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authoring a hero's journey: finding meaning through story


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We live, learn, and remember through story. Our brains weave each experience into the overall narrative that shapes who we are. Yet seldom do we step back to examine or consciously shape the overall …

We live, learn, and remember through story. Our brains weave each experience into the overall narrative that shapes who we are. Yet seldom do we step back to examine or consciously shape the overall story of our lives. As designers, many of us have a desire to change the world. And yet, as Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” If design is change, if we want to use design to effect change, shouldn’t we first think about changing ourselves by designing our own story? For the stories we tell ourselves can change the way we see the world and, by extension, change the world itself.

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    'A vast demand exists for the classical ideals performed in the contemporary context--for honor, integrity, courage, and commitment--on Wall Street and Main Street, in Hollywood and the Heartland, in Academia and Government. And thus opportunity abounds for entrepreneurs who keep the higher ideals above the bottom line--for humble heroes in all walks of life.

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    The Hero's Journey Entrepreneurship festival aims to be a most useful event for students, teachers, and anyone starting or launching a venture.

    The same classical values guiding the rising artistic renaissance will protect the artists' intellectual property. The immortal ideals which guide the story of blockbuster books and movies such as The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Star Wars, are the very same ideals underlying the United States Constitution. These classic ideals--which pervade Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, and the Bible--are the source of both epic story and property rights, of law and business, of academia and civilization.

    It is great to witness classical ideals performed in Middle Earth, upon the Scottish Highlands, long ago, in a galaxy far, far, away, and in Narnia, but too, such ideals must be perpetually performed in the contemporary context and living language.'
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  • 1. authoring a hero’s journeyfinding meaning through story
  • 2. Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves – Carol Pearson Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus (1490-1557)
  • 3. we mold memories about the past and shape daydreams aboutthe future into archplots to give them vivid shape
  • 4. life is normal,predictable
  • 5. then the hero wants something (aka object ofdesire) be a presenterlife is normal,predictable
  • 6. leading to the dragon gap between current &desired reality here be dragonscurrent reality future reality
  • 7. the hero sets out on a journeycurrent manner of new manner ofbeing | doing being | doing
  • 8. experiencing progressively greater risks will I choke? OMG, I’m committed… does anyone really care what I think? what should I talk about? how can I get an abstract accepted? at times things will REALLY suck simplified hero’s journey modified from Kathy Sierra’s Where there’s passion, there are stories
  • 9. creating meaningful change as they overcome each obstacle naked/not naked quit/don’t quit face pain of rejection, risk of acceptancenever presented, ok I’m a presenterwith that
  • 10. once they succeed in crossing the dragon gap, theyachieve a new normal(at least until the next stage of the journey)I’m a presenterlife is normal, predictable once again
  • 11. why risk it?(who in their right mind wants to face dragons)
  • 12. Frequently, in the life of a priest, fifty years experience is one years experience repeated fiftytimes. You get the same solutions to fall back on... Wisdom is to be sensitive to this situation,to this person, uninfluenced by any carryover from the past, without residue from theexperience of the past.– Anthony de Mello, Awareness life is normal, predictable
  • 13. we each, in our own way, want to make adifferencefinding meaning in the story that is our life
  • 14. any seriouscreativerequires seriousmeditation ofdeath@gapingvoid The Top 5 Regrets People Have on their Deathbed
  • 15. If only I’d had the courage to fulfill my dreams, living a lifetrue to myself, not the life others expected of me
  • 16. If only I hadn’t worked so hard, stuck on a treadmill
  • 17. If only I’d had the courage to express my feelings Meanest Indian, flickr
  • 18. If only I’d stayed in touch with my friends,spending more time with the people I love Kash_if, flickr
  • 19. If only I’d let myself be happier,laughing properly,allowing silliness
  • 20. If only. Those must be the two saddest wordsin the world.– Mercedes Lackey
  • 21. « lemarchandde la mortest mort »When his brother died, a French newspaper mistakenly ran anobituary of Alfred Noble referring to him as the merchant ofdeath. A pacifist at heart, he didn’t want to be remembered asthe merchant of death. He wrote himself a new obituary bycreating the Nobel Prizes.
