‘The Horizon’, Part 2, Chapter 14: about the heroic journey of finding your own path and why goals are the starting point, not the destination
“He who wants to be famous has to think of himself first.”Egon Jameson et al
How do you become rich, slim, and famous?
In a little book from 1959 Egon Jameson, Corey Ford, and Loriot pursued this popular question with the sharp eye of social satire. The slim volume is split into 3 sections with pieces of advice, harvested from the fertile soil between wishful thinking and nonsense.
1 — HOW DO I BECOME RICH?
Chapters in this section include titles like Finding Idiots, and How to Make Lots of Money with Minimal Brains.
2 — HOW DO I GET SLIM?
In this section the authors declare, “Most dieters are their own worst enemy. The only surefire way against appetite is this: you have to ruin your appetite.”
3 — HOW DO I BECOME FAMOUS?
In this section you can read about “the importance of the personal cult.”
The humorous ‘self-help book’ ends with the statement: “Who wants to become famous has to think, if he thinks at all, of himself first.”
The 3 satirists reflect on some bizarre yet all too common human behaviour. Their ‘advice’ is instructive in its absurdity.
When we meet real people who look like ‘they’ve made it’ we get a very different picture. So let’s explore a couple of stories and find out what we can learn from them.
Emma Watson knows what it is like to become rich, slim, and famous. At the age of 9 she auditioned for the part of Hermione in the first Harry Potter film. She got the part. Her name became synonymous with Hermione, and this was the beginning of a glittering career in the star studded sky of a fantasy world on screen.
Emma Watson entered her adolescent phase in the public eye. This was sometimes very uncomfortable for the young girl — even traumatic. She recalls a scene from the day when she ‘officially’ reached adulthood:
“I remember my 18th birthday, I went to a party hosted for me, and photographers were lying on the ground, trying to see under my skirt. These photographs were published in a tabloid the next day. If they had been published 24 hours earlier, they would have been illegal, but because I had just turned 18 years old, they were legal.”
“Beauty is letting yourself live.”Emma Watson
Even though we legally enter adulthood at the age of 18, adolescence — as a period of Consciousness — is defined differently. This definition is not a theoretical concept, but rather a description of our subjective experience.
From the age of around 12 we grow into adolescent Consciousness, and we grow out of it gradually between 18 and 30. This phase may last even longer, depending on our disposition and circumstances.
Emma Watson was already ‘rich, slim, and famous’ when entering her adolescent period, and this forced her to grow up faster than usual.
During adolescence the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ becomes increasingly important, because it is woven together with our existence as independent humans.
Emma Watson knew the answer to this question from a young age. She wanted to be a princess or an actress.
Through early experiences with sexual discrimination and harassment a new goal showed up on her life path. The suffering caused by gender inequality had become a painful part of her own story. She learned that many women have to endure sexual assaults daily — often far worse than her personal experience.
This awareness became a call to adventure for Emma. She put together a research project in gender studies, and used her influential public status to raise awareness.
In 2014 Emma Watson became a UN Goodwill Ambassador for gender equality, and she launched an international campaign called He for She.
Her story reads like a contemporary legendary myth. Coming of age, discovering her calling, and sharing them with the world — this became Emma’s ‘heroic journey’.
This narrative illustrates the central theme for everyone during the adolescent period. We all have to cut the umbilical chord from the familiar world we were born into, become independent, and follow our own path.
Children and adolescents all over the world are confronted with the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’; and a surprisingly common answer is: ‘I want to be rich, slim, and famous.’
We expect money to give us security and independence. We believe looking trendy makes us more confident and successful. We assume fame automatically brings admiration and love.
We have constructed expectations that financial independence, material success, and the love of many people will lead to fulfilment. We have come to trust the illusion that money, superficial appearances, and external approval can provide us with longterm pleasure and happiness.
Wealth, beauty, and fame give the impression as if there is a fast and easy track to ‘a good life’, which anyone can grab with a little bit of luck.
Here are some insights Emma Watson offers from an insider’s perspective:
“I was riddled with insecurity and self-critiquing.”
“I used to have to go numb and close myself off, for example on the red carpet, just to get through it.”
“Beauty is not long hair, skinny legs, tanned skin or perfect teeth. Believe me… Beauty is letting yourself live.”
“I can only succeed in life, when I find myself along the way.”Alexander Huber
The metaphor of the Heroic Journey comes from the mythical hero or heroine who has to leave home in search of treasure. The journey usually stretches over many years, like the epic cruise of Ulysses.
