By: Peter Sessum
There is a feeling of déjà vu as I write this because I initially started the Hero’s Journey program two years ago. Unfortunately, at the time, life got in the way. I was able to complete all 12 weeks, but I didn’t keep up on the chronicling the journey. Unfortunately, now, I am not working and have the time to do another cycle of it. Which, when you think about it, is in line with what Joseph Campbell said about the hero’s journey.
I am in a different place in my life, in just about every way, now versus the last time I did this. Like any form of therapy, I believe it is good to revisit to see if you can glean something new or apply a lesson in your life that didn’t apply the last time. So, let’s get right to it.
Each week there is a reading and some reflection questions. This week’s questions are:
- Where did you grow up?
- Where did you enlist?
- Why did you join the service?
- What was your dream for your life after the service?
- What was most surprising to you about your service?
- From your perspective now, what would you say to your younger you about to join the service?
- Write a one-page story about your joining the service using some of the questions above.
Okay, so the last one isn’t a question, but here goes.
I grew up in a small town just north of Seattle, Wash. I was the youngest of four, and instead of being treated like the baby of the family, and all the benefits that come from it, I was kind of invisible. My oldest siblings were so challenging for my mother and step-father that the third child was a dream. They put all their eggs in her basket and I was left to fend for myself. This was also the time before ADD was a thing so you were just considered a bad student. I dropped out and kind of drifted. When I turned 18, my mother kicked me out.
One night, a couple years later, I was awake in bed thinking of what I was going to do with my life. I was a high school dropout, working minimum wage jobs and no better prospects in sight. Like many others, I had bought into the myth of college being challenging so I didn’t even consider it. I knew I wanted more, but didn’t know how to get it. The next day, a recruiter handed me his card.
I think, to this day, that had he handed it to me weeks earlier I would have ignored it. But based on my contemplation the night before, I thought I would give it a try. Needless to say, my feminist mother and hippy step father were not impressed when I arrived at their house with a man in uniform to pick up my birth certificate. As a kid I wasn’t even allowed to play with toy guns and had to smuggle GI Joes I bought with my allowance money into my bedroom. I’m sure they thought of military service as a form of rebellion, but really it was an opportunity to shake things up in my life. In the post Cold War – pre GWOT window the military seemed like a thing you could do to figure yourself out.
I think what was most surprising, and most disappointing, was how hypocritical the Army was. The people that most talked about honor and integrity had none of their own, but would hold you to the standard they pretended to adhere to. I arrived at basic training with a strong honor belief system. We were mixed race kids in my family and since my mother and step father were both white, we each had to find our own identity. I dove into books and reading about ancient cultures and their systems of honor really spoke to me. So I found a home in the military, or so I thought. As much as they talk about it, the Army really doesn’t care about honor and loyalty. As long as you don’t do anything to get your fellow troops killed, your moral character doesn’t matter.
If I could talk to my younger self, I would advise him to not tell that asshole Marine recruiter to fuck off. Or maybe still tell him to fuck off, but find another recruiter and join the Marines. I think their adherence to traditions would have been a better fit for me at the time. Looking back, I would have been that moto Marine dumbass, but I might have been happier. Or I would have told that little fucker to volunteer for Ranger Indoctrination Program right after Airborne School instead of going home on leave.
Overall, joining the Army was a good choice for me. In the Campbell narrative, receiving the recruiter’s card was my “call to adventure” and the start of my hero’s journey.
And since I know this needs clarification, the Hero’s Journey doesn’t necessarily mean someone that does heroic deeds, it is using the definition of hero to mean the protagonist. You are the protagonist in your own story, even if you don’t feel heroic. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on myself, and while I do not feel heroic, I feel I have a pretty good grasp of who I am. If life was the movie Die Hard, I am Sgt Al Powell, not John McClane and I’m okay with that.
Up Next: Step Three: Crossing the Threshold, The Call to Adventure