Marilyn Atkinson is the Founder of Erickson Coaching International and originator of the Solution-Focused Coaching methodology. A former Registered Organizational Psychologist, Marilyn is an NLP Master Trainer and specialist in Ericksonian Communications. Since 1980s she has been helping leading global companies and leaders through Solution- Focused and Outcome-Oriented Coaching. Marilyn has authored eight books, including The Art & Science of Coaching trilogy (Inner Dynamics of Coaching, Step-by-Step Coaching & The Flow of Coaching).
Creating the Vision of a Heroic Life
Think for a moment about your childhood. What were your favourite stories? Fantasy? Adventure? Dream achievement? Children relate powerfully to adventure stories and their feelings about exploring life. Interestingly, when we read the kind of stories that typically make children happy, we find a plot that genuinely follows the deeper aim of living fully alive as a human being. We find stories where heroes emerge, and they speak to our sincere desires to discover who we are. We need strong engagement for transformational conversations.
Let us look at the core goal of coaching – building a transformational journey. We have been exploring the dynamics of transformational conversations that deepen our capacity for our own life’s journey. What does the transformational journey really mean to us in terms of developing happiness? Living fully alive is a central theme in life. This aim fires up our deep engagement with our developing story. What does the child’s vision of a heroic, happy life have to do with transformational conversations?
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The stories that move and inspire people most often include the key idea that to be happy one needs to focus clearly and take action on fulfilling one’s life’s calling, whatever that may be. According to these stories, your life’s task is simple – to discover how to fulfill your life’s purpose well and simply go for it, and at the same time to begin to practice the art of happiness creation both for yourself and for others, through exploring the potential in your life’s calling.
The Hero’s Journey
The core idea of the hero’s journey is that the aim toward contribution and masterful participation are the primary start points that lead to genuine happiness. Stories that show the unfolding of the hero’s journey clearly depict the development of a person who stretches beyond his or her own expectations and limits both in engaging in his life and engaging with others. We hear about the development of a person of character, integrity, self-knowing, and trust. He may be a warrior, saviour, champion, or leader. She might a person making powerful commitments in the face of inner and outer hardships. We hear about the challenges and the learnings. Usually, we follow the hero as he goes through a compelling progression that unfolds as specific steps.
Visualize these steps in your unfolding story:
- The hero is challenged. First, the hero starts out and is thrust into a challenge. He is surprised or challenged in such a way that he feels he must begin. Life moves him or her into the face of the challenge. The universe offers him a unique “job", a quest, and our hero accepts the opportunity. Good examples can be seen in all of the world’s great literature: Homer’s Odyssey, biblical figures such as Abraham or David, or twentieth-century popular literature such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. All show the hero being propelled into the fire of action whether he wants it or not.
- The hero commits. At the start of the journey, further challenges appear. Our hero takes a stand, saying, “I will do it!” and makes a declaration of commitment. He or she begins to undergo inner shifts, developing courage, resilience, tenacity, and other characteristics of leadership and strength. Gradually he or she solidifies this commitment and inevitably crosses an internal threshold. Our hero moves into certainty in his or her capacities.
- The hero is tested and asks for help. Next, overwhelm-ing challenges present themselves. Sorely tested, our hero learns to ask for help. He seeks or stumbles across guardians and helpers who assist when he asks. Someone answers the call. Our hero learns inner and outer trust, even in the face of adversity.
- The hero finds advisors. Whether these are inner or outer fears or gremlins that appear, the challenges at first seem to be evil. The hero learns to work with the difficulties, eventually transforming them into valuable resources that can be used in his quest. If experienced as gremlins, he succeeds in stealing their power and is even able to turn them into his advisors.
- The hero develops resources. In meeting these gremlins or demons the hero accesses resources and develops special skills and tools. He discovers his own strengths and acquires mastery. Our hero takes ownership and brings his resources back to assist others.
- The hero returns home. The story ends with a genuine form of celebration. The hero returns home, and every-one reunites and celebrates. The hero has moved past all inner and outer challenges, has grown and developed on many levels, and as a result brings back a true contribution to others. The result: Everyone feels happy. All fours kinds of happiness are developed in the hero’s journey.
The Hero of Your Own Life Journey
If you were to undertake to write, visualize, or rewrite your own story as a hero’s journey, what would it look like? What sort of person would you be? What values would you live from? What skills would you exhibit? How would you behave? On whose lives would you have an impact? If this were a movie, what might it be like?
You are the hero in the story of your life. On some level, we are all living our lives in mythic proportions.
What if your happiness also included making efforts for all? Take a moment and visualize your life story, seeing yourself living with genuine and deeply felt service at the core. What value does it give you?
Research shows that the feelings of contribution are conclusively pleasurable to humans, lighting up the pleasure areas of the brain. Contribution and service are experienced as a felt reward much like the experience of love. Can you develop a story where your success leads to success for a whole group?
Exploring such images may lead you to consider expanding your goals and your vision. It is an added benefit of living a larger or more generous life to know that your happiness makes everyone around you happy in a way that is truly sustainable. Perhaps because of this, you might give renewed consideration to where you place attention on a daily basis. Notice all the ways that overcoming challenges and accomplishing your heart’s desire is worth doing because it can create a positive impact on the life of everyone touched by your aim.