lot of people uncomfortable. It wasn’t “Christian” they said. Ironically, I never felt that condemnation from God. From Him, I felt a sense of encouragement, that He was not intimidated by my anger, I also felt a recognition that denying what I felt wouldn’t make the feelings disappear. I had to wrestle with them to get through them.

When we deny what we feel, we get stuck. I’ve seen it happen to so many people. They deny the hurt happened. They deny the violation of what was done to them. They pretend that they are not angry at the abandonment they feel. They pretend the brokenness isn’t really there. And so they get stuck right there, in that moment where the hurt, abandonment, violation or brokenness occurred.

The movie “The Shack” illustrated this so beautifully. When the main character asks “God” in agony why he would bring him back to face what was done to his daughter, “God” simply says, “Because this is where you got stuck.”

We get stuck at the moment where we stop dealing with our pain. It has to be dealt with. There is no other option.

Ignoring what we feel does not make it go away–it lets it own us.

Brown puts it this way:

     The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The           opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from       tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not         to deny the story, but to defy the ending.

When Serena died, I could have become bitter. I could have lost my faith. I could have cut myself off from risking, from loving. Many do after getting shattered the way that the death of a child shatters you. Knowing that kind of pain, you disengage, not wanting to be hurt like that again.

fallingBut I made the decision years ago, before I understood what that decision meant. Risk was worth the pain. To fly, you have to fall. To succeed you have to fail. To love you have to break.

Serena was the first step of my hero’s journey. There have been many failures and setbacks and heart breaks since. There have been many times when I have felt the temptation to disengage, to step back, to self-protect.

But I just can’t do it, because I know.

I know the truth.

Brown says that “courage transforms the emotional structure of our being” and I believe her; I feel it. There is no going back.

And I’m glad. I don’t want to go back, even when I do. I don’t want the easy out. It’s not an out at all. It’s chains. It’s a prison. It’s being stuck.

God, as He so often does, gives us the principle of this truth. We say it. But we rarely fully grasp His meaning.

“We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28

Not just the good moments. Not just the easy ones. Not the comfortable ones.

Everything.

Contest-flier_1But we have to choose to defy our ending, and let Him work His magic in us.

He wants us to lean in and wrestle with our adversity like Jacob wrestled with God–to wrestle and not let go until the blessing which comes out of the adversity is ours.

When we trust God enough to lean into our hero’s journey, it leads to our good, our growth, and our overcoming. It is the ending we want, the ending He created us for, and it is how we rise strong despite horrific circumstances, crippling pain, and agonizing betrayal.

We lean in, we wrestle, and we trust for the ending that can be.

Choose to be brave. It’s what you were made to be.

 

 

 

Advertisements

From one sometimes screwup to another…(come on, admit it, you know that includes you!)

Sometimes I feel like crap, complete and utter crap.

Screwed upSometimes, I feel lonely, so lonely, that I wonder if, when my children grow up and leave me, I’ll be alone forever–the crazy cat lady, minus the cats.

Sometimes, I feel like the biggest failure in the history of failures, the epic underachiever, the cautionary tale of who not to become.

Sometimes, I feel so angry at my ex-husband for what he did to me and my family that I nearly simmer with repressed emotion: anger, rage, bitterness…the all too cliche’ stereotype of the wronged, “victim,” cheated on wife.

Sometimes, I feel not good enough in every single way–not pretty enough, not thin enough, not special enough, not anything enough…

Holy crap! Did she just admit all that?!

Yep, I sure did. Because that’s the truth. Sometimes, I feel all those things.

But most of the time, I don’t.

Most of the time, I don’t feel those things at all–but sometimes I do.

consumer-confidenceMost of the time I feel strong and confident. Most of the time, I am happy in my messed up little life. Most of the time I don’t feel lonely because I know I have family and friends who love and support me. Most of the time I know that I’m not a failure, but rather a survivor, and that failure isn’t a badge of defeat, but a chance to overcome. Most of the time, I can extend grace and forgiveness to me ex–despite the pain I sometimes still feel. And most of the time I know I’m enough–a work in progress–but enough. And in those moments, I feel beautiful, and strong, and confident.

