Once Upon a Time (Part 2)

Photo by Melanie Deziel on Unsplash

Last week, I shared part of the keynote presentation I gave this month at the Professional Development Day presented by the Academic Counselors Association at The University of Texas at Austin. Today, I’ll share the rest.

In preparing for this speech and looking up information about stories, I came upon the idea of the monomyth, a term coined by Joseph Campbell. Also known as the hero’s journey, this is a common story across many cultures. George Lucas credits Campbell’s work with influencing his creation of Star Wars. He’s one of many storytellers to use the stages of the hero’s journey in crafting a tale. These concepts are also being “used in research, literary analysis, digital game design, advertising and marketing, as well as by screenwriters and authors.” https://libguides.gvsu.edu/monomyth. While I’ve seen the hero’s journey broken down into three stages with both twelve and seventeen sub-stages, here is the story in its most basic form:

“A lonely hero who is trying to find himself. A sudden and unexpected journey, promising adventure and peril. A test of character, strength, and skill. An ultimate battle that tests the hero’s resolve. A triumphant return home.” https://www.masterclass.com/articles/writing-101-what-is-the-heros-journey#quiz-0

We all know this story. Think about the Wizard of Oz. There’s a call or dramatic incident, in Dorothy’s case a tornado, which causes the hero to leave the comfort of her home and go into the discomfort of the unknown. The hero is seeking something – home for Dorothy, the Golden Fleece for Jason, the sorcerer’s stone for Harry Potter.

Then there’s the journey during which the hero faces dangers, finds friends, meets teachers and guides, faces terrors, ogres and wicked witches. There are challenges to conquer, demons to fight, skills and lessons to learn. And then the hero achieves the goal, earns the prize and returns home. But the hero has been changed by the journey. Home doesn’t look quite the same because the hero has been changed by her experiences.

While thinking about this archetypal story and its relationship to the work of the Academic Advisors I would be speaking to, I realized that students are on a hero’s journey. Every single student we work with is on a hero’s journey.

They have left the comfort of home – even if they are still living at home. They go to a strange land with its own culture, rules, language, food even. They have to learn new skills, pass tests. They find teachers and guides along the way. Most of them have to face down an ogre or two even if only their own self-doubt. They are seeking a prize, a diploma, knowledge, self-awareness and there is a price to be paid in achieving their goalt. And when they have, they find they are changed by the experience, that the journey has value in itself beyond the achievement of the prize. And often home has become a bit uncomfortable because of those changes.

The monomyth of the hero’s journey gave me a new way of understanding the stories of the students we work with, but it also gave me a new way to think about this past year. In many ways, every one of us has been on a hero’s journey this past year. A year ago in March, most of us were pushed out of our comfort zones often into experiences that are deeply uncomfortable and disorienting. We have been on a journey seeking a future beyond this experience. Many of us have been yearning for a return to normal. But the story of the hero’s journey reminds us that each of us, all of us, will be changed by this journey and a return to the old version of normal is unlikely.

The hero’s journey is often used to create a narrative, but it can also be used to analyze a story. For a novelist, it might be a tool to see what is missing from the manuscript. For an advisor, it might be a way to help a student understand there are steps to growth and learning that we can’t skip the scary parts on our way to the Emerald City. For us, it may be a way to understand what we have collectively experienced this year. I wonder if it could be a tool to help us prepare for our return ‘home’ but to a home that looks and feels different than when we left because are different. Perhaps this could be a way to talk about the anxiety many people are experiencing over returning “home” to campus. I’d love to hear what you think about this idea and learn about your own hero’s journey.

Take care,


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