I write often about the idea of pursuing the heroic life: a life lived for high ideals, with a sense of purpose, and ultimately a life that changes the world.
But a number of people have asked me if there’s a practice to the heroic life: if you decide you want to live it, what should you do?
This question always startles me, because to me there has always been one clear answer for how to live heroically: go on a journey.
If you want to lead a heroic life, travel.
This is not the only way. There are many, many ways. But if you’re looking for a simple practice that will lead you to that sense of purpose, the answer is a journey.
Tales of heroism are always tales of journeys, and there’s a reason for this. It’s because inner strength can’t just be given to you; it has to be learned through trials and experience. And a journey is the surest way to get continuous, long term, unpredictable human experiences that will challenge you and change you.
In stories, the hero must always go on a journey to develop the qualities needed to save the day. If they didn’t need that experience, then they could just meet a wise man early in the story who told them everything they need to know. The entire middle part of the story, where they try and fail and learn and grow, could just be deleted. They’d listen to the wise person and go directly to saving everyone. Then on to happily ever after.
But that isn’t how inner strength is discovered in literature or real life. And it’s also why the heroic life cannot be taught in schools, colleges, churches or temples: a lecture cannot replace the hands on experience of a challenging journey. A journey takes you outside of familiar surroundings and becomes instantly more immersive and thus more transformative.
No matter where I go, there’s a certain percentage of people who yearn for a life full of meaning. They’re uncomfortable because they’re stuck in a workaday life that compromises either their ideals or their sense of purpose. Unfortunately, many of them tell me they feel lost and unsure of how to start. In many cases that’s because they’re looking for their life to change without actually striking out toward something new. If you don’t change your surroundings, it’s very difficult to change anything else.
From the beginning I’ve written that there are four tenets to the heroic life. They are: to accept that you have a purpose in life, which you yourself must create; to choose your ideals and put them before all else; to pursue your purpose and your art with passion, until you can do amazing things; and to travel.
If you don’t know your purpose, your ideals, or your art: go on a journey. A journey will lead you to discover these truths about yourself, and how to live them, with an incredible rate of success.
There are many benefits to the practice of a journey:
- You learn to make friends easily.
- You become self reliant, overcoming obstacles far from your support network of familiar faces.
- You learn firsthand that there is good in people everywhere you go. You learn to trust intelligently, and to be generous and open to strangers.
- You develop a better instinct about who to trust and who not to.
- You overcome prejudices and misconceptions. You start to see what unites all of us.
- You learn new skills constantly, and you get better at learning.
- Things that once seemed impossible now start to look merely like a matter of practice.
- You get good at making quick, smart decisions in challenging circumstances.
- You learn who you truly are and who you want to be.
A journey can take many forms. It can be a short journey, of 50 or 100 miles. It can be done by car, bus or plane. It can be around the world and last years, or it can be a road trip that lasts weeks. You can go entirely by foot, like Nate Damm; or refuse to fly like Niall Doherty. You might choose a destination or you might just wander.
It doesn’t matter what form your journey takes. Everyone’s journey is as good as everyone else’s. As long as you leave your familiar surroundings and face some element of the unknown, you are on a true journey.
Ultimately that journey will force you to change. Parts of you will dissolve away, and the parts that remain will become stronger. That’s why a journey always reveals your ideals and your purpose: because they are the one part of you that stays constant when everything else is changing.
If you want to journey together, I have 120 miles left in Texas and I welcome companions. We can bicycle together for a few days. It will happen this summer or fall. Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll start to plan. This is an experience that anyone can have and I’m happy to share it with you.
But it doesn’t matter if you come with me or do it some other way. Just journey. Journey and you will find yourself.
My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.