What to Expect on the Journey
Whether Adult or Teenager—It's Our Story

“If I’m on a heroic journey as a teenager, what can I expect—what will I discover? AND what good will that do me?”


1. Why the Heroic Journey

The heroic journey is the fundamental story of change and that includes the journey from childhood to adulthood. It can help you understand the experiences you are having (normal even if difficult and confusing at times), it can guide you in figuring out how to deal with the challenges and it’s useful throughout life. At the heart of the heroic journey is the concept of being the author of your own life. And that is really what the teen heroic journey is about—becoming the author of your life.

It’s Everyone’s Story

You can expect to discover who you are and the gifts you might bring to the world—large and small. A life is made up of a series of heroic journeys and in each one we discover new things and grow and mature.

The heroic journey has been used by most cultures throughout time to teach their members how to create a life or a community—or renew that individual’s or community’s life. Adolescence is—by definition—a developmental heroic journey and you can safely assume that all of your peers are on that journey.  Your parents and teachers have been on that journey. Everyone experiences the journey in his or her own unique way, but the basic path is known.

Remember, that the three big core challenges for teenagers on the journey (the purpose of the journey) are (a) to create/discover a strong identity, (b) to build relationships and connections, and (c) to develop the range of competencies required as an adult.

Key Characteristics of the Journey

Being the Author of Your Life

You can expect that the underlying challenge will be to become the author of your life, which is the fundamental shift from childhood dependence to young adult independence.  

The Gravity of Childhood vs. the Gravity of Adulthood

You can expect to experience two different gravities. One gravity is the gravity of childhood, which tries to pull you back into the old ways. The other gravity is the gravity is the gravity of adulthood, which tries to pull you into becoming a young adult. The childhood gravity gets weaker as you get older, but it will be a factor throughout your teenage years.

It’s a Rollercoaster

You can also expect to experience lots of ups and downs. Sometimes you will experience an “up” in one part of your life and a “down” in another. Understanding that these ups and downs are normal and natural is important. It is also important to get increasingly good at managing these ups and downs.

The Roller Coaster of Emotions. There are so many emotions at play in the teenage years—and often at intense levels—that it can feel pretty chaotic at times. You can experience excitement and anxiety, clarity and confusion, feeling connected and feeling disconnected, happiness and sadness, hope and despair, affection and anger, etc. Adults experience the same emotions, but usually not in such a changeable fashion

The Challenges on the Journey Affects You on Five Levels

This is one reason that being a teenager can be so difficult. You are tested intellectually, emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually. It’s how you grow and mature, but that’s a lot of testing and it can be confusing and daunting

2.  You Will Encounter Two Types of Journey

You can expect to experience two types of heroic journey. The first type is that described in the first section on the three big challenges. That is a “developmental journey” that is going to happen to everyone as part of the transition from child to adult. The other type of heroic journey is a “situational journey”, which is triggered by a significant change. 

Those changes can range from moving to a new school or community to having a serious illness or breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend. The changes can also be more positive, such as becoming a team captain or president of a club or getting into an honors program. So, while you are on the eight-year journey of being a teenager you will also encounter specific events and changes that bring similar tests and opportunities to grow.

3.  It’s a Play in Three Acts

You can expect to experience the journey as a play in three acts—beginnings, on the path and completion.  Beginnings matter a lot. You can feel like you got thrown into the journey without asking for it (“Hey, I didn’t ask for this”). You might also feel like the challenges of the teen years are a journey that is something that you need/want to do (called “answering the call to adventure”). However your journey begins, the key is getting into the posture of “being the author” of the experience vs. feeling like a victim. You can’t get complete control, but you can exert a lot of influence over your experience.

Most of the action is “on the path” and that’s a long time for the developmental journey of teenagers. This is where you encounter the various tests (noted below), become more and more mature and complete and find ways to take care of yourself on the journey.

Completion brings its own surprising challenges. It doesn’t happen all at once because you will keep growing and developing as you progress toward adulthood. The main challenge is called the “ripple effect” and that is what happens to others as you change. This is particularly important in relationships, for instance with parents or friends. Relationships are like puzzle pieces that fit together (in healthy or unhealthy ways). As you change, that affects the “fit” of your relationships and others either change to adapt to your growth or the relationship doesn’t work as it once did. Sometimes that’s good as you get out of less healthy relationships, but sometimes it’s really hard. The other challenge as you become more and more mature is getting used to being more mature—more complete.  Your identity has to catch up.

4.  There are Three Types of Test Encountered 

You can expect that, regardless of the type of journey, you will be consistently tested in three ways—letting go of the old ways of childhood, discovering and mastering the new ways of adulthood and dealing with the land in-between letting go and mastery (“inbetweenity”). The good news is that there are only three basic types of tests encountered on the teen heroic journey. The bad news is that each test comes in lots of forms and they keep coming for the 8-10 years of being a teenager. 

They will also be the same types of test that you will encounter as an adult, but rarely in the same number as adolescence. The teenage years are different because of the number of tests. However, if you get good at dealing with these tests as a teenager, you will be really well prepared for the journeys of adulthood—which will have the same pattern.

5.  Staying Healthy—Heroes Don’t Go Alone 

You can expect to find that heroes don’t go alone. It might seem like a lone quest, but we all need others in various ways to successfully navigate a journey—as a teenager or as an adult. You can also expect to find that you can help others just as others can help you. That might seem like a strange concept while you’re caught up in the whitewater of being a teenager, but it’s true. You will be able to help others on their journeys even as you confront all the tests you will face.  

Support Networks. One of the most important parts of a heroic journey is the creation of a support network to support you on the journey. That can include people (in large or small roles), activities and habits, places of rest or renewal, meaningful symbols or objects, etc. Support networks help deal with all the tests and the inevitable energy traps as well as helping take advantage of the sources of life energy.

Staying Healthy—Things to Pay Attention To

People Encountered

You can expect to encounter people who will play a variety of roles in your journey. Some will be companions. Some will be opponents, people who undermine you or even enemies. Some of the people encountered will be healers and people that care for you. Some figures will be teachers, mentors, guides or counselors who can provide the information and wisdom necessary.

Roles You Can Play For Others

One of the most rewarding and empowering things you can expect is the opportunity to play roles for your peers on their journeys. For example, you can be a companion, helper, healer, advocate, protector, even someone who challenges someone to be their best. You can model successful behaviors, connect peers with others or stand up for another. These roles can be played in large and small ways and they make a difference.

Energy Traps

You can expect to encounter “energy traps” that diminish the energy you have. These traps can range from failing to see your successes and focusing on the negative to getting worn down by stress. They can range from getting discouraged or fearful to getting injured, facing setbacks or being disconnected from others. 

Sources of Life Energy

You can expect to find sources of energy that provide the life energy necessary for the journey. Those sources can be remembering to celebrate successes, eating well or exercising, being part of a team or performing group and even simple things like listening to music, going to the movies, or being out in nature. There are a surprising number of energy sources.

Being Hurt & Recovering

You can expect to be hurt and need to recover or be healed by others. There are sometimes physical injuries and there are always emotional injuries during the teenage journey. These are rarely life-threatening injuries, but they hurt all the same. You just don’t get to cruise through adolescence with all its tests and unknown (particularly in relationships) and not get hurt at times.  

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