a neon sign that says we can be heroes just for one day

How to Find the Guide You Need to Do Great Things

The Hero’s Journey

There are certain books out there that make such a profound impact on you and the way you live that you return to them time and time again.

For me, one of those books is Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller.

In plain language, Miller teaches readers how to help someone through their own hero’s journey. He gives a 7-step framework that he claims is at the core of every good movie, novel, story, and marketing campaign. Let’s dive in:

  1. character
  2. Has a problem
  3. And meets a guide
  4. Who gives them a plan
  5. And calls them to action
  6. That ends in success
  7. And helps them avoid failure

Examples:

  • Dumbledore serves as the primary guide in Harry Potter’s mission to destroy horcruxes and defeat Voldemort
  • Katniss meats Haymitch who helps her get the backing she needs to win the Hunger Games
  • Jesus teaches his 12 disciples the way of life in the Kingdom and then releases them to do the same and train everyone else

Miller hypothesizes that we are all on our own unique hero’s journey. In the narrative of our lives (the story we tell ourselves), we are the hero. We are the protagonist that will save a cat dangling from a tree, rescue the princess locked away by a madman, or stop the evil doctor who released a virus into the world in which only he has the antidote.

In more realistic examples, you will be the top performer at work; the best significant other, fiance, or spouse imaginable; or a crusader of peace and justice in a corrupt world.

My hero’s journey

When I quit baseball, I went searching for a new place to play the role of the hero. I had spent the last two years accidentally building a personal brand around this crazy velocity journey I went on. For anyone who doesn’t know, I gained 14 MPH of velocity during my last two years of baseball and got better than I ever imagined.

For some crazy reason, I appeared to be a hero in some people’s eyes. Curious baseball players frequently contacted me to ask for advice, and I built up a semi-large social media following considering my entire college only had 1,400 students.

But after I retired, I was stuck. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where I wanted to apply myself. My hero’s journey needed a pivot, but I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was going.

In the 7-step hero’s journey framework, I was at step 2: I had a problem.

Tanner Has a Problem

At this stage, my problem was that I didn’t have anything to put my greatest effort towards. Nothing gripped my heart upon waking each day, and I was disappointed. More in-depth, there was another level to the problem, which I discovered in reflection one year later.

a man sitting on a sofa with his head in his hand

I refused to find a guide.

I believed that the only admirable way to figure out what I wanted to do next was to go at it alone. I didn’t need anyone! I had done this whole velocity thing by myself! I could figure out life’s next move without anyone’s help.

Except for one thing: I had not done the velocity thing by myself.

I had many guides along the way. Who was I to play revisionist history with this part of my life?

I had too many guides to name them all here, but if you’re reading this and you played that role in my journey, thank you.

What I needed more than anything during my transition into life after baseball was a guide. I needed an outside perspective to help me navigate the newness of it all. I needed someone to help me figure out what the heck I was trying to do – and then give me a plan to do it.

In the same way that an athlete hires a personal trainer to make them better, I needed to make an emotional, relational, or financial investment into finding a guide. Someone who would look me in the eyes and say, “You’re different now. That’s okay. This is what people like us do.”

My Guide

Eventually, I found a guide.

The best guide I found offered to meet with me at all times of the day. She was always available and didn’t do much talking. In her silence, she seemed always to help me to uncover layers of truths about myself that were previously hidden.

My guide – the one who taught me so much and helped me uncover some of my soul’s most profound mysteries – was a blank page. That’s right; my guide was the act of writing.

I discovered that by writing my thoughts, feelings, and inner turmoil, I received nudgings along the path that I should be on.

The blank page didn’t intimidate me. Instead, it was a welcome invitation to pour out my thoughts and feelings, and receive no judgment back from her. The page didn’t talk back to me, but it sure was listening. I could be as honest as I wanted to be on Tuesday and she would be there again Wednesday morning, ready to hear whatever I had to say.

Writing allowed me to be the author of my own story. Sitting down at the keyboard each day and typing gave me the freedom to examine things, make connections, and produce something of value. Each day, the chains were breaking that had held me down on the hero’s journey, and I was off – free to be myself, free to thrive in a world waiting for what I would do.

Your Hero’s Journey

Are you living a heroic life?

No, seriously.

Do you find yourself on the hero’s journey?

Let me encourage you.

a neon sign that says we can be heroes just for one day

If you feel stuck in life, it’s easy to wallow in discouragement and bitterness and feel like you’re not good enough. You believe that you’ll never achieve anything meaningful. You’re a lost cause and have drifted into the wild Chris McCandless style.

