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In this week’s podcast we will take more insight from our Fireside Chat with Colleen Stewart.
A few weeks ago she shared her insight on Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey, which goes back to the mid 1900s.
Campbell obtained his B.A from Columbia and later studied in Europe. Upon returning to America, he couldn’t get a job.
Campbell then went to live with friends in Upstate New York. He read everything he could at the local public library for five years, which became a substitute for a PhD in comparative literature.
What Campbell realized was that human beings tell the same stories, regardless of nationality or time period.
This realization led Campbell to create The Hero’s Journey, which is a key part of our storytelling template.
A big challenge with communication today is that we’re centring our business stories around ourselves, no hero or the wrong hero. In this episode we dive into the hero’s journey through a story. And we invite you to pick an appropriate hero and come on a journey.
Welcome to upSkill Talks brought to you by McGraw Hill. I’m your host, Michel Shah lead UpSkiller at UpSkill Community. UpSkill Talks is a podcast for leaders, leaders who are actively seeking innovative and creative ways to interact lead themselves and others. In every episode, through real life stories and enlightening conversations, we will explore the challenge. And opportunities real leaders face in today’s everchanging workplace. We will present you with real strategies for you to leverage your soft skills and produce transformative results. Thank you for joining me on this journey. Let us begin.
Muriel Rukeyser, in her book “The Speed of Darkness” says “The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.”
We are made up of stories, each of us a story or a bundle of stories in our own selves. Let’s listen as Colleen Stewart, the author of the Story Compass, explains how to identify your story’s hero and when to tell your stories. After all, she’ll tell you, we are walking stories.
If you were a human being, breathing and living in on this planet, you have stories to tell. And they have value. So what I want to show you is the compass, which answers two questions. What stories do I tell and when do I tell them? But we’re gonna ask them in reverse order. So we’re gonna first say, well, when do I tell them?
Has anyone heard of Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey? All right, I’m gonna show you the Hero’s Journey.
This goes all the way back to the 1930s, 1940s. This young guy, Joseph Campbell, came back to the United States from England. He had a bachelor’s of literature from Oxford (according to Colleen, other sources say Columbia).
He couldn’t get a job so the story he tells is he went to live with friends in Upstate New York and there was a public library nearby, and he read everything he could get his hands on. Everything.
For five years, he did this. He really couldn’t get a job. So he read and it became a substitute for a PhD in comparative literature.
And what Campbell realized was that it didn’t matter where you went in the world. Or at what moment in human history you went there. Human beings are telling the same story over and over and over again.
And so I’m going to show you the hero’s journey. This is what Campbell called it, because it’s going to answer that question, when do we tell a story?
So the hero’s journey is a journey from a known world into an unknown world.
It’s a, a journey from the known world into the unknown world. And again, our hero starts in ordinary, it’s an ordinary hero on an ordinary day. They know when they get up in the morning, they know where the slippers are, they know when second breakfast happens, ordinary.
But as we know from our own lives, how long do we stay in ordinary? I say, not long enough. Eventually there is a call to adventure and it’s not usually something the hero is seeking out, but it finds the hero. And what do you imagine the hero’s first response is to the call to adventure?
No, no thank you. Could you just go, go to the, go to the little hobbit house next door? I don’t wanna do that. Thank you. I’m liking ordinary. Thanks very much. I don’t want to go, but something inspires the hero to move and that is meeting the mentor.
And the mentor, Campbell says, is somebody not expected. But somebody who reassures the hero. That reassures the hero that they’re not really going to be alone. You know, Gandalf is going to be there. So the hero now crosses the threshold of adventure and enters in the unknown world.
And what do you think happens in the unknown world? Does everything go smoothly? This is where one of my participants said, that’s where all the bad things happen. Yes, Smeagol shows up. This is the road of trials.
This is where the hero starts to feel despair, discouragement, frustration. What do they want to do? They just wanna run back to ordinary. Get me out of here. I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough, I’m not capable enough. Why did I ever say yes to this? I wanna go back to ordinary. However, Campbell says the hero has to realize what they’re doing here is they are learning.
Because if they learn enough they can approach the monsters in the cave, like Shelob the spider and go through the ordeal.
And the ordeal is where the hero is broken down so that they can be rebuilt, right? Because when they get through the ordeal and they’re successful, the hero then seizes treasure.
I’m going to come back to that word, treasure. That’s an important word. This could be the end of the story, right? The heroes got the treasure. Hey, life is pretty good. Live happily ever after, the end. It’s not as good an ending as some movies we see, right? Um, because it’s not okay for the hero just to languish in the unknown world, hoarding the treasure for themselves.
