I hate ironing clothes and I hate washing dishes.
What an uninspiring way to start a post, right? Is it though? When I was 4, I actually LOVED ironing and I loved doing the dishes. I wasn’t allowed to do either (especially ironing) of course because I was 4. That didn’t stop me however from trying. I’d beg my mom to let me iron just one towel, or wash daddy’s coffee cup. After lunch, I’d drag a chair from the dining table to the sink, climb on it and start washing (and making a big mess that my mom had to clean, but that’s a whole different story).
So why did I love doing these things as a child when I hate them now?
The answer is simple: because they looked cool. For an adult, these are just two things from an endless list of chores we have to do daily, weekly etc. Mundane. Uninspiring. The kinds of things you have to do instead of being out there, living your life. For a 4-year-old though, these things aren’t boring. They are what grown-ups do. They are cool.
“Here, I’m up to my elbows in dirty soap water! I’m all grown up now, like mom!”.
I am re-reading the Percy Jackson Series (hey, don’t judge, everyone has their weird happy places!) and it got me thinking. Why are we so drawn to the characters in such books? I’m not taking about why we are drawn to read them. Having read tons of fiction in my life, I can understand that. But what makes us actually want to be that character?
Take Percy Jackson: 12-year-old with dyslexia and ADHD who has been kicked out of multiple schools discovers that his dad is one of the Olympians, which means he’ll be constantly hunted by monsters for the rest of his life (which is usually pretty short for demigods like him) while consistently asked to complete impossible tasks for the gods. Most of the time, his reward is to be allowed to live.
Or take Harry Potter: 10-year-old orphan who lives in a broom cupboard under the stairs at the house of his totally unbearable aunt and uncle discovers he’s a wizard and is hunted down year after year by the evil wizard who killed his parents and left him with a mark on his forehead. When he’s not trying to save his life and the wizarding world, he gets to go home to his crappy family and his bully cousin for the holidays.
So why? Why do we want to be them? Surely it’s not our deep-rooted desire to have dyslexia or crappy relatives! It’s because they live a life of adventure. It’s the adventure we crave. We think their lives are way more interesting and meaningful than ours. We think we’d be happier if we too lived such a life.
Guess what though: we wouldn’t. It’s one thing to read about someone being chased by an underworld monster and it’s a totally different thing to find ourselves being chased by an underworld monster (I’m not going to admit or deny any personal experience when it comes to being chased by underworld monsters 😛 ). We know that the book character is going to survive. We read about his struggle to get away or kill the monster from the comfort of our home. It’s the difference between reading about the character being a master in sword fighting and actually getting off the couch to go and learn how to use a sword. The first one is easy. The second one, few people actually do.
The good news is though that you don’t have to learn how to use a sword to make your life awesome (unless you actually want to, in which case please send me pictures). While we gloss over the daunting parts of our heroes’ lives, they are still there. Percy still has to train for hours every day so that he can slay monsters, Harry still had to study to pass his exams at Hogwarts. And guess what? Just because this was part of their magical training doesn’t mean it felt any different from how you felt when you had PE at school or when you have to write that essay that is due in two days. Hell, if you’re reading this blog you’re most likely practicing magic, and I’m willing to bet many of you have had trouble to maintain a daily or weekly magical practice at some point in your lives! It may be magical work, but it’s still work!
I have a proposal: why not turn our lives into our own personal magical adventure? We have already established that our favorite heroes’ lives are not that much different from ours. They still have practice, they still have homework, they still have to poop. These are the boring, daunting things that are the backbone of a successful quest. Why not look at our own lives like that?
Right now, wherever you happen to be when you read this, stop and think: what is the epic quest that you would accept right now? What gets your blood pumping when you think about it? It may be a doing a specific job, or writing that novel, or traveling the world, or it may even be something that only sounds like an epic thing to you and others wouldn’t get it if you tried to explain. And that’s alright. You’re a hero, you don’t have to ask permission for your dreams. The important thing is to figure out what it is. It doesn’t have to be final either; the hero’s life is one of endless quests and adventures. You don’t only get to have one. You just need to choose one to start with. So what is the quest you choose to accept right now? You can post about it in the comments if you want, or you may want to keep it to yourself and that’s totally fine too.
