Health & wellbeing

Overcoming adversity – what I learned from Lord of the Rings

- June 9, 2016 3 MIN READ

My mentor (who is also my therapist, healer, and business coach) noticed my overwhelm and asked, “You know about the Hero’s Journey, right?”

Well, yes, I do. I often refer to it when talking to my own coaching clients.

It’s the notion, based upon the academic Joseph Campbell’s studies of mythology, that the human psyche is wired to have a certain personal unfolding, one that is consistent across cultures and religions. From a person’s initial first steps towards adventure, any great quest (be it for gold or self-knowledge), travels a tried and true path of encountering friends and enemies, mentors, challenges, death, rebirth, to returning home with wisdom gained (or object captured).

The Hero’s Journey has become a staple framework around which Hollywood films and bestselling novels are built. I’ve found it helpful in my coaching for explaining to a person that their endeavours and struggles are normal, and overcoming adversity  will be possible if they just persist through all the stages.

Only thing was, I hadn’t exactly applied it to myself lately.

My work life seemed like constant toil and hustle, with nothing actually happening the way I wanted it to. All systems were go yet the phone wasn’t ringing. The air was so crisp with silence you could hear a mouse fart.

Such quiet either leads to monk-like contemplation, or utter insanity.

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This is the point where I fronted up to my mentor with frazzled, wild-eyed distraction – a look which said, What, oh what, can anyone do for me now?

“So,” she carried on with her initial line of thought, “What stage of the Hero’s Journey do you think you’re at?”

Well …

  • I hadn’t slept well in weeks.
  • I had strange physical symptoms, which eerily resembled those of a new mother, post-birth.
  • My back was out.
  • I couldn’t walk properly.

I quipped, “I don’t know. Death?”

She shook her head.

“You know when Frodo’s a complete mess; crawling up the mountain to throw the ring in the fire? He’s been lying there thinking well, maybe I should give up …?”

“It’s that bad huh?”

I could visualize Frodo’s unwashed face, mud-caked hair, and concurred. I’m pretty sure that’s how I looked when I picked my kids from school each day.

“Michelle, you’re at the part of the Hero’s Journey where you’re on your own. All alone. No one can help you now. You’ve had help. You’ve overcome challenges. It’s down to you. You have to take those last steps alone.”

Now, aloneness is not something we generally champion, in our culture. Businesses have business partners. Adults have life partners. I have neither. I’m even an only child, and have always been a solopreneur. I do have children who sometimes make me a cup of tea, but seriously? Alone is what I do. So, why was I pushing back against this?

“This is about continuing to believe in yourself, before there is proof in the world outside you.”

Ah, I got it.

Before this particular point on my journey there was so much happening that I hadn’t actually been all alone in my thoughts. Before this last bit of the journey, when there were so many external challenges, I hadn’t fully appreciated the internal ones.

Everything was now ready, all my best laid plans. Now I had nowhere to go but inside myself.

In the quiet, I discovered all my worry, fear, and indecision.

I realised the final bit of the journey was all about me.

I literally had nothing more to do, other than persevere. I just had to keep going. Just like Frodo did – he surmounted that final hurdle, the bit that allowed him to throw the ring into the fire, all alone.

So, I tried this thing I am not so great at, even though I counsel others to do this all the time in my life coaching.



Accept where I am at.

Hold the vision.

And Just. Keep. Going. Day by day. Bit by bit.

If you’re crawling commando-style up a mountain, of course you can’t see beyond it to what might await. I just need to remember that I am my own best asset. Whatever happens in the world, I will carry on, and whatever it is I learn, I will carry with me forever. That’s the treasure you take home with the journey, regardless of whether or not it comes with gold.

So, wherever you are at in your own journey, remember that there comes a time when it’s just you and the mountain.

And all you need to keep going is … yourself.