Opening The Door To The Hero’s Journey For Out of School Youth

By Ann Vanino

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.” — Joseph Campbell

The hero’s journey comes from the structure of ancient and modern mythology. In ancient times, as well as today, myths inform us about the mysterious and unknown aspects of life. In the hero’s journey, there are stages: ordinary life, the call to adventure, refusal of the call, meeting mentors and allies, saying yes to the call, tests, inner searching, big challenges, rewards, completing the journey and returning to the world a changed person.

As youth grow and prepare for life, they can begin their own hero’s journey. At times, society pressures for conformity (don’t worry about liking your job, find a job that can support you financially, and forget about your crazy dreams). In contrast, the hero’s journey is an adventure that will lead youth to finding who they are and what they love. What better way to approach life.

Our society has failed many of our out of school youth. According to the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education, each year since 1985, 4 million young people aged 16-24 are not enrolled in or failed to complete high school. We owe them more. I think we have the opportunity to take a giant leap by providing a passageway and opportunities for them to travel the hero’s journey. This journey will lead them to a fulfilling career by providing time for them to discover their passion and helping them prepare for a career that has meaning for them. As Joseph Campbell says, if you follow your bliss you put yourself on a track that leads you to your passion.

We can begin by creating an environment of hope for youth as they begin their hero’s journey. Listen to them. Be there as they develop and explore their dreams. Endorse their dreams. Support them. Love their dreams and let them know you do. It is their dreams that will propel them forward. Help them to build their strength to withstand disappointments and challenges. Nurture the idea that each of them is on a hero’s journey that will be a wonderful adventure. Their adventure will includes good times and difficult times. Many of these youth have withstood greater challenges and have survived.

As youth embark on their hero’s journey, experiences can fuel their travels. One of the best gifts you can give youth is a sense of curiosity. For youth to find their destiny and have a fulfilling life, they need to know what’s out there. And they need the opportunity to try things out. They need space to explore. I’m not suggesting that a brief internship or visiting workplaces is going to do it. It’s more than that. Let’s give youth time to find their passion. In our world, many adults have never embarked on the journey to find their passion. That, I believe, is a major source of their lack of fulfillment in life. Let’s make the time and space for exploration available for youth. How would your life have been different if the time and space had been given to you?

A key stage of the Hero’s Journey is The Call to Adventure. That is what we should create for youth — a positive challenge, a chance to find out who they are and what they want to do, a means to engage them in life and inspire them to their individual greatness. We all deserve a fulfilling life. Let’s take a giant leap with youth and give them the opportunity to walk the hero’s journey. Let’s call them to adventure. I imagine an exploration space, a walk where they have never gone, supported by mentors and allies along the way. How rich it could be!

This essay only begins to look at the stages of the hero’s journey. There is so much more to explore. Let’s use the hero’s journey as a framework to develop a new perspective for supporting out of school youth.
©Copyright 2008 – 2019 by Ann E. Vanino
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