Recently, a friend came to me to get my thoughts on a dilemma she was facing. She had just received a really great job offer that would allow her to make a lot more money, offered tremendous career development opportunity, and would shorten her commute, to boot. “What’s the problem?” I asked? She said, “I feel like the work that I do in my current job is really important. I feel like I’m doing good in the world and I don't want to lose that.” My friend was experiencing “diverging journeys” and by recognizing this she would be able to stand confidently in her decision about whether to take the new job or stay in her current one.
Each of us is simultaneously living two distinct journeys. In their lecture, The Hero’s 2 Journeys, authors and screenwriters Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler describe the inner journey and the outer journey. The hero’s outer journey is the visible challenge that comprises the main plot of the story. The inner journey is the story of the hero’s personal growth and development. Michael Hauge describes the outer journey as being one “achievement” and “accomplishment” whereas the inner journey is about “growth” and “fulfillment”.
I believe the concept of inner and outer journeys goes beyond the big screen and applies to each of us in our daily lives. Recognizing this is crucial. Furthermore, these journeys may be congruent, or they may diverge. When our inner and outer journeys diverge, tension arises, and it can become quite disorienting for us, particularly if we don’t recognize what is going on. One common example of the diverging journeys is the classic “mid-life crisis”. Here we may find a highly driven individual who has spent the past 2 decades climbing the corporate ladder only to realize they want something more from life. In other words, the person’s inner journey begins calling them in a different path than the outer journey they have been following. In the face of these new feelings, the person may become confused, and even depressed, as they try to make sense of the apparent incongruity. They may ask, “were the past 20 years a waste of my life?” They may identify so deeply with their outer journey they cannot even imagine being anything other than the hero of that journey, leading them to ignore the callings of their inner journey entirely.
In the case of my friend, she had been allowing her inner journey to take the lead for much of her life. Suddenly, she was presented an opportunity that spoke to her outer journey which had been largely dormant up until that point. This created an bit of identity crisis, causing her to feel tremendous confusion and guilt. The confusion comes from the implicit belief that we are only living a single journey.
We are each traveling on 2-journeys and we must attend to BOTH of them. A life that is totally oriented around the outer journey, in the end, will leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled. Similarly, if our lives are totally defined by the inner journey we will fail to get things done in the world. If one of our journeys is calling for more attention, we should spend some time listening.
When you find yourself at a crossroads, where your 2 journeys appear to diverge, take a moment to examine what is happening. Simply raising your awareness of the 2 journeys and your core motivations will help you to make better, more authentic, decisions.
You can use the following questions to help guide you:
- What are the outside circumstances in my life that are changing?
- To what extent do I already identify with either my inner journey or my outer journey and in what ways does this new situation threaten that identity?
- How can I stand with integrity and honor BOTH my inner and outer journey?
Leave Something to Mystery
Always remember that our life journeys have an element of mystery baked into them. We never know how one journey will affect or inform the other. My friend might very well discover that her new job affords opportunities on her inner journey that she never could have predicted. Be open to the mystery and the possibilities that lie ahead.
Want to explore this idea further? Pick your favorite book or movie and try to identify the main character's inner and outer journey. Once you've gotten the hang of this, go ahead and look at your own life. Which journey feels more prominent in your life right now? Has it always been that way? What circumstances might call you to increase the important of one journey over the other? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or you can reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photocredit: Pablo Garcia Saldaña