  • 22. why wait untilyou’re dying?What do you want your lifeto represent?How do you want to beremembered?
  • 23. One day I sat down and wrote two versions of my obituary. The first was the one that I wanted to have. I thoughtof the obituaries that I enjoyed reading, the people that I admired. They were the adventurers and risk-takers…They lived life with a greediness for new experiences, and gumption, and a gung-ho attitude that defied the attemptsof naysayers and nigglers to pigeonhole them or put them down. These people really knew how to live. The secondversion was the obituary that I was heading for – a conventional, ordinary life – pleasant and with its moments ofexcitement, but always within the safe confines of normality. – Roz Savage
  • 24. a hero is driven by a controlling ideathat shapes the meaning of their story
  • 25. it’s not your job title or job description that’sgets you moving
  • 26. unless something compels us, we’re notgoing to risk the dragon gapcurrent reality future reality
  • 27. controlling ideaa single sentence describing how and why life undergoeschange from one condition of existence at the beginningto another at the end
  • 28. purpose enables us to overcome fear, conquerdragons, and persevere despite the naysayers
  • 29. a job title is one aspect of WHAT you do WHAT HOWchicken pickerblackjack dealer WHYnight desk clerkprogram managerlegislative assistanttechnical writerusability specialistproduct designermanagerdirector How great leaders inspire action, Simon Sinek
  • 30. a job description is (sort of) HOW you do it WHAT HOWresearch WHYfacilitatelistendesignwriteexploreteachtell storiesdiscover stories
  • 31. WHY do you do it? WHY are you here? WHY doyou get out of bed every morning? WHY shouldanybody care? WHAT HOW WHYbring more empathy,emotion and designinto a world dominatedby rational machinethinking, helping to freeinner designers, artists,and storytellers
  • 32. purpose gets your elephant movinginspiresprovides meaningshapes strategic choices rider our emotional brain (95%)sparks imaginationfocusesallows for emergence elephant WHY our rational brain (5%)
  • 33. purposecontrolling idea dream
  • 34. And of course, it was then, and only then, thatthe outside world started paying attention.@gapingvoid
  • 35. because purpose attracts Tatters:) flickr
  • 36. find your purpose Write your obituary based on how you are living your life right now, assuming no risk. Give your inner critic a time out. Answer the question “What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?” What do you want people to remember or do as a result of your life story? Write a second obituary assuming you are living that life.
  • 37. even with purpose, it can be hard to get yourhero movingthat’s where an inciting incident comes in
  • 38. I have a bad backthrow out back 3rd time in 3 months
  • 39. 2 pager on sunsalutations in Canadian Living
  • 40. What does it mean to be fit?
  • 41. I am fit
  • 42. a turning point revealing theneed to change Scott Hudson, flickr
  • 43. something happensto get you moving
  • 44. cog in the machinenot a keyemployee
  • 45. boss from hell Always. Everyone. Everywhere.
  • 46. What does it mean to makesomething customers would love?
  • 47. designerof experiences
  • 48. yearning totravel
  • 49. no time, money, familyobligations… no travel
  • 50. hey, freeMandarin lessons
  • 51. What does it mean toexperience another culture?
  • 52. explorer seeking experiences to learn to see
  • 53. incite yourself set a trigger book a date say yes announce it jump in the deep end
  • 54. beware the resistancewhispering (shouting) in your hero’s ear
  • 55. fear of dragons kicks your lizard brain into high gear
  • 56. a hero develops a growth mindset I I determine my world. I am responsible for me. I can choose. I statements allow me to be in control, put the focus on my awareness, make mejimmyharris flickr independent, assume my ability to choose
  • 57. a hero plays with assumptions nattu flickr
  • 58. a hero acts
  • 59. if you let your lizard brain have it’s way, you convert yourself from hero into victim needing savingRefusal of the summons converts the adventure into itsnegative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or "culture," thesubject loses the power of significant affirmative action andbecomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes awasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless.– Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth Lel4nd flickr
  • 60. a victim has a fixed mindset . they The world happens to me. They are responsible for... They prevent me from… They statements assume power is in them, put the focus outside myself, make me dependent, assume my subordinance
  • 61. a victim is chained by their assumptions
  • 62. a victim reacts
  • 63. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not theenemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle isinside our own heads.– Steven Pressfield, War of Art
  • 64. Put this program into action, a thousand times:a) identify the negative feelings in you;b) understand that they are in you, not in the world, not in external reality;c) do not see them as an essential part of "I"; these things come and go;d) understand that when you change, everything changes.– Anthony de Mello, Awareness
  • 65. a hero’s quest is NOT a neatly plotted plan
  • 66. by this pointin your life,youshould…
  • 67. controlling ideaI distrust plot for two reasons: first, becauseour lives are largely plotless, even when youadd in all our reasonable precautions andcareful planning; and second, because I believeplotting and the spontaneity of real creationarent compatible. A strong enough situationrenders the whole question of plot moot.– Stephen King
  • 68. clear predictablepresent futureA B step 1 step 2 step 3 step 4 step 5
  • 69. planning assumes a predictable future based on past experiencesa capacity for prediction we don’t possess seanmcgrath, flickr
  • 70. life is messy
  • 71. ? ? unexpected obstacles will appear ? ? ?assumptions may be wrong final destination is unclearA ?
