Life Coaching & The Hero's Journey, Explained
If you’ve spent time exploring the topic of personal development, you’ve probably encountered the phrase “the hero’s journey” somewhere along the way. But where does this idea come from, and how does the concept apply to life coaching?
“The Hero’s Journey” was first introduced by the scholar Joseph Campbell in his book Hero With A Thousand Faces, published in 1949. Also known as the Monomyth, the hero’s journey is a narrative arc for epic storytelling that is familiar across many cultures, eras, and genres.
Most of us are acquainted with the structure of the hero’s journey, but just don’t know it! A popular modern day example is the story of Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars movie franchise.
For an entertaining take on the hero's journey, check out this five minute primer from Thought Monkey:
What is the Hero's Journey?
According to Campbell, who studied a variety of world myths and religious traditions, the hero’s journey consists of three parts:
The essential idea is that an ordinary person is jolted out of their everyday existence by a challenge. They have no choice but to set forth on an adventure or quest in order to address it. Along the way, there are trials, tests of courage, and lessons learned. In the end, the hero returns from the experience transformed.
Once you get acquainted with the basic plot pattern, you’ll begin to notice it everywhere!
Want a modern, eco-feminist take on Campbell’s classic framework? In her book If Women Rose Rooted, psychologist, mythologist and author Sharon Blackie offers an alternative perspective on the hero's quest. In it, she reframes the objective from that of individual transformation to a deeper call toward reconnection with land, community, and our collective responsibilities to the earth and one another.
So what does the hero’s journey have to do with life coaching?
For most people, the process of making change in their lives takes grit and determination. The desire to do things differently is itself often catalyzed by a challenge or life circumstance that convinces them the status quo is no longer desirable.
In coaching, we draw from theoretical models and principles of positive psychology to understand human behavior and map out how change and transformation actually works. One framework in particular that we often refer to here at Lumia Coaching is DiClemente and Prochaska's Transtheoretical Model of Change (commonly called the Stages of Change model):
How Humans Change: The Hero's Journey
Within each stage of growth, there are several steps of the hero’s journey. Let’s take a closer look at how Joseph Campell’s framework plays out in the context of life coaching.
Step 1: The Ordinary World
In the beginning, there’s the way things are. The status quo.
For many coaching clients, this might look like living a life of “should’s”. Getting the job that was expected of them. Conforming to family or societal expectations. Fitting in. Life might seem okay on the surface, but the client may not be living from their authentic truth.
Step 2: The Call To Adventure
At this point, a challenge or problem is introduced.
For some people, it’s the dawning realization that doing what the world expects of them hasn’t brought the happiness or fulfillment in life that they thought it would. There’s a sense of not living from their authentic truth, even if they aren’t sure what that might be.
Step 3: Refusal of the Call
Upon getting a glimpse of the problem, denial sets in.
Change is difficult. Upon realizing their life perhaps isn’t all that it was cracked up to be, many people begin to bargain with themselves. To avoid confusion, disruption, or uncertainty, they may try to convince themselves that things are okay the way they are, or that it doesn’t make sense to upset the apple cart.
Step 4: Meeting with the Mentor
As the hero is grappling with whether or not to take on the challenge, a guide appears.
This is the point where a person typically begins working with a life coach. They know something needs to change, but aren’t sure how to get there. The coach explains that their role isn’t to provide a solution, but to help the hero navigate the process of finding their own answers.
Step 5: Crossing the Threshold
The moment when the hero chooses to pursue transformation
In coaching, this is when the prospective client and coach define what the client’s goals are, and spell out how they will work together. It’s usually formalized in a contract or written agreement so both parties are clear about where the client is headed.
Step 6: Tests, Allies and Enemies
In this stage, the hero learns the rules of engagement and how the quest works
In coaching, this is the period where the client gets acquainted with the process, methods, and tools that will be a part of their experience. Together with their coach, they define their desired future goal state, and explore the obstacles they might anticipate encountering along the way.
During this stage, the client is trying out new ways of doing things. They may have homework assignments, and tasks to complete that will help move them toward their goal.
Step 7: Approach to the Innermost Cave
Arrival at the most dangerous or difficult aspect of the quest
In coaching, roadblocks inevitably arise. More often than not, these challenges come from within the client rather than the outside world. As the client begins trying new things, they are likely to come up against the fears and limiting beliefs that have kept them from challenging the status quo in the past.
Step 8: The Supreme Ordeal
The moment where the hero comes face to face with their biggest challenge - a physical or metaphorical life or death struggle.
When fears and limiting beliefs arise, the coach meets their client with compassion. They also provide a mirror and flashlight to help investigate the places inside the client where these beliefs may be lodged. Together, they critically examine old ways of thinking, giving the client an opportunity to make a different choice.
Step 9: Seizing the Sword
Upon surviving the challenge, the hero takes possession of the reward.
When the client chooses to rewrite old conditioning with new beliefs, they are seizing full control of their life circumstances. Instead of seeking outside approval or living from ideas, conditioning, or beliefs that were handed to them by others, the client chooses to blaze their own trail.
Step 10: The Road Back
The hero integrates the consequences of their quest, and prepares to return to the ordinary world
As the client replaces old patterns with new beliefs, the path forward becomes increasingly clear. By transforming how they think about their life circumstances, new options become available. Over time, the unsatisfying circumstances that led them to seek out the help of a coach begin to change.
Step 11: Elixir
When the hero returns to the ordinary world, they share the treasure or victory with their community
As the client begins to achieve their goals and live in alignment with their authentic truth, it creates ripples. They show up differently in life. Perhaps they change careers, move to the city they’ve always fantasized about living in, pursue a long deferred dream, or begin to behave differently within their relationships.
As the client’s circumstances improve, it enhances the lives of those around them. Their transformation may even serve as an inspiration to others to embark upon their own hero’s journey!
Want to Guide Others On Their Quest?
One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our life coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like a partner in the process, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.