Can you imagine wanting to hear a story so badly that it is your dying wish?
That was the situation with Daniel Fleetwood, a Star Wars fan in Texas who was dying of cancer. His wife and eventually thousands of others campaigned for him to see the latest installment of the franchise — Star Wars: The Force Awakens — months before it would be released in theaters.
They got their wish, and the 31-year-old saw the movie days before he died. That is an obvious testament to the power of a story.
But it isn’t just any story. The Star Wars series is a Hero’s Journey, the most important theme throughout history. Our religions and mythology are built on it.
George Lucas created the Star Wars myths from a mold presented by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In it, he identified the components of the hero epic.
Once you have seen the formula, you recognize it in virtually every journey story. You can use these elements for your own story.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you would want to unspool your tale at every cocktail party when anyone asks, “What’s your story?” But it informs everything when you have a Core Story.
The Core Story is a concept that was developed by Chet Holmes, who is the subject of Publisher Paul Feldman’s interview this month. Actually, the article is from the transcript of the conversation that Paul had with Chet five years ago for our first published Feldman Interview.
Paul was reminded of how important that interview was to him as he was reviewing the original article for a book that he is creating from some of the key interviews. Chet was a hero to him through written material and audio. You also might have listened to Chet or others on your tape deck as you traveled to client appointments. Even if you had heard it a dozen times, the story it told sustained you time and again.
Chet’s core story idea is used in the service of a marketing message, but it is a good idea for a business or a personal foundation. When you have it down, it serves as a base, a reminder of who you are. The model also can serve to shape any experience or lesson into a compelling narrative.
Campbell’s structure has many parts, but the basics of the journey can be broken down. It starts out with the picture of an ordinary world. Steven Spielberg did this effectively with movies such as “E.T.”, which opened with a family being an actual family with all its eccentricities. Your listeners need to be able to place themselves there.
The hero has to be ordinary at first as well. “What, go get a ring, take it to the evil empire of Mordor to toss it into the Crack of Doom? Ah, I might be a little too booked up for the next few weeks to do that. It could be any seemingly insurmountable task in your life or business.
Position it as the impossible objective. Maybe it’s about the CEO of one of the leading corporations in your area, and you want to land his or her business. But probably the best investment of time is putting your own life in the context of a hero’s journey. What is a goal that you are particularly proud of accomplishing? You can then reverse-engineer your story.
Once you have accepted the mission, you cross into the adventure. You must then face setbacks. It can’t be easy — no struggle, no story.
After an early victory is snatched away, you should have a period in the wilderness when all seems lost. It’s just you and the predators growling around your camp.
We’ve all been there. In those moments, usually two things appear: an inner strength that we didn’t know we had and the humility to admit that our goals can’t be met alone.
With this resolve and help from new compatriots, we rally and win. Then the satisfying story ends with a return journey and the prize or wisdom improves the ordinary world.
This is very simplified, but the accompanying chart fills in details for the full story. It might seem silly to recast your story into an epic myth, but look at your entertainment. It’s all story. In fact, look at business and politics — all story-driven. So, why shouldn’t that be your story? Why is yours less valuable than any other?
Wouldn’t a hero’s journey thread meaning into everyday life? It imbues the teller with pride and the listener with inspiration.
Joseph Campbell once said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” His example also showed that gift can be the story that reveals the way to greater things, such as the security of one’s realm or the answer to a dying wish.
Your epic awaits.