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A Hero's Journey

I was recently in California visiting some friends. Many of these folks are from West Virginia or went to West Virginia University, but not all of them.

They are successful health care workers, businessmen and businesswomen, writers, and educators. Although for many, the years separate their time in the state or at WVU, their hearts have not left.

They all communicated great sorrow about the recent floods and economic downturns for the state, but they also communicated a sense of change, of a new future for West Virginia. A new journey for the state. 

In someways, this perspective is probably colored by our presence and by that of President Gordon Gee, who has also visited these successful ex-patriots. His leadership in this enterprise is clear and he is the leader of our great adventure. 

They see the great strength of our state and its people in rallying around each other during the recent historic flooding.

They remember fondly the amazing natural beauty of the state and the foundational goodness of our people. They feel, as I do, that WV has always had the great potential for greatness by any standard. 

One of the great folks I talked with last night is a scriptwriter and novelist. We talked about the framework for almost all successful movies, books and shows. 

This framework was initially described by Joseph Campbell, who described the following outline (taken and adapted from

The Hero's Journey Outline

The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.  It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person or the team who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.

Its stages are:

  1. THE ORDINARY WORLD.  The hero or team, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma.  The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history.  Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.
  2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE.  Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.  
  3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL.  The hero or team feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly.  Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
  4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.  The hero or team comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.  Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.
  5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.  At the end of Act One, the hero or team commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.  
  6. TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES.  The hero or team is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.
  7. APPROACH.  The hero/team and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.
  8. THE ORDEAL.  Near the middle of the story, the hero/team enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear.  Out of the moment of death comes a new life. 
  9. THE REWARD.  The hero/team takes possession of the treasure won by facing death.  There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
  10. THE ROAD BACK.  About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero/team is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home.  Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
  11. THE RESURRECTION.  At the climax, the hero/team is severely tested once more on the threshold of home.  He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level.  By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
  12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR.  The hero/team returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

I believe this is the script for West Virginia's future.

Even as far away as California, people are engaged in this journey of change, hope and success.

I think we are on a hero's journey - together - and it is a worthy mission.