But not always.

Sometimes, I just don’t.

And I don’t believe that makes me less. In fact, I think that makes me exactly normal, because I don’t think I’m alone.

I think even the strongest, and seemingly most confident, of us feel all those things at times–but we hide it. We pretend.

We think that strength is never feeling fear, never feeling doubt, and never, ever admitting failure.

pretendingSo we pretend. Because, we can’t admit that sometimes we’re terrified, and sometimes we’re so insecure that we can’t believe the whole world doesn’t notice, and that sometimes, we feel like an absolute failure at absolutely everything.

But, we all feel all of those things…sometimes.

So let’s help each other out, and stop pretending.

It is time to stop hiding, to stop window-dressing our lives, and to stop competing with something that has never been nor ever will be.

It is time to start getting real with one another.

Which means, it’s time to get vulnerable.

There is nothing I admire more than vulnerability.

I think nothing is more misunderstood than vulnerability. So often, vulnerability is portrayed as weakness. Or an excess of emotion. Or as a liability.

I view vulnerability as the height of courage and strength.

Vulnerability means admitting that I have wounds. It means bearing my battle scars. It means giving a window into my private struggles, my moments of shame, and my weaknesses.

That is strength, not weakness. That is not a liability.

It takes great fortitude, a strong sense of self, and true bravery to lower the mask to our greatest failures and wounds. It leaves our most personal moments and struggles open to attack, to ridicule, and to judgement. That doesn’t sound like weakness to me.

Vulnerability_Brene-Brown2I have very slowly been making my way through Brene’ Brown’s “Daring Greatly.” (Slowly, because it is filled with so much truth and food for thought.) One of her topics is shame and vulnerability. She talks about the “double bind” that we find ourselves in as women in modern society.

According to Brown and her extensive research, we, as women, feel that we are expected to be perfect, and to be it effortlessly. That we are supposed to be ourselves (well, unless you’re an introvert, then you’re supposed to pretend, because people prefer the outgoing, fun types). That we’re always supposed to be confident (no one likes insecurity), and that we’re supposed to walk this line between not being too emotional (because that is a lack of control), but not too detached either (what a cold-hearted bitch!). In sum, we’re supposed to be this perfectly balanced, confident (but not too confident because no-one likes the arrogant), version of ourselves (well, if, remember, we’re outgoing and fun) that is, of course, gorgeous, because how we look is really the defining standard of our worth…

And since none of us are all that all the time…

We believe we have to hide. Hide our struggles. Hide our weaknesses. Hide our insecurities. Hide our true selves.

And so we feel alone in these struggles. We feel ashamed of who we really know ourselves to be, believing that we should have it all together like her…or her…or her…

But no one has it all together. NO ONE.

And I, for one, have no interest in pretending.

Authenticity-Quote-2I do not have it all together (in case you haven’t already figured that out).

Sometimes I lose my temper with my children. Sometimes, I choose to binge watch netflix and let the dirty dishes pile up in my kitchen sink. Sometimes, even when my makeup is freshly applied, and I’m all decked out in trendy fashion, I feel woefully short of our modern standard of beauty. Sometimes, despite two degrees and one of them being psychology, I have absolutely no idea how to handle my son. Sometimes, all I want to do is give in to cynicism, become a hermit, and not find the bloody bright-side. Screw the bright-side!

But that doesn’t make me a bad mother, a bad woman, or a bad human being.

It just makes me normal. No better and no worse than anybody else.

So how about giving me a break?

And giving yourself one too while you’re at it.

Let’s stop trying to impress, trying to pretend, and get down to the business of admitting that none of us have it all together all of the time.

I Dare you to Fail–it might be the best thing you ever do!

mean-old-ladyI had the worst first grade teacher ever. She was a cranky old bitty who thought I was stupid, who broke all my pencils, and who threw my shoes in the garbage. I hated her.

But I owe her a huge thank you.

She was my introduction to difficulty. She was my very early initiation into the practice of not perseverance, but of overcoming.

