Forging a Hero’s Life

A friend of mine recently came to live with me for a couple of weeks until her lease begins in September.  She’s been essentially homeless for nearly a month, is neck-deep in debt from recently getting her master’s degree, and now she can’t find a job.  A New York native, she’s a long way from home and family here in Chicago, and to top it all off, she and her boyfriend are parting ways–he’s leaving for, of all places, New York.

This morning she received notice that she owes the great city of Chicago $100 for running a red light in a friend’s car.  Where does it end?  But she said something to me this morning about how a heroine’s, or hero’s, journey always begins with hardship.  They start in poverty or loneliness or sadness.  Only eventually do they end up living “happily ever after” (a blog post in itself–what does that even mean, and does it really exist?).  But right now, we’re in the beginnings of our journey as the hero/heroine of our own story.

So often when growing up, or even now that I’m in the middle of my job search, I’ve been told that I have a bright future ahead, that I will accomplish something great with my life.  A job interviewer once even told me that he didn’t have a place for me in his company, but that I’ll “be a rock star” someday.  Hear it enough, and you actually start to believe it.  But after a while, if you let them, those words become hollow and meaningless.  I grow impatient with getting the show on the road.  I want to accomplish this great thing, whatever that is, NOW.  I want to make a difference already!

But that’s not what the hero’s journey is.  It’s five parts agony and one huge part redemption.  It paying your dues, it’s patience, it’s constant self-improvement and hard work.  When I get impatient and perfectionistic, I could do well to remember this.

When I talk to established folks about their journeys to where they are now, it is nearly always a winding journey: like my mother who got her degree in journalism and advertising and became an FBI agent; my neighbor who was a scientist before founding a charter school in inner city Chicago; Blake Mycoskie, who stumbled into the shoe business after a trip to Argentina and founded TOMS.  But it’s so hard when you’re in the middle of it all, and don’t know where you’ll end up.  If only I could have a glimpse of what I would be doing in the future.  No matter what it is, I just want to know I’ll be okay someday.  That would make this whole journey much easier, but it would also make it so much less predictable–leaving less room for excitement, and if I’m being optimistic, less room for the fun that comes along with unpredictability.

If I’m going to be the heroine of my own story, I need to be able to accept the hardship that goes into forging a hero.  And someday I’ll be able to look back and marvel at that season of my life that I was an unemployed blogger, or an underpaid barista, or the opposite of a rock star.

P.S.  For those that were wondering what I used as my six-word memoir, here it is:

Trying, not whining; doing, not sitting.

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