Self Mastery: Understanding the Map of the Terrain of Personal Growth
Understanding the map of the terrain of personal growth
My definition of leadership reflects worldviews – an unfolding level of greater consciousness and awareness of multiple perspectives. Built into my understanding of leadership is the idea of growth and self-mastery. In this post, I want to look closely at what growth is. We will be looking at the ultimate expression of growth – mastery – and the series of transformations along this journey.
“The heroic quest is about saying ‘yes’ to yourself and in doing so, becoming more fully alive and more effective in the world. For the hero’s journey is first about taking a journey to find the treasure of your true self, and then about returning home to give your gift to help transform the kingdom and, in the process, your own life. The quest is replete with dangers and pitfalls, but it offers great rewards: the capacity to be successful in the world, knowledge of the mysteries of the human soul, and the opportunity to find and express your unique gifts in the world”. – Dr. Carol S. Pearson
The map of the terrain of growth is known
Lucky for us there is a map of the terrain available to us which reveals how personal growth happens. As a young army officer I learned you never embark on a new mission without a reconnaissance of the terrain. The same approach applies to our most important quests – that of personal and professional growth.
“Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It’s a function of time and intense focus applied towards a particular field of knowledge.” – Robert Greene
There are universal patterns that outline the process of transformation that all heroes of history have followed. Joseph Campbell, the famous writer of mythology, was my first inspiration of growth when I read his explanation of the Heroic Journey that is common to heroes of history and mythology.
Psychologists have confirmed that these patterns exist inside us as archetypes which I explored in this post on the four roles of a balanced leader. Modern writers of mastery like Robert Greene have explained that the in tuition and skills of geniuses and masters of history are attainable by all. While George Leonard, who also wrote a book of the same title – Mastery, reminds us that the most important part of the journey is embracing the plateau, which I call the ‘Glorious Grind.’
Why is this important?
We can’t grow as leaders, or in any endeavor, without knowing the process.
The Hero’s Journey – recurring phases of challenge and transformation
I discovered the concept of The Hero’s journey during my career transition from military officer to the business world. I didn’t use a business, career or leadership book but rather a seemingly obscure mythology book from 1949 – The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
Famed mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote that heroes from myths and history shared the same journey or path. Whether it was mythological figures like Greek gods or King Arthur or the narratives of the religious founding fathers like Moses, Buddha or Christ they all shared the same basic pattern of transformation.
I can hear you saying ‘what this has to do with leadership growth?’
The hero’s journey is really a metaphor for growth – personal, spiritual, psychological and leadership growth.
I found the framework of the Hero’s journey was really powerful as a metaphor for growth. What I really began to understand was that my career change was no mere job search but a transformation: leaving my known world, seeking the help of mentors, experiencing challenges, discovering my gifts and bringing them back to my current situation.
I discovered this framework was no simple academic exercise but a universal roadmap for all transitions – in business and in life.
The Heroic Journey is really a recurring pattern in life with phases of “challenge and transformation.”
The journey or quest is made up of about 12 distinct steps divided into 3 main stages: departure, initiation and return.
These steps of transformation also correspond to inner changes to the hero.
Here is a great animated video illustrating the Hero’s Journey
All journeys of growth begin inwardly with the hearing of our call.
Let’s begin our journey here.
Hearing the call – our purpose and uniqueness
“Everyman has a vocation to be someone: but he must understand clearly that in order to fulfill this vocation he can only be one person: himself” – Thomas Merton
Every part of your journey, in leadership or in life, begins with a call to change or grow. This can happen when you first start out as a leader, get a new leadership role or decide to change to start a new venture or change companies. Sages have sometimes called this call as ‘divine discontent.’ The call is always followed by a refusal, where uncertainty temporarily takes over. Overcoming this doubt is the first challenge of every journey.
Robert Greene writes that the first move toward mastery is always an inward movement. It’s about learning who you really are and reconnecting with an innate force. This inner force seeks to guide each master toward their “Life’s Task.” The same drive applies to all of us. Greene explains that master‘s experience it as an inner calling.’
This urge has been expressed throughout history with various words: vocation, purpose, dharma, calling and mission. However we express this feeling, it’s often an inclination of our own uniqueness; an inner possibility and our reason for being here.
“If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, it will destroy you.” – Gnostic Gospel of Thomas
Psychologist Dr Carol Pearson wrote that the Hero’s Journey is really about finding yourself and making a difference ….”the journey of expressing your true self in a way that makes a genuine contribution to the world.”
As leaders it’s important for us to understand and apply this process. We need to make explicit the need to discover our own purpose and align it with our reason to be leaders. These aren’t questions most of us ask of ourselves. They are difficult to come to terms with. To make the most our leadership growth we need to be crystal clear about the ‘why.’