  • 72. the hero learns, grows, and changes alongtheir journey, altering both the journey andthe final destination
  • 73. since you can’t predict the future, you need toprototype, play, experiment to learn unpredictable future A fuzzy goal B Gamestorming, Dave Gray
  • 74. the only way I can get anythingwritten at all is to write really, reallyshitty first drafts– Anne Lamott
  • 75. future story (obit)shitty first draftsA B
  • 76. great stories aren’t written according to a plan Illustration by Kim Sokol
  • 77. Doesn’t that sound neat, to implement a story, ratherthan implement a plan? I don’t know about you but Iget tired of implementing plans. Plans always feel likethey keep you in a box. A story is something else. It’spulsing. It’s breathing. It’s alive!– Madelyn Blair
  • 78. pose what if questionsWhat if vampires invaded a small New Englandvillage? Salems LotWhat if I had only 37 days to let to live?Life is a Verb, Patti DighWhat if ______________________
  • 79. heroes learn to seechanging the world by becoming aware
  • 80. CFOhow do I see this person? NOT seeing
  • 81. I’ve got a thankless role withthe diciest risk/reward ratio ofany job short of a Navy Seal.How will youhelp memakemoney orreduce costs? seeingHow does this person see themselves and their situation? Todd Baker << technowannabe flickr
  • 82. Large Plastic BagGrand CanyonMute AleutianPretzel Man
  • 83. This wasn’tLarge Plastic BagGrand Canyon MuteAleutian Pretzel Manthis was a real person with a name anda history and stories that make himlaugh and cry. He was a who, not awhat, just like me. – Patti Digh Say Hi to Yaron
  • 84. when you’re listening or observing, payattention to how you’re reacting, what you’rethinking, how you’re judging
  • 85. If there’s a messageto my work, it isultimately that it’sokay to be different,that it’s good to bedifferent, that weshould questionourselves before wepass judgment onsomeone who looksdifferent, behavesdifferent, talksdifferent, is adifferent color.– Johnny Depp
  • 86. how do you learn to see? to find the story?ask questions to understand
  • 87. What do they THINK & FEEL & FEAR? what really counts major preoccupations worries & aspirations What do they What do they HEAR? SEE? boss environment colleagues friends influencers colleagues friends what work offersempathy (magic if) What do theywho are they? what if I were in their situation? SAY & DO? attitude in public appearance behavior towards others PAIN GAIN fears | frustrations | obstacles wants/needs | measures of success | obstacles
  • 88. curiositywhy? why is it the way it is? mikebaird flickr
  • 89. playexplore the possible Stuart Brown, Play is More than Fun
  • 90. conversationsmixing different voices with your ownThe family is shaped by the direction in which it points its conversation. It can focus on itsmemories and basically keep on saying: “this is the way we are, this is what the differentmembers of the family have done and are doing.” Or it may treat itself as a base from which itsmembers set out to explore the outside world, and to which they return with something new tosay, so that conversation is constantly enriched by outside as well as inside happenings. Webecome the prisoners of our families, our genes, our memories, only if we wish to be prisoners. Itis by conversations with others, by mixing different voices with our own, that we can turn ourindividual life into an original work of art.– Theodore Zeldin, Conversation
  • 91. artmake objects that talk and then listen to them
  • 92. experimentationbreak boundaries and pursue unexploredavenues of thought -ilonQua- on Gosia Janik, flickr
  • 93. experience the futureexplore life as it might be Patricia Moore, Experiencing the Future
  • 94. asshole! (assumptions leads to judgment) man in suit sitting in chair lines and relationships (assumptions get in the way) (see past assumptions)flip focuschange the frame to change the meaning mom? (flipping focus reframes meaning) Asurroca, flickr
