I Got a Call!

“Stories are medicine… they have such power; they do not require that we do, be,

act anything – we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any

lost psychic drive are contained in stories.” 

“…Stories are embedded with instructions which guide us about the complexities of life.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. Women Who Run with the Wolves

What is it about the Heroine’s Journey/the Hero’s Journey that so ignited the fire within me that I upended and redirected my working life in 2008 to put teaching about it at the center of what I do?

Why did I do it?

I was doing fine. My business then called Ruby Slippers, an empowerment business for women, based on a personal strategic planning tool that helped women chart their futures using their intuition – was doing well. I had two awesome partners. We had built a platform and had an audience for what we were providing. We were on a roll and had been since 2000. We were having fun. We had earned a good reputation. We were even making money!

Then, in 2008 I blew it all up. I was the initiator. I told my partners I had to go out on my own. We split up. It was hard for all of us.

What the hell happened?

I had taken an hour’s drive up the Maine coast north of me, to Camden, and listened to a woman teach about how Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey model related to the Wizard of Oz – and that was it. It was as if I was hit by lightning!

I stopped doing the workshops, retreats, and talks that I had been doing with my partners inside and outside of Maine – for several years -  and I created an entirely new curriculum based on the Heroine’s Journey.

I was on my own.

There was no more “Attracting the Life You Want “– which was the name of the Ruby Slippers core curriculum – there was just The Heroine’s Journey – and me. 

I set about learning as much as I could about what I had become so passionate about - the hero’s journey - and subsequently (at the same time!) teaching what I learned. (I quickly changed what we called The Heroine’s Journey because I worked exclusively with women.) 

It must have been pretty important for it to redirect my life course so dramatically. Basically, I inserted dynamite into my existing model and blew it up!

It wasn’t really a decision point for me – will I do this or not? Actually, there wasn’t much thinking involved. I wasn’t thinking per se…I was operating from a very strong inner impulse. My brain just worked to keep up. I didn’t do a business plan and map out a rollout schedule.

I simply just did it. I leaped – over the proverbial cliff.

I didn’t stop at that point to consider the why -  or ask what was going on here. it was just – this is what I must do. I was following my bliss.

Katie Couric wrote a guest essay in today’s New York Times about Barbara Walters. It’s her tribute to Barbara. She writes:

When I was putting together a book of advice from accomplished people in 2011, Barbara’s contribution was as follows:

“In college, I had a well-known professor whose advice was: ‘Follow your bliss.’ Practical application: Decide what you really would love to do … would do even if you didn’t get paid. (But get paid.) Get a job in that industry or business. Start at any level. Get there first in the morning. Leave last at night. Fetch the coffee. Follow your bliss … but don’t sleep with your boss. You will succeed.”

That professor, of course, was Joseph Campbell.

I could not, not do it. I was, rather blindly, as I said - following my bliss.

 I was filled with the fervor of a new convert. I read all I could about Joseph Campbell and his books and teachings. I went to Esalen where Campbell himself taught. I met the leaders of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. And I read all the books that were based on his teaching – Christopher Vogler, Carole Pearson,  …

His book and film with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth…is an apt title for what was happening to me.

There was a power to this stuff that was working on me – pulling me.

OK, now fifteen years later what was going on there?

There was something about what I was learning that touched me deep inside - that wasn’t logical or practical. 

Here’s how Christopher Vogler, author of the Writer’s Journey describes his encounter with Campbell’s work...

“The encounter with Campbell was, for me and many other people, a life-changing experience. (Same!) A few days of exploring the labyrinth of his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces produced an electrifying reorganization of my life and thinking. Here, fully explored, was the pattern I had been sensing. Campbell had broken the secret code of story. His work was like a flare suddenly illuminating a deeply shadowed landscape.”

The myth of the hero had a power to it – it seemed, that was causing me to act. 

How can that be?

It’s an archetype. The myth of the hero has been around so long (think Homer – the Iliad and the Odyssey – same pattern) it has its own archetypal energy. Archetypes are constantly repeating characters or energies which occur in the dreams of all people and the mythos of all cultures. (They unite us, actually – and adherence to anything that unites us right now is such a good thing, I believe!)

Jung, the Swiss psychologist suggested that they come from a deeper source, the collective unconscious of the human race.  – the stories built on the model of the Hero’s Journey have a strong appeal because they well up from this universal source in the shared unconscious and reflect universal concerns. (I even learned recently that there’s a new branch of knowledge called heroism science, the study of the heroic pattern and how it manifests in biology, the arts and human psychology). 

Just what is this powerful myth or archetype? 

