According the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell, the hero’s greatest weakness, problem, or challenge is what will ultimately become that hero’s greatest strength. Campbell notes that stories across cultures and time (even many modern movies and novels adhere to this concept of the “hero’s journey”) follow this theme.
Likened to a roadmap for self-improvement, the hero’s journey includes distinct stages in which the protagonist battles with the awareness of what her problem is, gains increased realization along her path, at a certain point faces a reluctance toward change, overcomes this reluctance through her own self determination and with the help of mentors and allies, commits to change, experiences both improvements and setbacks from her attempts to change, and finally learns to master her problem — and in the end becomes a stronger person for it.
And like any great story, the hero’s journey can be applied to our own battles. Personally, my lifelong struggle has been anxiety — it’s been my greatest weakness, yes, but it has also helped me find my greatest strength as well.
On my first stage along this journey, I experienced a limited awareness that anxiety was, indeed, a mental condition to which there were answers. In fact, I wasn’t even aware how prevalent anxiety was. In my mind, I was alone and separate from others I deemed “normal.” I was also scared to admit to others that I was dealing with both chronic and acute anxiety, for fear that they’d label me as weak.
Eventually, my awareness increased. I bought a self-help program and, through that, I realized that I had a very real condition I could eventually heal from — and beyond that — I also learned that I was not alone. Reading about other’s struggles with this oftentimes debilitating condition helped me to break out of my own emotional bubble and gave me a hope that I hadn’t experienced before.
Yet, like so many others on a path to self-discovery, I also hit a period of reluctance. No matter how many positive self-affirmations I kept repeating to myself, no matter how many times I read how I shouldn’t blame myself, the fears and self-recrimination still flared up, especially when I became triggered, overtired, or simply received some discouraging news. I figured that my special kind of irrational fears were so entrenched into my brain, I would never be able to fully shake them.
Luckily, I persevered through this reluctance by diving into my creative process as I wrote my debut novel “The Grace of Crows.” Writing became a cathartic exercise in which I could turn off the “what-if” part of my brain. How wonderful it was to learn how to channel those negative fears into a productive act of work. Also, as I wrote about a protagonist overcoming anxiety, I, too, was slowly but surely believing that I could as well.
I further committed to change — and challenged myself like I never had before — by joining Toastmasters, a nonprofit group that helps people hone their public speaking skills. Even though my anxiety had decreased, I still harbored a deep fear of speaking in front of groups — or even the thought of being a guest for possible radio, TV, or podcast interviews. I realized that, if I wanted to promote my book about a woman overcoming anxiety, I’d better learn how walk the walk myself. And, indeed, with time I was able to happily say yes to interviews because of my ongoing commitment to Toastmasters.
Of course, I continued to experience both improvements and setbacks along the way — and, in truth, still do. Yes, life would have been (and still would be!) a lot easier without having to deal with anxiety. But… I am also grateful for what it has given me. If I hadn’t had to deal with this debilitating condition, I would never have written my first novel, would never have gone to Toastmasters, and would never have connected with so many wonderfully brave anxiety-warriors. I am not only stronger because of this journey — but my life is also far richer for it.
So, in looking at your own challenges, dear readers, please acknowledge your own hero’s journey: How have you learned to acknowledge, learn from, and master your biggest problems? And… how have you grown even stronger for it?