Change is hard. That is what I hear. There are companies, consultants and teams devoted to helping people through change.
But I disagree that change is hard.
Changes that we want are quite easy. Marrying the person that you love, finding out you are pregnant with the baby that you always wanted, getting a job, getting accepted into college, receiving a financial windfall, a promotion, buying your dream home or car. Those are pretty easy changes.
But there are other changes that are more difficult, leaving an abusive relationship, changing careers, dealing with loss.
And the hardest place of all to be is at the beginning of this change, the threshold. The threshold is where we are confronted with the sad truth that we will not be able to live the lives that we wanted to live. Our only choice is to leap into an unknown abyss.
Yet, another way to see this threshold is as the beginning of our Hero’s Journey.
All writers know about the Hero’s Journey. It goes something like this. The protagonist’s world has been turned upside down and she must take a long, difficult journey to discover new life/wisdom/revelation. The Hero’s Journey follows the protagonist on her quest.
Joseph Campbell popularized the Hero’s Journey in his books about monomyths (one myth). Campbell posited that the vast majority of mythic and religious narratives regardless of culture or civilization are variations of the Hero’s Journey. His famous book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces described the similarities between all religions and myths. Namely, the hero faces challenges, gains insights, and returns home transformed. The Hero’s Journey leads them through great movements of separation, descent, ordeal, and return.
But it is the beginning of that journey that is most difficult. For those who have lost a partner, our Hero’s Journey is caused by a catastrophic separation. Death, loss, finances. These events are our lives’ earthquakes. What makes the leap off of the threshold particularly difficult is grief. Those in intense grief have difficulty making decisions, lose confidence, and question their abilities.
I had that experience. I had wonderful and successful life. Yet, after a series of catastrophic losses, I was unable to make the simplest decision. I couldn’t decide what I should wear. Each morning I would end up sitting in bed, crying with my dogs…unable to make such a simple choice. For those who have their planned lives stolen by death; we have to take that leap off the threshold without our wingman.
The threshold of change is the most painful place to be, even more difficult than the journey that follows. Yet people in bad situations remain frozen on their threshold. Lacking any blueprint, we remain on that painful threshold as the universe tries harder and harder to push us off.
Crossing the threshold requires us to leave the things that gave us comfort and security. That is when we commit to our Hero’s Journey.
Joseph Campbell described three phases of the Hero’s Journey: The first phase, crossing that threshold, is called Departure: The next key component of the Hero’s Journey is On the Road. In this phase we are tested, endure hardships, disappointments, fear, and failure. Each hero is dealing with grief’s pain, grief triggers and is learning to live without the partner.
In the final phase, the Return/Transformation the hero emerges and returns changed by the journey. The hero has experienced not just loss and the intensity of grief’s pain but also the knowledge that he can survive it. The hero returns, transformed by the experience and on a path to becoming a new person.
And that is the bottom line. All of us are changed by our Hero’s Journey. Hopefully for the better. Our Hero’s Journey teaches us acceptance, self-compassion, and integration back into life. We deeply understand the hubris of control. It has taught me to lean into the good things, to celebrate each event, as if it were the last one. Because all of the hero’s that have been on the journey understand the fragility of life.
While enduring our Hero’s Journey, we discover a powerful secret. We can survive grief’s pain.
So, rather than see ourselves as stuck, or lost, or making bad decisions; I prefer to see ourselves as at the beginning of our own Hero’s Journey. And those of us who have been on this journey remain to assure others that they will make it, too.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.