More on the 3 Tests

More on Test #1

Letting Go

With these endings there will be some degree of loss, sometimes a big loss and sometimes not so big.  Sometimes the loss happens all at once and sometimes it happens slowly over time.  If we use relationships as an example the differences are clear.  You will probably have some relationships where you and your friend just drift apart as your lives take you different directions.  On the other hand, the break-up with a close friend or a girl/boyfriend can be intense and happen from one day to the next.  Your changing relationship with your parents will probably have elements of slow evolution and some elements of abrupt change.  Your changing identity will have a lot of those evolutionary endings and a few more noticeable endings.


Some endings can be wrenching with a lot of struggle and can be really painful.  Other endings might be just a matter of gently letting go.


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The Stages of Letting Go


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is a person who studied how people reacted to loss, particularly in regard to death and dying.  She proposed that people go through five stages in coming to accept a major loss.


Her work is useful in understanding that letting go is a process and it has stages that can each have an important purpose.  These are important stages for people to go through whether as teenagers, in adult life, in corporate change or community change.

Stage Why Each Stage is Valuable


“Nope, not happening – no loss or ending here – no problem – no grieving necessary.”  As annoying as denial can be it really has a function.  It allows people to get over a shock or prepare themselves to deal with the ending.  There may also be so much going on in their lives that they just need to focus elsewhere.


As people come out of denial they often get angry.  Anger can be scary, but at least people are emerging from denial and are available to engage with.  Anger is sometimes people’s way to exercise power in the face of a loss they are powerless to prevent.  Anger is problematic when it is too extreme or goes on for too long.



This is the next stage and the teenage years are full of bargaining – with each other, with parents, with teachers.  It’s particularly common with parents as the parent-child relationship ends and everyone searches for the new healthy relationship.  The classic scenario is a teenager wanting freedom and independence, but also wanting their laundry done, transport on demand, money available, no chores and favorite foods available without having to ask for them – let alone go get them.  The good news is that bargaining is a way for people to be connected and to figure out what they can create to follow what has ended.



Some depression can happen when it becomes clear that there really is an ending or loss and bargaining isn’t going to prevent it.  This feeling can range from sadness to full depression depending on the person and the loss (or losses).  It’s a natural response to endings and is only problematic when it is too intense of lasts for too long.



Acceptance can happen because something comes along to take the place of what ended or because a person has simply come to terms with the loss and is ready to move on.  Acceptance can range from a tremendous sense of relief and freedom to a quieter very subtle move away from the sadness or depression.  At this point a person is ready and open to something new.
Letting Go – How I’m Doing
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More on Heroic Test #2
Discovery and Mastery

Three Complicating Factors
Being a teenager means a lot of experimenting, discovery and eventually mastery.  The problem is threefold.  First, there are a lot of competencies to discover and master, ranging from self-management and social skills to a wide range of scholastic competencies.  Second, the mastery process is not an easy one and requires a lot of perseverance.  Third, the world most teenagers inhabit is not well designed to support mastery in many of the competency areas. 

Lots of Settings for Developing Competencies
Support for self-management and social skills is rarely built into schools and it’s hard for parents to fill the gap given the changes happening in the teen-parent relationship.  Schools also vary dramatically in their ability to support scholastic mastery. 

Community organizations, camps, online programs, volunteer placements, faith communities and some other opportunities can make a major difference, but those opportunities also vary dramatically for different teens.  So, this is a very tough type of test for most teenagers. 

Being the Author
Because there are so many competencies to master (or at least be OK or good at) to be successful as a young man or woman and there are so many possible settings in which to develop them – it is critical to not wait for others to provide the opportunities and support.  The key is to be the author and take charge of developing the desired competencies.  That is not an easy task, nor one that comes naturally.

