What's the shape of your journey?

What's the shape of your heroine's journey? 

Before you examine this question for yourself, have an understanding of your particular journey in mind. Ask yourself what you feel you've been called to do in this life. If that doesn't sit quite right or feels too broad, try looking at your journey as your path to finding your truest self. A journey of self-development. I love how author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her own journey in this way. 

In the work I've done investigating the Heroine's Journey, I've come across three shapes of the path: circle, spiral, labyrinth. 
 

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Circle: This is the traditional representation and the one I tend to relate to the most. The reason is that there is a closure, a sort of ending as the circle comes back around to the top. To me it suggests that there is an end in sight to the journey. We will come to a completion. 
Of course, the flip side is that the circle might represent a never-ending journey of coming around and starting back up again. So that just as you have reached a sort of ending, you are thrown back into all of the hard stuff that comes with being a beginner. 

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Spiral: Another representation is the spiral. Think spiral staircase. We make progress and our view changes as we grow, with each step we take. We continue up the staircase as we age and mature; we can look down and see the many stairs we have climbed to get to the place where we are currently. I think this is a beautiful and peaceful representation, but one that maybe feels a little daunting (I'm gonna be climbing these stairs forever?). If the spiral feels like you, check out this article. I love the idea of our highest self reaching out to us from above to lend guidance. 

labyrinth sketch.png

Labyrinth: When I heard Elle Luna and Susie Herrick interviewed on the podcast Heroine about their new book "Your Story is Your Power" I almost fell off my chair. Wasn't that my book? (My tagline is Your Story is Your Strength.) I got over myself and bought it that day. Partway through I've already learned so much from these brilliant ladies. They are the ones who introduced me to the template of the labyrinth for your journey. Here's what they say about the labyrinth: "It is not a direct line from one point to another, but an organic, evolving process that takes time and moves to its own rhythm." Soothing, right? 

It feels good to step out of the go, go, go for a moment to reflect on our path. If you found yourself nodding along while reading this, please join me for the workshop I'm leading on Sun April 8th in Vienna, VA (and share with a friend). 

You can rewrite your story.

Think about a story you frequently share or mull over in your head. Chances are your telling of the story has changed over time. We rewrite our histories to fit the stories of our lives. We do what social scientists call "autobiographical reasoning" to tell our stories. We identify the lessons learned, we decide which pieces of the story are important to keep in and which we leave out. This is important stuff, it helps shape our identity. Here's an example from me.

I studied obsessively in high school. My dad got his PhD from Yale and he had high expectations for me. He'd check out my report card and highlight the one B+ in a sea of A's. I put the pressure on myself too, studying constantly and in the most unlikely of places: in the foam pit at the end of gymnastics practice, sitting in the bleachers "watching" my boyfriend's hockey game, even in the bathtub (I don't recommend that option - I dropped my AP American History book in and had to pay for it). My reward for studying this intensively would be to go to an Ivy League school and compete on their gymnastics team. I would make this happen out of sheer will and effort.

Senior year rolled around and I set my sights on Brown University. I was asked to attend a recruiting trip with the gymnastics team and I felt right at home on the campus. My grand plan was coming together beautifully. 

Except that it didn't. The letter came in the mail telling me I was waitlisted at Brown. I crept into the basement of my parent's house and cried for hours. I was a failure. I couldn't hack it. Of course I wasn't Ivy League material, who did I think I was? And the worst: I was a disappointment to my dad.

For months that was the story I told myself. But gradually things shifted, I landed at James Madison University (JMU) and fell in love with everything about it. Here's how I tell the end of the story now:

Except that it didn't. I was waitlisted at Brown and didn't get in. While devastating, I shifted and set my sights on JMU where I knew I would have the opportunity to compete and be challenged academically. My college experience exceeded my every expectation, landed me a terrific job when I graduated, and eventually led me to my husband. We met downtown in Washington DC, a place I can't imagine I would've been living in had I attended college in New England. 

This is a simplified version, but you get the idea. I bet you have stories like this in your life too. It's helpful for us to reexamine them, turn the pieces around and figure out what you learned about yourself in the process. Stories of contamination (my first version where I tell myself I'm a failure) have been shown to negatively affect mental health whereas stories of redemption (second version where I pick up my bootstraps) may be linked to greater well-being.