“All models are wrong, but some are useful” – George Box

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey

I first experienced Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey while taking multimedia and writing courses at UCLA. I was working with novels and multimedia CD-ROMs as ways to tell my stories (and hopefully as a way to escape the oil and gas industry and corporate America; more about that later!). I think I was in a multimedia game course when the instructor introduced us to Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. The subject matter caught me and I have been a student and advocate since. Vogler worked in the movie industry and adopted Campbell’s work from The Hero With a Thousand Faces into a structure that described stages of a story that a screenwriter could use to create story that rings true to human experience. Campbell’s book describing the journey is written from a very academic perspective; Vogler made the journey more accessible.

At first I thought of The Hero’s Journey as a structure I could use to tell story, either in novels or using the then-emerging CD-ROM platform. I figured I craft the plot using the stages as the structure. But over time I became aware that the journey rings true in storytelling because it is a representation of how we experience life. I now look at The Hero’s Journey as a model* for human behavior, and as such I do not take it literally, but as a guideline for what may be happening and how I might respond.

I will use the terminology and spirit of this model throughout my blog. Since Vogler’s version of the journey is simpler and easier to understand, I will use his nomenclature rather than Campbell’s from The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Following is a brief summary of the journey. I will expand on these stages in future posts and add the characters, or archetypes that accompany the hero along the journey.

Heroes live in their ORDINARY WORLD. They receive the one or more CALL TO ADVENTURE, a call that invites them to try something new, that requires some change from the ordinary, and perhaps takes some risk. They are reluctant at first, and many will initially, some perhaps forever, REFUSE THE CALL. Some will be encouraged by a MENTOR to stop refusing the call and CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD. Those that answer the call will enter a Special World. As they enter this new world, the non-ordinary, they encounter TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. Eventually they APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold where they endure the SUPREME ORDEAL. If successful, they take possession of their REWARD and are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World. They cross a third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World. They will now live in a new Ordinary World until they receive a call to adventure…

I will expand on this in a more detailed post in the near-future, I recently accepted a Call to Adventure and have crossed a threshold into a very different world. After more than thirty-seven years in an oil company, I have willingly and happily accepted an early retirement offer from my employer. As of Friday, November 18, 2016 I am no longer employed and I have entered a new stage of life. And so far my experience has mirrored the journey. I plan to use this blog to describe the events leading up to my retirement and to write about my experiences in this special world as I begin to reshape my ordinary world.


Archetypes are the characters on The Hero’s Journey. The subject of the journey, the hero, encounters many characters along the way, each of which plays a function that helps or hinders the hero. In story these characters often have a limited role to play. In reality, people’s personalities have facets of many archetypes and each of us play these functions in different situations.

Vogler adopted archetypes from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s archetypes are based on Carl Yung’s work, who employed the term archetype as patterns of personality that have a shared heritage in the human race. I will use the terminology from Christopher Vogler’s work within my blog.

Vogler writes that the most common and useful archetypes are the following:

Hero The Hero is the subject of the journey. He or she is the person who exists in the ordinary world and receives a call to adventure, often to achieve a goal or to fulfill some inner need.

Mentor The Mentor is a figure who who aids the hero in some positive way to face the journey. The Mentor is often a wise old man or woman in story, whose experience teaches the hero how to answer the call and face challenges along the path.

Threshold Guardian The hero passes three thresholds in the journey. Threshold Guardians are characters at each threshold who test the hero to ensure he is worthy to cross the threshold and enter a special world. In the real world I think of threshold guardians as those forces or people that protect the status quo.

Herald The Herald function issue’s challenges and announces the coming of significant change. The Herald often initiates the need for the hero to take action.

Shapeshifter This archetype is difficult to define. As implied by the name, the Shapeshifter is difficult to nail down because their behavior is constantly changing (I am sure you can think of people in your life that you could never quite understand their behavior). The Shapeshifter’s role may help or hinder the hero. This constantly changing character is also a catalyst for change.

Shadow The Shadow represents the dark side. The villain in a story is usually the Shadow. The Shadow is often the dark side of ourselves, the part of our personality that we do not like, disavow or avoid addressing.