Next, look at your goal as a quest. Figure out what steps you need to take to get there. Some of them will sound very daunting and boring and difficult, no fun at all. But this is just a point of view. They are part of the adventure. This is your daily practice that sucks. Re-enchant it. Bring the magic back into it. Make dish-washing special and adventurous again. It’s just a point of view. It’s like when your favorite hero had to practice 3 hours daily for weeks in order to learn how to fight, while his trainer beat the crap out of him and everyone thought he’s a loser and who will never learn how to fight. This is your daily practice that sucks. Don’t think of it like a boring and mundane activity. Think of it as your hero-training. Break your adventure into steps you can follow. Start working on step one and if it looks boring and mundane, see it through your new magical/hero eyes. Keep the next steps in sight. This is not boring practice, this is what you need to get to the second part of the quest.
THERE WILL BE MONSTERS AND TRAITORS ALONG THE WAY
Obstacles will most likely appear. People will try to persuade you that you’re crazy for even trying. That your dream is stupid. That so many others already tried and failed, so why would you think that you will succeed? People you relied on
may betray you, “friends” may backstab you. You may even encounter something that looks like an insurmountable obstacle. Don’t give up. These are the monsters of your quest. Look at the stories of your favorite heroes and you’ll see that they too were betrayed by people they trusted, or they had friends and teachers tell them they’re crazy for even thinking they could succeed, or encountered a monster everyone thought was unbeatable.
It’s all part of the quest. If it weren’t for those things, your adventure wouldn’t be much of an adventure anyway. Persist in seeing it all as a heroic magical quest. Heroes don’t give up, and they don’t spend weeks wallowing in self pity. We all have our moments, and heroes often doubt themselves and think of giving up. But in the end, they don’t. And guess what? You’re a hero too now, so you don’t either.
A SHARED ADVENTURE IS ALWAYS MORE FUN
You don’t have to go on your quest alone. Even heroes need help sometimes. Plus, a shared adventure is always more fun. If you have friends, family or other people close to you that would be great candidates to follow you on your quest that’s great. Remember though that our friends and family don’t always understand us. The people close to you may try to persuade you that your quest is stupid or inappropriate for your age, too difficult, a loss of time etc. This usually happens because people often feel threatened when they see someone change, because it makes them uncomfortable. It forces them to consider what changes their own life needs and if they aren’t willing to change, they react negatively to the ones who are. Or they may mean well, but they are worried that if you fail you will be heartbroken, so they think that by constantly reminding you of the difficulties they are actually protecting you.
If you don’t find any support among the people in your life that’s fine. You don’t have to persuade your mom or your best friend that you are serious about learning Chinese, especially if they don’t share your interest in it at all. It’s your own quest after all, not theirs! You can find a study buddy or a native speaker you can practice with online, and you’ll probably make a new friend who shares your interests along the way. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who can help you, or people who share your passions. You get to choose the people who will accompany you in your adventure! Isn’t it fun?
DO YOU ACCEPT THIS QUEST?
The time has come to turn your life into the adventure you always wanted. You don’t have to leave everything behind (unless that’s what you want of course). Your adventure is right here, wherever you are at in your life. Do whatever helps you to get in magical hero mood. If you want to create a whole magical heroic persona for yourself then do it. If you want to make a map for your quest, go for it. Make a hypersigil for your quest and write it or paint it or draw it or whatever it is you do as you go along. Use all the mundane and magical skills you have. Know your disadvantages and fix what can be fixed. Keep in mind that what can’t be fixed may actually prove to be an advantage at some point. Percy Jackson’s dyslexia was because his brain was wired to read ancient greek, and his ADHD was what made him great in battle.
Take risks. Get your fingers burned. It’s all part of the quest. You’ll make mistakes, but it’s better to make mistakes and learn from them than it is to not try at all. Things may become chaotic, but if this happens remember that without chaos there’s no opportunity.
When things get difficult, don’t lose your sense of humor! Imagine that this is actually part of a story you’re writing. How would you describe this scene? There must be something ironic or funny about it all, if you step back and look at it as a scene instead of looking at it from a “my life sucks and things are never going to get better!” perspective.
And most importantly:
start right now!
Quests don’t find heroes when it’s convenient. Quests come out of the blue, usually when it’s extremely inconvenient for the hero, when they’ve had their whole lives destroyed by an earthquake or a tornado or a magic bull that fell from the sky, when they were about to finally go on the first date with the woman/man of their dreams or something like that. There are no ideal conditions for a quest.
Note: a few months after writing this post I came across a book that if you liked this post you may want to check out. It’s called “Level Up Your Life” by Steve Kamb. It basically provides a system for becoming the hero of your own story and making a plan for your epic quests. I personally loved the book, as well as his website where you can actually create a super hero alter ego and keep track of your progress on your epic quests.