Photo by Ulvi Safari on Unsplash
By: Stella Orange
My adult life has unfurled largely like a Homerian epic.
That makes me sound classier than I actually am, but it’s the truth.
Perhaps you’ve heard me tell the story about how when I was in college, I read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Mind blown.
If you haven’t read it, here’s the nutshell version: mythology across cultures and throughout the ages has been telling this one story, over and over again.
It’s the story of the hero on a quest.
Years ago, a studio exec read this same book and wrote a memo that widely circulated around Hollywood. Many of the story people read it and it gave their work – the movies we watch – a certain structure and shape. Everything from The Wizard of Oz to Star Wars.
As a young person, I decided to use this narrative structure as a tool to understand my own life. So as I set out and explored the world, I framed events in terms of threshold crossings, being on the road of tests and trials, and dark nights of the soul.
When I started my copywriting business in my early thirties, I brought this framework with me. It wasn’t just how I made sense of my own life; it was how I viewed the lives of others too.
I’m a hero on a journey, and so are you.
It’s how I wrote sales copy. Everyone is on a journey. Speak to the journey in the sales process – and the better angels and aspirations of the heroes making their way along that road – and it not only sells, it shores up everyone who reads or hears the story.
Years later, when I gathered folks for a bigger in-person event, I called it One Story. The goal was to help people see the story that they were living through their work, and the road that they were on. And, while we were at it, I wanted people to begin to see that there is a road that their clients are on, too, so that they could speak more plainly and clearly to it in their sales conversations and marketing materials.
I was so nervous to host a forty-person event! Some of you were there with us, in Cincinnati. Rebecca was there, too. I’d hired her on as an advisor in my business back then, to help me make more room for what I really wanted, at a time when I was beginning to see that I’d built a business that I didn’t much like. A/B split testing, social media ads, email funnels. That sort of thing. Conversations I have no real interest in, to my surprise. I looked down that road into that future and said, No, thank you. I want something else.
What I’m trying to tell you here is that if there were a temple for the Hero’s Journey, I would be one of its priests, who swept the floors, kept the candles burning, and received pilgrims.
The longer I live, the more I notice that, in a certain light, each of you reading this are showing up to tend the temple you are called to tend, too.
We can’t help it, people like us.
It’s what we do.
It’s who we are.
(Maybe you don’t think of it like a temple. Okay, fine. We can find a different image that’s more your style. The garden you tend. The party you throw. The conversation you host.)
In the hero’s journey, once the hero faces down the very thing that she’s been avoiding and not wanting to see the most, her bravery (or is it surrender?) is rewarded. I call this a nugget that I tuck in my satchel. It’s a tool or insight that you’ve earned the right to take with you, both on the road back home and also into the future (where you’ll likely need to use it again).
Now in midlife, I don’t travel or go out into the world as much as I used to, because the quest has gotten much more subtle, the adventure more internal. But it’s still as alive to and present with me as ever.
Which is why, I suppose, it’s one of the great joys and deepest pleasures of my life to be able to sit with you, asking you to tell us of “the road that brought you here” and witness the temple that you now tend take shape in my mind’s eye.
And maybe to ask some clarifying questions to help you see it, too.
And maybe write some words so that your people can see it–and feel it—as well.
I can’t believe my good fortune, that I get to hear and witness what you have experienced, overcome, and even endured means to you now. How what you do is now rooted in – as Rebecca would camel cap it – Who You Are.
It’s pretty dang gorgeous, I’ve got to admit.
Wishing you a safe and victorious return,
Stella is cofounder and copywriter at Las Peregrinas, a creative and consulting agency. As our resident word nerd, she writes copy and points out the stories everyone is living and telling through their work. She is also fun at parties.
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