Learning to Love the Plateau”
The biggest danger in pursuing mastery is getting discouraged.  There are always times on the heroic journey when discouragement, sometimes even hopelessness, intrudes and that can sidetrack or end a journey if we aren’t ready.  The keys are (1) to realize that mastery has a rhythm to it and (2) we have to “learn to love the plateau” and trust our practice.

The rhythm of mastery includes times when our competency seems to be developing rapidly and it gets exciting as we make leaps.  The practice obviously pays off.  The natural rhythm of mastery also includes times when improvement just doesn’t seem to be happening – even when we practice as hard as ever.  That’s the plateau and that’s where it is very easy to get discouraged, cut back on the practice and maybe even give up.


Think about your experience on mastery plateaus when trying to learn a sport, dance, foreign language or math for example.   You’ll know you’re being tested by a mastery plateau when you here yourself saying (or thinking):  “What’s the point?  It’s not worth it.  I’ll never get it.  I don’t know what’s wrong or what to do.  I’m just not good at this, etc.”    

It is on those plateaus where we basically have to trust in the process and in our practice and keep going even without the encouragement that obvious improvement provides.  If we do, we almost always come to the next period of leaps in competency – and probably won’t be able to see it coming.     

Perseverance (Again)
This plateau pattern is a natural part of the heroic journey, so expect it and don’t be discouraged by it.  The key quality to bring to this challenge is perseverance.  Perseverance can be defined as:  “Not giving up – steadfastness or continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition.”  This is a critical strength to develop as a teenager, partly because it is naturally required and you can’t rely on others to back you up or do things for you as you did when you were a child.  It’s also critical because it will be a major determining factor in your success as an adult.

If you talk to adults about mastery, most will have stories about when they persevered and succeeded and stories about when they gave up on the plateaus.  The perseverance stories will come with a sense of satisfaction and pride.  The stories about times when they didn’t persevere will come with a sense of regret.  We all have both stories.


Discovery & Mastery – How I’m Doing
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The moment in between what you once were and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life really takes place.


More on Heroic Test #3
Being Between Endings and Beginnings – “Inbetweenity”

During the teenage years, this experience of “inbetweenity” is a lurking companion.  Sometimes it is a strong feeling and sometimes it is just there in the background.  With all the change going on in the corporate world, this is also a frequent experience of adults.  It just comes with the territory. 

Pulled in Different Directions – “Dynamic Tensions”

In the midst of the journey you can expect to get pulled in different directions and often feel like you’re rafting in whitewater, on an emotional rollercoaster or in a crazed game of bumper cars.  You will feel connected and at times disconnected.  You will sometimes feel confident and sometimes insecure.  Your world will at times seem to come together and at other times seem to fall apart.  Sometimes you will be ready to engage and other times want to withdraw.

The concept of dynamic tensions simply means that you will be pulled different directions and there won’t be a complete resolution.  For example, one characteristic of “inbetweenity” is the dynamic tension between feeling connected and feeling disconnected. 

Sometimes we might feel pretty connected to family and peers and organizations and our sense of identity.  Other times we might feel disconnected.  Or we might feel connected to peers and not family.  The point is that there will always be a number of dynamic tensions experienced during “inbetwenity.”

This is the world of “inbetweenity.” Part of the challenge is there are a bunch of these dynamic tensions at work at the same time.  Welcome to the journey.

Examples of Dynamic Tensions That Are Normally Experienced

Order vs. Disorder
The tension between order and disorder is part of the journey, part of change, part of the normal life process.  It is also very uncomfortable.  It can also feel like the tension between feeling oriented and disoriented.  It’s always a challenge to make sense out of things when so much of your world is changing.

Place vs. Displacement
“I have a place” is a profoundly important statement or belief. 

Not having a place – a place to be, a place to feel known or valued, leaves a person without reference, without a sense of belonging.  And yet, that is exactly what must be experienced to some degree in cases of major change, in heroic journeys.  Again it’s a question of degree and that will vary.  Sometimes you will feel strongly that you have a place.  Sometimes you will wonder and sometimes you might feel displaced. 

