Do you know your purpose?
Great books drive us to ask tough questions like this one.
In his book Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation, Professor Joseph Campbell asks a question that I haven’t been able to escape: “In the West, you have the liberty and the obligation of finding out what your destiny is. You can discover it for yourself. But do you?”
Are you following your destiny? Are you willing to leave the path of comfort and ease to one of danger and discomfort to achieve it?
Destiny. Purpose. Courage to answer the call. These are themes I’ve been wrestling with over the last year. It’s not easy to think deeply like this. As a matter of fact, it’s almost impossible. In today’s world, it’s easier to live a distracted life than a deliberate one. We spend most of our waking hours trying to stay on top of our professional and personal commitments. To unplug from the stressors of life, we binge watch entire seasons of our favorite shows, and then watch other episodes suggested by an algorithm. And when we do have quiet time, we take our phones out to check notifications, scroll through social media apps, and stay up to date on the hourly breaking news.
What if destiny is calling and we’re not listening?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Joseph Campbell or his work, he is the man
behind the concept of The Hero’s Journey, which he discusses in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s a universal pattern or plot that appears in myths, religions, and literature regardless of culture or historical period. His writings have influenced artists such as George Lucas, the founders of Pixar, and many of today’s bestselling authors.
The Hero’s Journey is the story of our call to do something greater with our lives, something in service to others. It requires us to go inward to do the tough work of figuring out who we are and what gift is inside of us, and then return outward to our communities with that gift in hand. Campbell argues that if we are open to it, the Hero’s Journey can help us work out the plot of our lives.
As I read more and more about the journey, I see the plot everywhere. I see it in movies. I see it in books. I see it in the lives in the biographies I’ve read.
I see it in my own life.
I thought I knew myself until I started doing the deep internal work required of the Hero’s Journey. As Richard Rohr wrote in Falling Upward, “Life is a matter of becoming fully and consciously who we already are, but it is a self that we largely do not know.”
What if, in all the noise and all the commitments our younger selves made, we’re missing the current call to fulfill our unique destiny? Or, what if we’ve felt the pull towards something greater, but haven’t taken the time to give it a second thought, and remained living in a way that doesn’t live up to our untapped potential? Or, what if the fear of the unknown was too great, so we’ve shut the door on the Hero’s Journey?
Maybe reading, writing, and reflection could have given us the space to think through these things, but we didn’t make the time for it. I know. For the longest time I felt like I couldn’t make the time.
The first step of any adventure is always the hardest, answering the call and beginning the inner search to “know thyself”. This was true for me and was echoed explicitly and implicitly throughout many of the books I read this year. In The School of Life, Alain de Botton wrote, “One of our greatest challenges is to understand the peculiar content of our own minds. We may look like the ultimate owners of our skulls, but we remain practical strangers to too much of what unfolds within them.”
And because we remain strangers to much of what’s inside our own heads, we struggle and stumble through life, occasionally catching glimpses of ourselves through action. But, if we’re not paying attention, we miss the lessons those glimpses teach us.
What’s the call that you haven’t answered yet?