Except, that’s not right. Here’s the truth:

If you have a problem, you’re on the hero’s journey.

Remember the hero’s journey?

  1. character
  2. Has a problem
  3. And meets a guide
  4. Who gives them a plan
  5. And calls them to action
  6. That ends in success
  7. And helps them avoid failure

The first two requirements: A character has a problem.

If you’re a warm-blooded person and you have a problem, you’re on the hero’s journey.

In fact, not having a problem would be a sign that you are not on a heroic journey.

Problems, issues, and inner-turmoil are necessary components to you fulfilling your heroic calling.

Stop Being Your Dad

Ideally, your guide is going to be another person.

Think about the stereotypical father taking his family on vacation to a new city.

Before everyone had a GPS on their person at all times, people often got lost. That was okay. It’s normal to assume that you’ll get lost in a new land without a guide or map telling you how to get where you’re trying to go.

The logical thing to do in this situation is to stop at the next gas station and ask Bob the cashier for directions to get where you want to go. Bob is a local. He drives those roads every day. His familiarity with the entire town will have you on the right path within 3 minutes (as long as he doesn’t take advantage of this moment to give his keynote presentation on the town and talk about the “good ole days”).

The stereotypical father has too much pride to do the logical thing.

Instead, he drives his family in circles all-the-while swearing that he knows where he’s going and, “NO, WE ARE NOT THERE YET!”

When it comes to your problem, stop being your dad. Admit that you’re stuck, find a friendly guide like Bob, and get back on the path – the hero’s path – that you were born to walk on.

Is Writing a Guide?

There is no limit to who your guide is. The possibilities are endless.

Before, I said that my guide was an empty page. Writing every day guided me back to the hero’s journey that I had strayed from.

Journaling – however you choose to do it – carries the unlimited potential to help you carve out the story of your life. Moleskin notebook pages, voice memos, or short front-facing videos all help you to record a tidbit of history and be the author of your own hero’s journey.

But all of those things serve to help you find your real guide – a living, breathing human who has experience facing what you are encountering and can give you a plan to help you be successful.

Writing helped me, but it led me to the importance of engaging with others. It revealed my need to have a human guide.

True Guides are People

There are so many ways to find a guide. So many people can come into your life and lead you where you want to go.

  • Loving family member
  • Spiritual leader
  • Athletic coach
  • Boss
  • A Favorite Author
  • Bloggers
  • Online coaches

The guide comes into your life to give you a roadmap to success. They’re Bob, the cashier who will point and say, “Go three blocks North, turn left on Water Street, then turn right before the giant armadillo statue and you’ll run right into your hotel.”

Without a guide, you continue to spin your wheels. You’re expending energy, but you never get to the place you are going.

Guides carry the key to unlock your life and set you free into your destiny.

It sounds so good that it’s easy to discount it as too magical or ephemeral.

But it’s true.

When I realized that I needed a real-life guide, I began to search for people who could help.

I now have multiple guides segmented into various parts of my life.

  • I purchased a writing course that gives me access to a community of writers and a personal hero of mine
  • I talk with a Christian mentor once per month over the phone
  • I found an online fitness coach who gave me a plan I wanted to follow

As you can see, I don’t meet with any of these people in person. That’s the blessing of the 21st century. The Internet instantly connects all of us.

If you stop using this technology to scroll, swipe, and consume, you can do some pretty amazing things.

The lines between virtual and “real-life” are blurring more every day. When it comes to finding your guide, be willing to look outside of your hometown. Scour the landscape of the Internet and see if you can gain access to those people who will hand you a map to where you want to go.

What to do

One of the most important things you can do to get yourself unstuck and back onto the hero’s path is to get a guide.

A guide is an outsider, someone generous enough to lead you to a place you’d never have been without him or her.

Do you have that guide?

Can you go to them right now and say, “Help.”

All I wanted when I was struggling was to speak with someone who listened, understood, and could help me move onto the next thing in my life.

silhouette of a road signage during golden hour

I couldn’t find that person.

I don’t want that for you.

Let’s talk.

I’m not going to judge you, condemn you, or embarrass you.

If you’re interested, fill out the form at the bottom of this page.

I will send you a message, and you will have the opportunity to email me with any questions you have about getting unstuck and back on the hero’s journey.

It’s time you have a plan to get back on your hero’s journey.

It’s time you shine.

This article was adapted from an email sent to subscribers on 1/7/2019.

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