Every hero/heroine has to fight fierce battles and face many tests and dangers. These are unavoidable because it is precisely the conquering of adversities which turn the ordinary young man or woman into an extraordinary hero or heroine.
The metaphor of the Heroic Journey describes the inner battles of adolescent Consciousness on the way towards greater maturity. The journey is about exploring and conquering your world in your own way and discovering things and places nobody has seen before.
The modern day calling to ‘be rich, slim, and famous’ gives the impression as if we could bypass the hardships of life. But in real life it never works like that.
There is no easy fast track or short cut to heroism. True heroines and heroes have to develop courage, inner strength, and genuine self-acceptance along their path.
Here is another example for the experience of the mythical phase in real life:
Alexander Huber was born in 1968 in a small town in Bavaria in the foothills of the Alps. At the age of 9 he went on his first climbing tour with his father and brother. Meeting the monumental mountains face to face was love at first sight — the beginning of an epic career.
Alexander Huber and his older brother Thomas both followed their calling to explore the high mountains of the world. They have gained international recognition as top mountaineers and rock climbers, and together they became known as the Huberbuam (Huberboys).
They were pioneers in a new field of sport, conquering the most challenging rock faces, and creating new routes that had never been touched by human foot or hand.
Alexander rose to fame with his ‘free solo’ climbs. Free soloing — one of the most challenging and dangerous types of sport — is a form of climbing where the alpinist climbs on his own without safety gear.
Free soloists climb above safe heights, and the slightest error or accident would end fatal. You are basically on your own, stuck on a steep or overhanging rock face.
Why would you want to do that?
Why would anyone risk their life in a sport where you have zero margin for error?
In his book Die Angst, dein bester Freund (Fear, Your Best Friend) Alexander Huber shares how climbing became his calling, what can happen when you venture into the most remote and uninviting places of the world, and why fear became his most trusted travelling companion.
Alexander Huber’s story reads like a modern day odyssey. He writes, “It is never the mountain you conquer, but it’s always the own Self anyway… I can only succeed in life, when I find myself along the way.”
“The amount of force invested by us will fall back on us one day and destroy whatever we achieved.”Jean Gebser
The central theme in the adolescent period of Consciousness is leaving the familiar world of childhood and setting off to new shores.
In real life we may experience this as finding a sexual partner, rebelling against authority, getting a job, developing a special skill, following a calling, etc.
As already mentioned, the question ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’ often forces itself into the foreground during this phase. We may agonise over the purpose of life and whether we have anything to offer in this world. You may have a dream or an interest pulling you in a particular direction.
Emma Watson and Alexander Huber knew what they wanted to do from an early age. For them things fell into place somehow.
What if you don’t have such clarity? What if you don’t know what you want?
What if one day you find yourself ‘grown up’, and you still don’t know what you want to do with your life?
Problems in real life often occur when we see ourselves and our life exclusively through the mental/rational lens. From the mental perspective every dream, dormant talent, or calling — even finding a sexual partner — becomes a goal.
We turn every yearning, every experience we would like to have into an external destination. Then we pursue our ‘goal’ in a linear fashion.
No matter whether we achieve our goals or not, sooner or later we begin to feel that we are missing out on life. And then we wonder why life is passing us by.
Jean Gebser explains this dilemma in a talk with the title Vom spielenden Gelingen (On Achieving Playfully). He explains that genuine success in life has to come in a playful, almost effortless manner.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work hard and spend many long hours developing a skill. Mozart played his piano pieces effortlessly only after hundreds of hours of practice.
Alexander Huber only attempts a free solo climb when he has done the route many times in a safe manner and knows every move by heart.
Achieving a goal is an emerging process. This process has to remain alive, and we must not lose sight of life while pursuing the goal.
In May 1996 the greatest disaster in the history of mountaineering happened on Mount Everest. 15 climbers died within 72 hours because they were near the summit but they didn’t have enough time to reach it and also return safely to the camp.
Summit fever took over and many lives were sacrificed for reaching the goal.
When Alexander Huber climbs free solo he consciously stops himself thinking of the specific goal. He has taught himself to focus on the climb itself and what lies beyond it. In other words, his attention is focused on the process and on life beyond the goal.
Jean Gebser explains that, “pure goal oriented intention can certainly reach a goal, can force it through. However, nothing enforced will endure. The amount of force invested by us will fall back on us one day and destroy whatever we achieved.”
