Day in, day out, you consume information. One day you feel a calling to write. You begin taking some notes, sketching an outline, but then you feel resistance hit.
What am I doing this for?
A mentor comes along. Maybe it's a friend, maybe it's a distant acquaintance. Perhaps they don't even know they're your guide, a mentor from afar.
They convince you to cross the threshold, to get on the journey to publish something.
It's all fun and games, until it isn't.
Resistance hits again and again, but with support and motivation, you beat it.
Before you get to the finish line, the monster of self-doubt corners you at the innermost cave.
You struggle against it, push through, and finally, hit publish.
You are transformed, you can no longer see the world as a mere consumer.
You're a creator.
(This is where the story ends.)
Life, unlike story, goes on. Someday you will encounter a rookie in your path, and your role will change; from the protagonist of your own story, to a mentor for someone else.
If you're familiar with storytelling frameworks, you may have recognized the backbone of my little tale above.
One of the foundational, most influential, equally beloved and criticized, frameworks for storytelling is known as The Hero's Journey, coined by Joseph Campbell.
Here's an oversimplified chart:
The framework has been used, borrowed, transformed, rejected, praised and criticized by filmmakers, storytellers and businesspeople.
More than simply trying to distill storytelling into a repeatable formula, what Joseph Campbell was trying to do was determine whether there is an underlying shape to all stories, a pattern that might reveal something meaningful about our humanity.
It also happens to be a good template, so it remains widely used; not only in drama, but in brand storytelling, education, and training.
When applying storytelling to real life situations, the Hero's Journey has always struck me as incomplete. While life resembles a single narrative, our lives are comprised of many stories.
We may be the protagonists of our own lives, but we play supporting roles for many others. Extras in our neighbors’ lives, we may be mentors to few, and perhaps even antagonists to some.
One of the areas where I believe this framework is applied incorrectly (or incompletely) is education. In order to be effective and scalable, all teaching must be standardized to a degree. Every student goes on the same journey, on the same timeline, with the same assignments. By the end of a learning experience, they are supposedly transformed for the better.
And then, what?
The purpose of education is to give you tools to apply indefinitely. You carry with you what you've learned, use it, share it, improve it. Stories must end, but life is cyclical.
I want to propose a different framework for contextualizing the hero's journey in education and business. I will call it The Hero→Mentor Cycle.
Take the example of a cohort-based course like Write of Passage. Courses don't happen once, they happen over and over. Successful, passionate students become alumni guides. The hero becomes a mentor.
Mentors don't have to be masters or gurus - in fact, it sometimes works better when they aren't. A student who recently completed a learning experience is better positioned to relate to a new learner because they're beginning to apply what they've learned but they still remember how they originally learned it in the context of the curriculum.
On the other hand, a Harvard MBA student from 30 years ago is less well positioned to be a mentor to a Harvard MBA student today - both because curricula may change greatly over time, context changes, but the former student has also greatly changed over time.
There are great examples of the Hero-Mentor Cycle in business too. People like Marie Poulin, August Bradley or Khe Hy used Notion, a popular productivity software, to build systems that enable them to get more done. Then, as heroes who have completed the journey of transforming their own productivity systems, they became mentors to many others by showing them how to do it too. Notion took note, and encouraged it, championing them as ambassadors.
Of course, mentorship is its own journey. It is frequently said that the best way to truly understand something is to teach it. Mentorship is an adventure with its own revelations and transformations. In coaching someone else, gaps in our understanding or capabilities might be uncovered.
But now, you know what transformation looks like, and you know what it will take to complete the journey. So, you seek another mentor, who is just a few steps ahead.
And a new adventure begins.