There you are, happily working away, nothing much bothers you, and life is good. You smoke your pipe, you read your books and sit in your garden. Then some old bloke with a grey cloak and pointy hat turns up with a bunch of dwarfs.
They need your help. What would you do?
This is what happened to Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, written by JRR Tolkien.
These moments are special, they are The Call to Adventure to action. According to Joseph Campbell in his work on mythology and the Heroes Journey.
Stories are made of moments like these. Obi-wan asking Luke for help in Star Wars. In Finding Nemo, it’s the loss of his son that propels Marlin onto his adventure.
There are moments in our lives when something beckons us onto a new path, but a part of us recoils at this idea.
A world Shattered
The calling comes in many forms, small and large. A new relationship, or job. A chance to travel, create art, change the world or help others. But whatever the idea is, it grabs you on some level.
Up until that moment, there was the routine, what you are familiar with. This is the Ordinary World in Campbell’s work. Like Bilbo you are safely ensconced in this world of your own, knowing little of what lies outside it.
Now those ideas and beliefs have been broken. This Herald has challenged your world-view. It’s as if the scales have fallen from your eyes and now you see things in a different light. The life you have lead is not what is possible for you.
The hero, of course, accepts the calling in the stories, stepping into the unknown. But I feel that many of us, including myself, have refused it, often more than once.
A lot of emotion happens in these moments. You feel shocked, doubt, fear. A mistrust of your instincts and perceptions.
The Internal Call
‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom’Anais Nin
Sometimes the call doesn’t happen from outside but from within. A creeping dissatisfaction along with remembered dreams. A desire, a hope a passion for something different.
You feel the need for change. The life you lead is uninspiring, dull, unchallenging. There’s little meaning in the world.
You have become bored with the same places and faces. The coping mechanisms you used for a living are breaking down. ‘The old ways no longer work.’ The thought, that we could be more than we are, it torments us.
Like a splinter in your mind that drives you mad. We want something more, we feel it, we know it in our hearts.
The Call to Adventure happens more than we think. So much so that I feel we’ve become jaded to it. We see how other people are living, travelling the world, starting a business, writing a book.
There is also fear, not just of the unknown, but of regret. This the fear of the known. If we turn back now what would our lives be like? A life unlived, without passion or meaning. This can be a greater fear than even the unknown.
The life you are leading is no longer for you, you have outgrown it. Now you’re like a plant that needs re-potting.
You know there is more to life than this. The passion, even desperation that you want something more, something greater. To fill your life with adventure, meaning and success.
This desire for something greater is the unconquerable part of your soul that refuses to die.
Refusal of the call
For many of us including myself the fear can be too much. Although we want to be bold, it’s too risky, too far, too much. The emotion itself is so unpleasant that we cannot go on.
Bilbo initially refused the call too. He gave reasons why he couldn’t and should not go on this adventure. Gandalf reproaches him for it.
The first call is not always enough, sometimes we are called repeatedly because we shy away from it.
We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves for not wanting the adventure. The risks are great, the results uncertain.
Or perhaps we do notice the call, but distraction gets the better of us, other tasks take higher priority. So we remain trapped in our old ways, procrastinating. We know we want to change, but the difficulties we see ahead discourage us, so we make our plans but never put them into action.
We may afterwards convince ourselves that our decision was reasonable and rational, but in reality, fear is what stopped us.
Caught between two worlds
So this calling leaves us in a bit of a bind.
Bilbo looks at the contract and you can see the struggle going on inside him. Caught between head and heart, known and unknown.
The nagging desire that our lives could be so much more if we just do something about it, but the fear that holds us back.
So a sort of spiritual dissonance is now set up.
There is further doubt, not just from the broken ideals and dreams, but now from the new world, the possibilities that you see before you.
You stand on a precipice, the edge of the known and unknown.
What lies before you is this seductive this place because it offers the chance to be a different person, a Hero.
What if you say yes? Pain and suffering, but the realisation of a dream perhaps.
If you say no? Wondering what would have happened if you had said yes.
A question hangs in your mind. Could I do this? Really be the person I have dreamed of?
It’s in these moments where we find out who we are, what we are made of, and what we care enough about to take a risk.
‘We are defined just as much by what we reject as what we pursue’Richard Collison
Be aware of the opportunities that are brought to you, recognise them when they are upon you. I am not saying you need to say yes to every call. We are all juggling many different wants and needs.
But it’s a moment to reflect and ask the hard question about what you want out of life. You have to figure out what matters the most.
Those heroes we hear of, all had the opportunity to turn back, but they didn’t. Why? Because they understood. Despite all our fears, there are some things worth struggling for, dreams both big and small.
All it takes is a moment for your life to change, a Pivotal Moment. They can define your life.
I would like to hear from you on those moments in your life where everything changed, where you chose a new path or refused it. How does it and did it make you feel?