The Unexpected Call
Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist who is well known for his research comparing various attributes of different cultures. Campbell is perhaps most famous for his idea of the Monomyth, more commonly known as the “Hero’s Journey.” This idea suggests that no matter who created them, many stories follow the same basic formula. Joseph Campbell’s theory of the “Hero’s Journey” has held great influence over the fields of Anthropology, Literature, and Mythology, but is not limited to such scholarly applications.
According to Joseph Campbell, every epic story, from ancient tales to our modern versions, begins with a call to adventure. This call to adventure is usually born from extraordinary circumstances. This can make it seem impossible for us normal folks to have epic journeys of our own. It is not often that we have to avenge the destruction of our village or return a sacred artifact to its proper home.
Still, there are calls to adventure in our everyday lives. The real question is whether or not we want to answer them.
I am reminded of a time a few years ago, as I was heading to a new semester in college. A new semester can be full of new experiences, but they all begin by providing the experience of paying tuition. So, like all responsible adults, I received a check from my parents to pay my bill. While depositing the check I realized a call to adventure was whispering to me, right there in the mundane world of the bank. Rather than do the responsible thing and use the money to pay for school as it was intended, I could use it to buy a plane ticket to some distant, exotic place. It was the opportunity to embark on a truly spontaneous journey, with all the benefits and detriments expected from such endeavors.
I entertained thoughts of how great such an adventure could be. Before long, however, my imagination was sobered with reasons for why I could not pursue such a brash action. I would feel too guilty to enjoy myself if I left behind my responsibilities. Especially if it wasn’t for a really good reason. More importantly, I think I would be too afraid to take the money and fly away. Afraid not so much of what could happen to me, although that is certainly something to consider, but more so of the possibility that I could not return to the place I left.
My entire life I have admired the protagonists of adventure stories, and wondered what I would do in a similar situation. I am not sure I could ever be like the swashbuckling heroes of my childhood, because I care too much for people and places to be constantly moving around. Yet, at the same time, I don’t want to be another one of the many people who miss out on opportunities out of obligations or loyalty to others.
I am always receiving advice on how to move forward with my life. Many wise and intelligent people have advised me not to live my life for other people. Then again, it seems wrong to live life for myself. I know there must be common ground between these two approaches. Or, at least, I think I know that.
There is an easy answer, though, if a bit sarcastic. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, the choice between living for others or living for myself. Answering the call, or staying behind. Maybe this indecision is pointless, because everyone knows – its things that really matter in life, not people.