Stereotypical around-the-world trips seem to be undertaken by youthful backpackers eager to explore (and apparently party across) the world — those who just graduated from high school, those on college break, or recent college grads.  I certainly don’t fit this mold; I’m older, married, have career experience, mortgages, and car payments.  And most importantly, I’m at a crossroads.

The old model of “maid, matron, crone” for women’s lives was based on a much shorter average life-span.  Modern technology, over the past 150 years, has literally doubled the life expectancy of women in industrial societies (from 40 to 45 years to 80 to 90 years).  With lower birth rates, “matron” takes less of a bite than ever out of the prime years, and the debilitation of old age is pushed off for decades.  This gives instead a life structure of “maid, matron, 20-or-30-year-blank, crone.”  There are no historical social models for that second-maturity period.  It’s something our time is having to invent.

I am most definitely in that “20-or-30-year-blank” period, attempting my second maturity.  Hopefully, my 30/40 World Tour: Quest for Passion will help me usher in this next phase of life.

The Power of Myth book cover

Today Mr. HalfFull sees this defining book from his college years in a new light

I’m not a fan of ancient mythology, fantasy, or science fiction genres, but Mr. HalfFull recently suggested to me that perhaps our trip really is a quest.  Of course, we dubbed the trip a Quest for Passion, but it’s somewhat in jest and mostly because it sounds awesome! =)  Yet Mr. HalfFull now contends that I may be on “The Hero’s Journey,” which he learned about in the early 90’s (when I was a 10-year-old…haha) watching “The Power of Myth” hosted by Bill Moyers on PBS.

I begrudgingly watched that old interview with Joseph Campbell, and was pleasantly surprised to find that much of it resonates with me today as I ponder my upcoming trip.  Campbell asserts that there are two kinds of hero journeys — heroic acts and spiritual journeys.  Obviously, mine would be a spiritual journey, which is described as a death and resurrection, like the transition from childhood to adulthood.  This type of journey involves a going and a return, which is exactly my plan.  Campbell also discusses how spiritual journeys must be taken intentionally, rather than being conscripted.  The only thing certain in my mind is that I’m ready and willing to go.  As Mr. HalfFull would say, “Let’s light this candle!”

Chart outlining The Hero's Journey

Chart outlining The Hero's Journey

The basic outline of the hero’s journey comprises three major stages:  a departure (before the quest), initiation (adventures along the way), and return (with new knowledge from the journey).  The first stage in the departure is a “call to adventure.”  Mr. HalfFull and I have been thinking about our round-the-world trip for years.  Well, he came up with the initial vision, and I’ve been thinking (and stressing) about it for years!  My ISTJ nature persisted in channeling his ENFP energy, so together we could sort out the minutiae that renders a quest of this magnitude possible.  We have truly inspired adventure in one another.

However, I had my doubts about this whole heroine’s journey when I saw the next step of departure, titled “refusal of the call.”  Hmm.  Well, we have talked about the trip for years, but did we go?  No.  We considered going after our wedding in 2009.  We considered going last summer in anticipation of our 30th and 40th birthdays.  Whoa, twice we refused to heed the call to adventure in the past!  Thankfully, we have now been inspired by “supernatural aid.”  In our case, events in our professional lives conspired to lead us toward travel this summer.  Mr. HalfFull changed careers, becoming a teacher with summers off.  Meanwhile, I’d never felt passionate about my career, and my small company was sold twice, finally being absorbed into one of the largest companies in the world.  I don’t know what I want professionally, but I definitely don’t feel a meaningful connection to this revenue-fueled behemoth.  So here we are, ready to cross the mythical threshold in five weeks.

feet on the beach

Belly of the Whale? Nope, just Ms. HalfEmpty's feet.

The final step in the departure phase is the “belly of the whale,” which represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.  Campbell explains that within the context of the belly of the whale, water represents the unconscious.  Much of my trip revolves around water since most of my destinations are island nations.  So as I lay on the beach looking out at the water, I’ll have to try to figure out what my unconscious is telling me.

The second major state of a hero’s journey is initiation, which involves trials.  This scares me a bit, but I do realize that you can’t grow if you don’t challenge and test yourself.  Campbell thinks of these trials as losing yourself and giving of yourself in order to transform your consciousness.  I wonder what revelations await me…

Campbell also believes that the landscape and conditions match the readiness of the adventurer.  So the hero will not get more than he is prepared to handle — not what he thinks he can handle, but what the universe knows he can handle.  So at least I’ve got that going for me!

According to Campbell, as humans we all operate in relation to a system that is governed by our minds.  The key is to operate within our humanity, governed by our heart and spirit.  From a young age, we are conditioned to align with a programmatic life: sitting still in our school desks and raising our hands to speak, while learning to play by society’s rules.  I am particularly susceptible to this, and Mr. HalfFull often jokingly refers to me as a robot, while trying to bring me back to the human side.  [“Robot is a bit cold; she’s more of a cyborg,” says Mr. HalfFull.  Darth Vader would approve!]

Empty Coffee Cup

Nirvana? Maybe I just need a refill!

Apparently, the goal of this whole heroine’s journey is to find a place of rest and repose within myself.  To allow action to come from my center, so as not to create tension.  Campbell explains that ideas like Nirvana are not actual physical places, but rather a psychological state of mind where one is not compelled by desire, fear, or social commitments.  Sounds like a tall order for Ms. HalfEmpty, but definitely a worthy goal. Perhaps this suggests that my quest for passion might culminate within myself as well.  For now this heroine remains content with her current itinerary, searching for Nirvana with Mr. HalfFull along some of the world’s loveliest beaches or perhaps at the bottom of a cup of coffee.

Campbell mostly speaks to the hero’s journey; I’ve read that the stages of the heroine’s journey are similar, but the circumstances are different.  The journey of a female hero

…does not involve swinging a big, phallic sword like a man (or Joan of Arc), nor defying patriarchal oppression. She does not run away from her evil father, pretend to be a man, or move off to an Amazonian commune. Her struggle is to find her own way at a time in her life when all her previous duties and roles are gone, when she doesn’t know who she is anymore, and is in a spiritual crisis.

Wow, that last sentence really resonates with me.  Let’s break down my current existential crisis:

  • Struggling to find a path that works for me (check)
  • At a time when my previous professional role is gone (check)
  • While feeling like I don’t know who I should be (check)
  • Spiritual crisis (well, I’m more of an agnostic, but sure, check)

It has been suggested that the final return phase is also different for heroines.  Crossing the return threshold often involves a meeting with the heroine’s parents.  Coincidentally, my parents will probably be picking us up from the airport when we return in August.

Mr. HalfFull, perhaps I really am a heroine on a journey…

  • Where did you travel as a youthful backpacker?
  • Do you enjoy ancient mythology, fantasy, or science fiction genres?
  • Have you embarked on a hero or heroine’s journey?
  • Is Mr. HalfFull getting me swept up in his flair for the dramatic?
  • Can Nirvana be found at the bottom of a cup of coffee?
  • Is simply traveling enough, or does a framework of meaning add value?
  • Do you tend to follow your mind or your heart/spirit?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!