“There is nothing better for us to do than to take ourselves as we find ourselves and make the best of ourselves.”Wanda Gág
Setting goals and pursuing them with a fixed mindset is a concept human Consciousness doesn’t develop until the mental/rational period. From the perspective of adult Consciousness our goals are destinations to be reached.
Of course it seems logical that we want to get from A to B via the most direct, effective, and fastest route. In real life, however, the most effective way is often not the apparent direct route. Usually there are many unforeseen hurdles hidden in the dark behind unexpected bends.
From the perspective of mythical Consciousness a goal is not a destination but a starting point. It is the ‘Call to Adventure’. It is the first step on the Heroic Journey.
Whether I reach my destination or not depends on many factors.
Am I prepared to leave my familiar paradigm and follow the call?
Am I ready for the tests and challenges along the way?
Am I willing to be transformed by the process?
Do I have what it takes to develop my gifts (or am I willing to acquire what it takes)?
Do I have the courage and strength to find my way home?
On the heroic journey of life we can experience ourselves in adolescent Consciousness not just in our youth but at any time, whenever we feel a need to make a big change and break away from a familiar setting.
Our special tool for this adolescent period is called Responsibility.
When the heroine or hero leaves home they are on their own. They have to take responsibility for themselves and make their own decisions.
This can be a massive obstacle. We often block our adolescent Consciousness from unfolding because we refuse to take responsibility.
“It is not my fault!” we assert, claiming our innocence.
We blame ‘our grown ups’ and circumstances of life for not delivering the fulfilment of our dreams. We expect life to change for the better on our behalf, while we keep reacting to external events in habitual childish patterns.
We are afraid to take responsibility for ourselves, assuming it means admitting guilt for everything that went wrong. Somehow in our minds responsibility and guilt got mixed up, and this confusion produces an inner blockage.
Taking responsibility for your own life has nothing to do with guilt! Responsibility is the ability to respond in a way that is different from the old reactions learned in childhood.
Adolescent Consciousness can only unfold fully when we develop this ability. Otherwise the heroic journey remains a pipe dream, and even the goals we reach will not deliver the desired fulfilment.
Developing responsibility for ourselves and our life means sponsoring ourselves as best as we can in any given circumstances.
A beautiful example for this definition of responsibility is the life story of the artist Wanda Gág (1893-1946).
Wanda was the daughter of an artist and as the eldest of 7 children. When she lost her father at the age of 15 she had to work to help earn money for the family. Around that time she began to write a diary, which was later published under the title Growing Pains.
Wanda Gág wasn’t happy about having to leave school, and she missed her father who inspired and encouraged her to develop her talent. Later she received a scholarship to go to art school and became a successful and influential artist.
In her diary the young Wanda wrote: “There is nothing better for us to do than to take ourselves as we find ourselves and make the best of ourselves.”
“Everyone who walks his own path is a hero.”Hermann Hesse
From the adolescent perspective we look at the achievements of others and imagine them to be ours. We dream of being ‘rich, slim, and famous’ — or our personal version of this metaphor — without appreciating or understanding what it takes to get there.
We have collectively become addicted to running after goals, expecting them to deliver fulfilment and hoping to catch up with life after passing the finishing line.
A radical change in perspective allows us to experience life right now, immediately. We don’t have to achieve anything. We don’t even need to have a goal.
The experience of life itself can become our call to adventure. When we follow this call we can practice ‘achieving playfully’, and all empty promises of elusive goals are instantly replaced by a fulfilling reality.
We chase after success, as if we believe that it enables us to find ourselves and live the life of our dreams.
What if it is the other way round?
What if we have to find ourselves in order to succeed in life?
Hermann Hesse became one of the ‘famous’ ones during his life time. In his adolescence he struggled with depression and nearly killed himself. Little did he know that his work would be translated into 70 languages, and still be read by people all over the world more than half a century after his death.
Through his heroic journey Hermann Hesse discovered that, “everyone who walks his own path is a hero. Everyone who really does and lives what he is capable of is a hero… The world is not there to be improved. You are not here to be improved either. You are here to be yourself. … Be yourself, and the world will be rich and beautiful.”
© Veronika Bond, 2016
This article is a draft of chapter 14 of The Horizon, volume 2 of The Solo System.
It is complemented by an e-letter, containing additional background information about the progress of the book and the creative process.
If you want to receive updates in the future, subscribe now.