03 August 2012

The hero~heroine’s journey

Recently, I relocated from Indiana University School of Nursing to the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. Personally and professionally, I had to engage in deep reflection about this career move. I decided to answer the call and begin a new life chapter.

When we are called to something, we frequently embark on what Joseph Campbell describes as the hero’s (heroine’s) journey. Basically, there are eight steps to the journey: 1) Hearing the call, 2) committing to the call (overcoming refusal), 3) crossing the threshold (initiation), 4) finding guardians, 5) facing and transforming demons, 6) developing inner self and new resources, 7) the transformation, and 8) returning home with the gift.

From time to time, I believe it is important to reflect on the degree to which each of us answers his or her call. John Schuster’s book, Answering Your Call, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, CA (2003) is a wonderful invitation and guided reflection on the nature of calls as a push and pull into a purpose-driven future vision. Certainly, nurses and other health care providers hear a call, commit to it, are initiated, find guardians, face and transform demons, develop inner resources, are transformed and realize gifts. To what degree have you revisited or reflected on your personal and/or professional calling?

Stephen Gilligan and Robert Dilts in their book: The Hero’s Journey: A Voyage of Self Discovery, Crown House Publishing, Bethel, CT (2009), provide some provocative questions for people to consider in regard to reflecting on the nature of their calls and where they themselves in the context of their journeys. These questions include the following:
  • What is the call?
  • How do you know your calling has been fulfilled?
  • When did you first hear the call? What were subsequent events, both positive transcendent and negative?
  • In what ways have you refused the call? What have been the consequences of the refusal?
  • What people are models/ancestors/sponsors for your call?
  • Which people are negative examples/warnings?
  • What are the demons that block your path (inner states/habits or addictions/external associations)?
  • What are the resources that support/nurture/motivate your path?
  • What will allow you to deepen your commitment to the hero’s journey?
  • How do you create action agendas and find guardians?
  • What is/are the demons/challenges you are currently facing? What is a situation in which you feel more of a victim than a hero?
  • What is your “threshold?” What is the unknown territory, outside of your comfort zone, that either (a) the challenge is forcing you into or (b) you must enter in order to deal with the challenge?
  • Given the demon you are facing and the threshold you must cross, what is the “call to action?” What are you being called to do or become? It is often useful to answer this question in the form of a symbol, or metaphor, e.g. I am called to become an eagle, warrior, magician, etc.)
  • What resources do you have and which do you need to develop more fully to face the challenge, cross your threshold and accomplish your calling?
  • Who are (will be) your guardians for those resources?
I believe most nurses are called to nursing because they are purpose-driven to care and serve, and make a difference in the world by sharing their strengths, gifts and talents. Periodically recalling and reviewing one’s call is an important aspect of personal and professional renewal.

A new book by John Schuster, The Power of Your Past: The Art of Recalling, Reclaiming and Recasting (2011), was a great resource to me as I contemplated my career move. The book provided a systematic way for me to reflect and reframe my past in light of future aspirations. At the same time, the book helped me develop an action agenda related to discernment about the call to change. Through a series of self-reflective exercises, Schuster leads and coaches you into recalling, recasting and reclaiming life experiences.

Recalling stories and images from one’s past is grist for reflecting on how the images and early life stories compress or expand life and learning. Recasting past images and identifying and analyzing what the image evoke and what is/was the impact of that evocation helps us reframe old experiences in new ways. Such reframing supports wisdom making. Reclaiming allows one to apply the lesson derived from reflection and reframing to a current setting. Schuster’s work helped me on my hero-journey path. Recalling, reclaiming and recasting my past helped me realize that there were elements of my calling that still needed attention and activation. Such reflection also helped me realize that I had the inner resources to respond to the call with an affirmative voice.

Perhaps you are happy and content with your current calling? Perhaps you have successfully navigated the steps of the hero’s~heroine’s journey? If so, compliments to you. If, however, you are at a crossroads in your journey and you feel somewhat restless with your current calling, I invite you to explore and reflect on some of the questions offered by Gilligan and Dilts (2009), as well as John Schuster’s (2003, 2011) work. Such reflection may help you uncover new resources that will support you as you continue with the personal transformation associated with your own hero’s~heroine’s journey.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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