Trickster Tricksters help bring about healthy change and transformation. While Threshold Guardians tend to protect the status quo, Tricksters are the natural enemy of the status quo. As implied by the name, Tricksters are often light in nature and even comical but are very effective at pointing out imbalances or absurdities in a particular situation.

Once again, don’t think of the archetypes as people, but rather facets of personalities that are expressed to play a certain function in a story, or in real life. While typing the preceding descriptions I can think of times when I have played each of these functions (well, maybe all but the Shadow. Ok, the Shadow also!). It’s useful in life to be able to identify what function the “characters” in your story are playing to either overcome or capitalize on the role they are playing in your journey.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a model for human motivation, and like most models, it is flawed or has limitations, but I find it useful to understand the things that motivate human beings. The model was developed in the late 1960’s and it focuses on human potential, with an underlying assumption that human beings strive to reach the highest levels of their capabilities. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs consists of the following needs:

Physiological Needs. Biological needs consisting of the needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. These needs must be met; if deprived, the person would die.

Safety Needs. Except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting) adults do not experience their security needs. Children, however often display signs of insecurity and their need to be safe.

Love, Affection and Belongingness Needs. Human beings need to feel and give love, affection and the sense of belonging.

Esteem Needs. People need a high level of self-respect, and to receive respect from others to feel satisfied, self-confident and valuable. If these needs are not met, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.

Self-actualization Needs. Self-actualization is the fulfillment of a human’s unique potential. Self-actualization is the attainment of one’s calling. Maslow said “a musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write.” Self-actualized people are devoted to something, work on something that is meaningful to them, and often work on something that is larger than themselves.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s theory is a hierarchy, often visually represented as a pyramid with the most fundamental needs at the base and the highest-order human needs at the top. This representation implies that needs are sequential and that one cannot strive for a higher order need without satisfying those that precede it. This is one of the limitations of the model, if taken literally. Also, in real life one may satisfy a need and move toward higher order needs, and through numerous circumstances find a lower order need is now unmet (e.g. Love and belonging met and go through divorce or lose a home and no longer feel safe).

In addition to the preceding needs, Maslow later added Self-transcendence as the highest order need. Self-transcendence is the need to give oneself to a higher goal outside of oneself.

The needs in Maslow’s model ring true with me. My problem is the depiction of the needs as hierarchy and the limiting assumption that one level must be satisfied before moving to another. I think of Maslow’s theory as Maslow’s Needs, a set of fundamental needs that humans strive to achieve, with the ultimate goal being self-actualization or the fulfillment of human potential.

Dialogos’ The Flame Model

Picture Dialogo’s The Flame Model as a flame from a match. At the source the flame is Identity and at the very top are the Results. Above Identity are Mood, Tone and Atmosphere; Systems and Structures; and Patterns of Behaviors. The model essentially says that the results of an organization or an individual start with Identity. Different identities for the same organization lead to different results. Organizations use systems and structures to do and control work that eventually lead to results. The systems and structures need to be aligned with Identity to deliver outcomes the organization or individual wants. An important attribute of the systems and structures is the environment in which they are conducted. The Mood, Tone and Atmosphere in The Flame Model represents the quality of the environment. The same systems and structures can produce very different actions and outcomes depending on the mood, tone and atmosphere of the environment the leaders and managers create. Imagine the outcomes of a system and structure operated by a micromanager who does not trust the staff versus one where the leader creates vision and expectations and trusts the staff to work to achieve the outcomes. The systems and structures produce patterns of behavior. These patterns are what people and organizations typically think of as the results – “we delivered our plan on budget”; “we had no lost time accidents”; “our customer service rating is five stars.” The results at the top of The Flame are outcomes from the patterns of behavior. Think about an author who writes her first book. She publishes it, an outcome of the systems and structures she uses (e.g. Writing every day at the same time in a small coffee shop[). What happens when she publishes the book is largely not in her hands, but consider a successful result – a best-selling novel that leads to a three-book contract, a TED Talk and a guest spot on the Tonight Show interviewed by Jimmy Fallon.