My dad is a retired Air Force pilot and when he started his career, he flew search and rescue missions in northern Canada in some of the worst weather systems in the world.
The most dangerous part of flying is landing and takeoff because of the winds and the thermals and runways are different and up north, it’s crazy. And he was flying with an experienced pilot. And this gentleman, every time they would come in for a landing or take off, he’d pull a little black book out of the cockpit, have a look at it, and then you’d make all these adjustments in the cockpit.
And after a few days of this, my dad said to him, I gotta ask you what, what is in the black book? And the pilot said, well, I’ve been flying up here for 20 years. I’ve made notes on every runway. And so now when I’m flying, I just have a look and I know what adjustments I need to make pretty much. And my dad said, oh, that’s great.
Could I get a copy of the black book? And the pilot said, no, you have to make your own right. That’s seizing the treasure.
So Michelle calls me and says, “Hey Colleen, would you do an hour on story?” Nope. Nope. No. I’m not going to do that. Right? So there are moments where the hero might be tempted to see as the treasure, but it’s not a good enough ending because Campbell says, ultimately, what is a hero?
A hero is somebody who strives for something bigger than themselves, that is a proper hero. And that proper hero has to take a magic flight back to the known world. They are transformed. They’re wiser. They’re stronger, they’re different. But what happens with the treasure, it becomes an elixir.
They return the elixir, and the elixir provides harmony and balance. And now doesn’t that feel like a better ending than just, I got the treasure. Now as I’m showing you the hero’s journey, I read this at a time in my career when I was struggling with storytelling. Like, where else, you know, where else do I take this?
And I read this book, the “Hero With A Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell, and I realized, oh my gosh, this is my life, right? And you might be thinking, this is my life, or this is my business, or this is the, I don’t know, the run I went on or that time, you know, whatever it is. We are constantly on this journey because Campbell says, not only are we telling the same story over and over again, we are living the same story over and over again.
It is literally how human beings, every human being. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world. This is how we interpret and understand. What the natural world deals us.
And so if we are going to peak the curiosity and create connection and build trust with our listeners and our audiences, how can we do that? If we pretend this doesn’t happen, which is what we tend to do at work, we don’t trust people who pretend this doesn’t happen because we all know this happens.
This happens. How do you use this so we can identify now where our audience might be on their journey? We might be able to step into their shoes and use our first layer of the compass to say, you know what? I’m calling them to adventure.
And if I’m doing that, if I’m asking them to change something or change, providers and do business with me or whatever it is, I’m calling them to adventure. In that moment, you as the storyteller, as the presenter, as the person doing the pitch. You are the mentor. You are Gandalf, and you had better have a good vision story.
And a vision story paints a picture of what the future is going to be like. So if you are talking to an audience that is operating in this zone where they’re an ordinary, but you are calling them to adventure, your simple story structure starts in the here and now. And ends in the future.
Paint a picture for them of where they’re heading. So they will go on the adventure with you.
Now, if your audience is in the trials, maybe they’re working with you, maybe you are in the trials and maybe you are trying to make sense of what is happening to you and trying to draw the meaning out of it. Remember, Campbell says, this is all about learning. This is all about lessons.
So what you want to, do in this zone is tell knowledge stories, tell the stories of when things are going sideways, when things are going wrong, but the ending of that story, the outcome is the lesson you can draw from it. And that’s where a knowledge story gains. You know what? We were trying to do this thing.
We tried this method and it went completely sideways and failed, and this is what we could do differently next time. But the outcome for everybody in this room, the lesson you can take away is this. That’s your little elixir at the end of your story. So if you can identify that, you know what, we’re in the trials, or my audience is in the trials, we have to, you know, let’s start collecting our knowledge stories, but to give it meaning and power, draw the lesson out of it.
It’s like your own version of Aesop’s Fables. These are the fun ones. This is when you’re seizing treasure. Yay.
Yay indeed Colleen. When you identify your hero accurately and can design the appropriate experience and adventure for your hero, these are storytelling essentials. Know they hero.
Thank you for listening to this episode of UpSkill Talks brought to you by McGraw Hill. We bring you new episodes every Monday. Please take a moment to subscribe, leave a five star rating and a written review at apple podcast. Or follow us on. By Google podcast or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts, don’t forget to share UpSkill talks with other leaders like yourself. So they too may gain the skills and insights to produce amazing results. Please go to UpSkillCommunity.com to review show notes and learn how you can join a community of leaders from across the globe. Collaborating to lead in a more meaningful and impactful way. I’m your host, Michel Shah. And again, thank you for joining me on this episode of UpSkill Talks.
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