Connection, Disconnection vs. Reconnection
Connection is about relationships.  Disconnection is about the loss of relationships.  Reconnection is about the mending of relationships.

The connection may be to other people or groups, to a geographic place, to ideas and values, to ways of doing things, etc.

The danger is not so much in losing forms of relationship, but in losing too much relationship for too long.  There will be some loss of relationship in the journey just as there will be a loss of order, a loss of place, a loss of meaning, or a loss of orientation.

People and groups are most vulnerable when their connections are too few or too important.  Too few connections means that fewer losses can be sustained and attaching too much importance to any one connection means that the loss of that one connection can be extremely threatening.

Courage vs. Lack Of Courage
Courage comes from Latin and French roots, meaning “heart”. It is engaging in spite of fear, anxiety, doubt, or despair not their absence.  It is in contrast to withdrawing or refusing to engage.

Heroes, however, do not leave known worlds, travel the “trail of tests”, and reach completion without at times losing their courage.  It just isn’t human.  This is one of the reasons why heroes do not go alone.  Sometimes courage is recovered without help, but often it is the intervention or support or belief of others that enables an individual to rediscover his or her courage.  At other times it is a matter of acting courageously even when the feelings of courage aren’t present.

Hope/Belief vs. Doubt/Despair
Much of the time in periods of major change hope and belief exist together with doubt and despair. 

The definitions of “doubt” are familiar to any who have experienced significant transitions or lived heroically;  “a condition of uncertainty”, “lack of conviction”, “to waver or fluctuate in opinion or belief”, “to be inclined to lack of belief.”  Despair is even more troubling as it is simply a lack of hope.

In contrast “hope” is defined as “to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment”, “to have confidence, trust”, “to look forward to with confidence or expectation.”

There will be times for almost everyone on the journey when doubt and despair seem to be winning.  The key then is to remember that this is a dynamic tension and it will inevitably swing back the other way – particularly if you have some helpers, healers, mentors or companions to help it along.

Excitement & Anticipation vs. Fear & Anxiety
Excitement, anticipation, fear, and anxiety are all forms of energy, although the experience of them is certainly different.   Excitement and anticipation often feel like forces that pull or push forward, while fear and anxiety often feel like forces that argue for stopping, going back, or changing direction. 

Excitement and anticipation also tend to encourage contact and engagement while fear and anxiety reinforce the desire to withdraw or disengage.  Sometimes fear and anxiety motivate engagement, but not usually with the intent of ongoing contact, more in the nature of an attack.

Although often used interchangeably, it is helpful to differentiate between fear and anxiety to help in managing them.  Fear can be seen as having a more defined source or object (“I’m afraid of…”).  The source(s) of anxiety is less specific and often hard to describe.  It is more generalized and, therefore very often more difficult to manage.

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes over-night. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”


It’s Usually a Mix of Thoughts/Feelings and it’s Always Changing

As a teenager it’s rare to feel a sense of complete order, to feel a secure sense of place, to feel widely and deeply connected, to feel courageous and to have a deep sense of hope and belief – all at the same time.  It’s also unusual to feel a sense of complete disorder, to feel as if you have no “place” or connections, to be driven by anxiety or fear and to be consumed with doubts and fears – all at the same time. 

Both of those extreme experiences can happen, but it’s usually a mix of those feelings and the mix can change frequently.  The changeable mix is normal.  It’s normal in all cases of significant change, so you will experience this “inbetweenity” as an adult as well as a teenager.  It’s just part of the journey.  Knowing that can make it easier to tolerate it as well as manage it.

Dealing with “Inbetweenity” – How I’m Doing
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Why the Heroic Journey?

“We find a model for learning how to live in stories about heroism.
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 itself 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, the opportunity to find and express your
unique gifts in the world, and to live in loving community
with other people.”

Carol Pearson
Awakening the Heroes Within