  • 95. Open your eyes and focus on whatever you observed before – that plant or leaf ordandelion. Look it in the eye, until you feel it looking back at you. Feel that you arealone with it on Earth! That it is the most important thing in the universe, that itcontains all the riddle of life and death. It does! You are no longer looking, you areSEEING…– The Zen of Seeing, by Frederick Franck Neal, flickr
  • 96. This power is in the focus. The act of observing, inand of itself, makes a difference, in the materialworld. Learning a new language, for example, isrelatively easy; its just that you have to stoppaying attention to your current language to createthe new circuits.– Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz
  • 97. becoming aware is about learning to see pastour assumptionsour judgmentsthe lenses we use to frame the world
  • 98. all authors need to heavily edit their work
  • 99. Our experience quite literally is defined by our assumptions about life. We makestories about the world and to a large degree live out their plots. What our livesare like depends to great extent on the script we consciously, or more likely,unconsciously, have adopted.– Carol Pearson, The Hero Within
  • 100. an edited backstory gives a more powerful foundation for the future story shinealight, flickr matzoball stambler, flickr Rex Pe, flickryearbook designer athlete teacher
  • 101. if you’re not happy with your backstory, edit ituntil it provides you with the emotional weight youneed to support you on your journey Pink Sherbet Photography, flickr
  • 102. If the writer reinvents character, he mustreinvent story. A changed character must makenew choices, take different actions, and liveanother story – his story.– Robert McKee
  • 103. freewriting…Remember back to [youth | last year…] toa time when you were doing something fun orexciting. Don’t think. Just write for 5 minuteswithout taking your hands of the keyboard.
  • 104. to wrap
  • 105. When organizations, causes, brands or individualsidentify and develop acore story,they create and display authentic meaning andpurpose that others can believe in, participate with,and share. This is the basis for cultural and socialchange.– Pamela Rutledge
  • 106. each piece of art* you create along yourjourneyenlarges your realityenlarges the reality of your audience (calling their belief systems into question)infuses itself into the myths that shape our understanding of the world*podcast, blog post, tweet, story, presentation, meeting, infographic, conversation, workshop, garden…
  • 107. that’s why Plato tried to have storytellers expelledas dangerous people who wrap seductive, emotionally charged ideas in story
  • 108. if you focus on your hero’s characterlearning to see& discover a controlling idea for your life storypurpose & meaningthe plot will write itself
  • 109. the hero is already within youstop waiting. start writing.
  • 110. NOW compound interest simple interest
  • 111. writer’s block?just start!(remember, shitty first drafts)
  • 112. Treat it like an adventure. An adventureworth sharing.@gapingvoid your life story
  • 113. the hero is within you by learning to see you become author of your life story you will encounter dragons each dragon you slay creates meaningful changeto recap with purpose powering you you push forward on your quest one shitty first draft at a time you won’t be alone because purpose attracts creating change
  • 114. The Hero with a Thousand Faces & The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell Getting Things Done When You Are Not In Charge, Geoffrey Bellman Your Brain at Work, David Rock Story, Robert McKee Art & Fear, David Bayles & Ted Orland Life is a Verb, Patti Digh The Story Factor, Annette Simmons @gapingvoid Tell to Win, Peter Grubercredits Start with Why, Simon Sinek The Power of Story, Jim Loehr Awareness, Anthony De Mello Stephen King, On Writing Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott Seth Godin, Linchpin Switch, Dan & Chip Heath Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander Influencer: The Power to Change Everything, Kerry Patterson First Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, Robert Kegan & Lisa Lahey
  • 115. @joyce_hostyn jhostyn@opentext.comstay in touch