The College Student’s Guide to the Hero’s Journey

The hero’s journey is a very common plot outline employed in movies, novels, and more. Even if you have never heard of it before, you’ve witnessed its use if you’ve ever read a book for a school assignment or turned on a TV. Its three hallmarks are as follows:

  1. Our hero (or heroine) needs to accomplish something: find a magic elixir to save their mother’s life, improve life for an oppressed people, etc.
  2. Conflict arises, in one form or another, that the protagonist must overcome in order to achieve their goal.
  3. The end of the story features the hero/heroine’s ultimate triumph – their aim is reached, occasionally accompanied by an added bonus.

Every year, sometime in August, I drive from Atlanta, GA to Provo, UT with my dad. It’s the very definition of a journey – 2,000 miles, 3 days, and 8 states. There’s a goal to achieve: getting there in time, before school starts. And once that is complete, another objective is put into place: do well in school. It’s a cycle that is, at times, draining and mundane. All that time on the road, followed by all that time spent studying, can feel like anything but a hero’s journey.

And that is exactly the point. Real life conflict, much unlike that in fiction, is not exciting. The dragons we fight don’t fly and spit fire – they taunt, they judge, and they belittle. They don’t live in caves on a mountainside, they are in our communities, schools, and sometimes even ourselves. They are disheartening and painful, not foreign or enthralling. But that does not mean our journeys through reality have to be devoid of adventure.

Sometimes, we can create our own.

Exploring nature is, for me, the perfect side journey. The simplicity of hiking through clean air to a new place refreshes my mind and often inspires it. This past week, my adventures inside Arches and Canyonlands National Parks left me feeling astonished and renewed. I will be a better writer and a better student because of it. The break improves the work; the side journey enhances the hero’s.

I have many goals for this new school year, but lying at the top of the pile, glistening golden in the sunlight, is my holy grail: moving further along in my hero’s journey. Just like all people, I am not a simplistic character; instead of one main aim, I have multiple targets to hit and many dragons to fight. There are checkpoints along my journey – many I’ve already reached, but more that still lie ahead. This is true of all of us college students. Sometimes, we look ahead, feel behind, and drive faster than we need to to “catch up,” forgetting that we all travel at different speeds. There’s plenty of room on the highway for everyone, fast and slow. Some of us need to stop frequently to take breaks; others can go for hours without stretching their legs. Some of us – like me – prefer to take the scenic route, the detours to beautiful scenery in the middle of nowhere, because we want to see all that we can of the world before we leave it. The important part is to rest when we need it, and respect those who are faster or slower than us. We are each on our individual journeys through life – and we need to remember this: if we are moving at all, we are doing well.

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