Coaching the Hero’s Journey

I’m taking a 7-week storytelling workshop. A few weeks ago we reviewed the Hero’s Journey – the archetypal story pattern that emerged from the research of Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces.  The structure of the journey begins with our Hero living the mundane day-to-day of her life. Something happens and there is a call to adventure, which she fiercely resists. Eventually she must face the challenge, deal with significant obstacles, find friendly allies, come face to face with the heart of the challenge; she transforms as a result, and returns to her life as a more mature person aware of herself and tapped into her purpose and strength. Forgive me if I missed a step or two – I trust that this story arc is familiar to you.  

Last week, as I listened to the steps of the Journey it struck me how all of us have moments in our lives where we hit a wall, where something deeper is called for but we resist, and then finally realize that avoidance is futile.  I’ve personally been on my own Hero’s Journey for the past few years and have noticed that in one form or another, it’s often what clients come to coaching for.

A client might seek out coaching because they are in a new role that requires more from them then they know how to give.  They want to grow into the role but feel stuck on how to get there. A client might also engage a coach because of a life event that suddenly highlights the need for change, and that very prospect is terrifying.  These and many other clients arrive with a call for something else, something bigger and deeper, and as much as they know they need to face what’s emerging, there is trepidation.

As I sat in the storytelling session, the role of coach became clearer: we create a container of time and space for our Hero to set off on the journey, and we travel the path with them so that as they encounter enemies (limiting beliefs), traps (old habits), and allies (champions that were not obvious before), they stay the course.  

I’ve recently come across and fallen in love with the work of Parker Palmer. In his book On the Brink of Everything, he says “Looking back, I’m awed by the way that embracing everything – from what I got right to what I got wrong – invites the grace of wholeness”.  He speaks about the internal divisions that get created within ourselves that keep us from experiencing the whole of who we are.

Coaching is a conversation that is fundamentally oriented toward wholeness. It’s not easy, as we know from the Hero’s Journey, but on the other side is transformation. And transformation is nothing more or less than living into our whole self.