The myth of the hero – which has been a storytelling plot since Homer’s time is about a seemingly ordinary character who receives a call to leave his or her village and go on an adventure (they might not see it as an adventure at the time – they might see it as the worst thing that ever could have happened to them) and that adventure has events that shape the character ….adventures that can be very tough and challenging – but if the person perseveres they evolve and grow and not only they benefit, but everyone benefits – the world benefits from their transformative journey.

Most importantly, perhaps – they need to respond to their call…they need to answer it!

Why did it get me to react as I did?

One answer: It reordered – or ordered my universe. Archetypes are powerful. It helped me to connect the dots in my own history as I looked back. (As Vogler said, “produced an electrifying reorganization of my life and thinking.”)

The pattern connected to my earliest years….

 I had always loved fairy tales and myths – from a very young age.

The pattern connected to my earliest career –

I became an English major in college (and also studied Latin and Greek and read the Iliad in Greek!) and eventually taught middle school and my favorite coursework to teach was the unit on mythology. Now I was learning that these stories were important because of the very pattern they followed – not just that they were interesting in themselves.

The pattern connected to why I was drawn to coaching and consulting:

I became a coach and a conflict management facilitator because I believed in the ability of everyone to transform – even angry groups in conflict – if they wanted to. And I had seen it happen and I knew the moment in individuals and in groups when the lightbulb of insight and transformation goes off and they begin to see things differently – and understand differently.  

I was in the business of change and transformation – the very gist of the journey of the hero.

And there was yet another answer to my ‘What was going on here?” question: – and maybe you’re already seeing this…

Just like those heroines and heroes in stories,

I received a Call!

And if one listens and follows that call – one is on her heroine’s or hero’s journey I have named your epic journey of transformation.

I heard it. I answered it – and since that time in 2008 when I lit the dynamite, I’ve been following this call – which lit the fire within me. It has had me write a book; teach about it; build an online course about it; speak about it….blog and podcast about it. You name it – I am absolutely answering that call.

This is where one might ask…and…where do calls come from exactly?

To answer this I always use John Schuster’s book, Answering Your Call – and his definition. He was one of my teachers when I attended The Hudson Institute’s school of coaching. He writes:

There are several different theories about where Calls come from. In his book, Answering Your Call, A Guide for Living Your Deepest Purpose, John P. Schuster, shares some of these theories:

  • For the more spiritually/theologically inclined: “The call is God talking to you.”
  • For the more psychologically inclined: “The call is your higher self sending you a message about what you should be doing.”
  • For the more biologically inclined: “Our brain cells need stimulation or they shrivel up under the routine of life. So the call and its urges and voices are sets of neurons stretching themselves out for new stimulation, the kind that comes from new challenges.” 
  • For the more sociologically-inclined: “The call is the part of society and your upbringing that you have coded into your own internal messages saying, ‘Yoo-hoo! Wake up and get on with your life.”

If you’ve been following what I put out into the world – you will know which one of these explanations I subscribe to – undoubtedly #1… I’m spiritually minded and believe the call – or my call – is God (substitute whatever word you use here for many-named and un-nameable spiritual power in the world) talking to me.

But then more questions rise to the surface –

Why has God given you this path, Susanna? To what purpose?

Here’s my answer.

In all honesty, I don’t really know – but, my guess…

 There is a need for people to teach about this pattern, this story path that we’ve had with us forever – so that people know it’s very applicable to ordinary people like us, to every one of us – not to just story characters.

It tells us that we will receive a call…which I believe leads us to our higher purpose which inspires us and acts as the source of all we do 

It tells us that it is very important for us to: 

(1) know about Calls

(2) to listen for them and learn how to recognize them and then

(3) to respond to them – to answer the 

So that we will grow and evolve in the direction of our own unique purpose and follow something internally guiding us not just responding to external prompts.

Finally, here’s the rub 

A person responding to a call – usually doesn’t fully or even somewhat know why it was given to her – why me, God? This is another question frequently asked about calls.

And you can’t know the ending as you’re on your journey following your call – what will be the result? You don’t know. That’s why the heroine’s journey is also known as the journey into the unknown.

There’s a lot of faith required. Trust.

OK – I’ll put one foot in front of the other and trust that this Call is real and is part of my destiny.

Now, Heroine – this is what I want you to hear from me. You will get Calls, many in your lifetime. Your job? Answer them! They come from deep within you. They are the key to your authenticity – if you don’t ignore them.

It’s not an easy path to be sure.  And you, like me, might not even recognize a call when you get it. You might just be about the business of blowing something up – and then later, when you look back realize – oh, that’s why I did that.

I got a call! 



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