I could have accepted her early analysis of my intellectual capabilities. I could have started the inner monologue of my incompetence, my inability, and my general suckiness, but instead, despite my immature, impressionable six year-old mind, I made impossiblemy very first decision to overcome, to confront her analysis head on, and to prove her wrong.

That was the first time I confronted an obstacle, and I believe it set the precedent for how I would handle all the obstacles to come.

Where did my courage to deal with the difficulties that have come my way over the last several decades come from?

I believe that it came from that very first experience with her. She had told me I couldn’t. She had told me I was dumb. She had labeled me and written me off. But I didn’t accept that, and by third grade I proudly walked the long hall to her room to hold my report card full of A’s to her startled face.

Dadgummit! I had done it! I had proven her wrong, and if I’d proven her wrong, why couldn’t I overcome the next obstacle, and the next one?

I had overcome, and that overcoming gave me faith that I could do it again.

Because of her, from the very beginning, I was only too aware of my imperfections. I never labored under the false perception of perfection, so when I screwed up, as I inevitably did time and again, it was not the end of my world. I did not label myself as a failure, but instead, I recognized that I could do better, be better.

failure-and-successI was very aware of my ability to change and to grow, because I had proven that ability from the tender age of six. I had proven to myself that I could be better tomorrow than I was today. I never thought I was perfect, but I knew that with effort, with tenacity, I could be more than who I was currently.

If I had stepped out of the gate with straight A’s, if it had come easy to me from the very beginning, if I hadn’t had the very early lessons in difficulty, would I have had the courage to confront obstacles instead of just avoiding them? Would I have been scared to risk failure and take chances if I wasn’t thrust into it so early on?

According to Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: the new Psychology of success” I very well might not have. How we deal with failure early on, predicts how we are likely to deal with it our entire lives–unless me mindfully make a decision to deal with it differently.

If, when we are confronted with difficulty, we choose to overcome it, we will keep daring, keep risking, keep pushing our limits to see what we are capable of doing.

If, when confronted with difficulty, we back away, and stay in our comfort zone of what we know we do well, in our zone of tried and true success, we are likely to never find the true potential of what we could do.

failureAnd it all starts when we’re just little peanuts. If we allow our failings to be an impetus for growth, rather than a label of who we are–a failure–we can become so much more.

It is that very willingness to confront the obstacle that I learned way back then that keeps me blogging. I have blogged for years, and yet my following consists mainly of my mother, a couple of loyal family members, and a handful of faithful friends. Logic says that I should have given this up long before now, but am I going to quit? Nope. I’m going to keep doing it, becoming better, working out the kinks, until one day, I firmly believe, someone (hopefully lots of someones–and this isn’t to say I don’t appreciate you, my faithful few!) is going to notice.

And my novel. I know it’s going to get rejected. Probably many times. Is that going to stop me from writing it, or from sending it out to the inundated world of agents and publishers?

The-best-success-stories-often-begin-with-failure_-8x10Absolutely not. It didn’t stop Stephen King and it didn’t stop J.K. Rowling, and it’s not going to stop me. I will keep working on it, tweaking it, taking the advice and suggestions I am given, until finally, one day, someone says, “Yes. I’m going to take a chance on you.”

Sometimes, this mountain I’m trying to climb seems insurmountable, and I am tempted to throw in the towel, but I just can’t do that.

Thank you, Kelly, for the nudge I needed through the book “Mindset” you sent my way, and thank you Chris, for the nudge you gave me with the book “Daring Greatly.” It is a good reminder to keep going, keep trying, and keep believing, that by daring to put myself out there, I am doing something worthwhile.

And thank you Cassandra for telling me you “want to be [me] when you grow up.” You say that to me now, not as a published author, but as one who is daring to try to become one. It reminds me that it’s not the success I achieve, but the willingness to dare to achieve it that is truly admirable.

So, if it’s the willingness to try that sets us apart, what is it that you need to be willing to risk? What is it that you need to dare to do? Aren’t you curious of just how much you can achieve?

Daring to risk and failing, does not make you a failure. It makes you courageous. I dare you to dare with me.