Mulan and the Hero’s Journey

One of my favorite Disney movies is Mulan. It is a story of a young Chinese girl who is trying to find herself in a society where she doesn’t feel she belongs. Society is trying to make Mulan into a beautiful young woman that a young man will want to marry. Mulan is taught not to have her own voice and at times not to speak at all. Mulan is to look beautiful and provide a man with whatever he needs and desires. She is told time and time again not to bring shame to her family name and time and time again she does. When the Huns are about to invade China, all able men are called up by the Chinese Government to fight in the military to save their country from the invasion. Mulan’s father, who has suffered an injury from a previous battle, is called to fight regardless. Mulan, whose love for her father trumps the love she has for herself, decides she will go in her father’s place to fight the Huns. Along the way, Mulan finds herself in situations, both mentally and physically, that she never imagined and comes out battered, bruised, scared, but also comes out stronger. In the end (SPOILER ALERT) Mulan is able to save China from the Huns.

Mulan’s journey started off as an attempt to save her father and in the end, Mulan saved herself. She grew through each experience, uncovering what she was capable of, not as a girl, but as a human being. With each new challenge, Mulan gained confidence in herself and her abilities. She also gained confidence in who she was. It was through this confidence that Mulan realized she did have a voice and one that deserved to be heard.

This story taught me, that you have to put yourself in challenging and sometimes uncomfortable situations in order to grow. It is through challenge that we unlock our potential and uncover what we are capable of. You never know what you are capable of until you try. So many of us think we know what we can handle and know our boundaries but in reality we have no clue what we are capable of accomplishing. We sell ourselves short but why? Why do we fail to see our own potential? Why do we fail to acknowledge that we have what it takes to be whoever or whatever we want to be.

I believe we fail to see our potential because we do not think we are enough. We feel that we are not smart enough, strong enough, brave enough, etc. I also believe we fail to see our potential because our potential scares us. I believe the responsibility that comes with that potential is also scary. As Peter Parker’s (Spiderman) grandfather told him, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Living up to your potential is not an easy road to travel but it is worth it if you are up to the challenge.  Like the story of Mulan, the journey is filled with self doubt, pain, failure, struggle, just to name a few. Mulan’s story is not the only story in folklore, literature or movies that identify and discuss the idea of living up to one’s potential in the face adversity. It is also known as the hero’s journey. In Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” he maps out the three phases of the hero’s journey. The hero is first called to action and the hero can either accept the challenge or not. Once the hero accepts the journey the second phase begins.  The hero must travel and face all challenges alone. The hero may have guides along the way but it is through this second phase that the hero is put to the real test. It is as this point the hero often questions why they accepted this journey and their ability to come through this challenge. It is at the point that the hero starts to uncover their potential and understand their role in their life and the lives of others. In the third stage, the hero accepts their role willingly and even if there is doubt, the hero determines that this is what was meant to be, this was their calling and they had what it took all along. Does this sound like any other stories you may be familiar with? How about Star Wars? George Lucas created Star Wars based on Joseph Campbell’s book.

The hero’s journey is not a new one. We all have the ability to be our own hero. Hero in the sense of taking control of our lives and its outcome. Willingly accepting and even seeking out challenges that scare us but make us stronger. The hero does not place blame when they fail or when things don’t go their way. The hero accepts all responsibility for their life and moves in a direction that pushes them forward, never looking back and never seeking peace in the comfortable.

A good yet simple example of putting myself in a challenging situation to test my potential and becoming my own hero was deciding that I wanted to run a marathon. I was never a runner growing up and actually hated the activity. I would pass runners on the street and they always looked like they were in pain and it never looked enjoyable. My husband was applying for a job where running was a requirement and in order to help him reach his goal, I decided to run with him. Once he realized that he didn’t want that job he stopped running but I continued. Slowly but surely I was able to run one mile, then two miles and before I knew it I was running eight and ten miles with no problem. I decided that in order to keep myself accountable to keeping up with my running I would sign up for races. The fear of running my first race almost caused me not to run it but the elation of completing the race made me sign up for more. I was so proud of myself for setting a goal and accomplishing it that I wanted more of it; both challenges and accomplishments. One race turned into another and soon 5K and 10K were no longer challenging. I enjoyed the runs but I wanted something that would push my limits. I wanted something that would make me wonder if I could accomplish it. I signed up for my first half marathon and thankfully ran it with a friend. Both of us scared but more scared of letting the other person down, cheered each other on until we both crossed the finish line, victorious, happy and proud. This only lead to wanting more for myself when it came to a challenge. Before I knew it I signed up for a marathon. This, by far, was one of the scariest things I ever had to do but like many heroes, I didn’t go on this journey alone. I ran with my running partner and was cheered on by a great friend and also by people I never even met. When my running partner and I crossed the finish line hand in hand we embraced one another and cried. We shed tears of joy and pride in ourselves and each other for setting, what felt like an impossible goal, and achieving it. We felt doubt along the way but knew we worked too hard to let a little pain get in our way of success. I have long stopped running due to injuries but whenever I think about challenges I face, I think about running my first marathon. Never in a million years would I believe that I would run a marathon, let along three in one year. Not only did I survive but I thrived. I pushed myself because I wanted to know what was possible. I pushed myself because I believed I had more in me than even I was willing to admit.

What challenge will you accept? Will you accept the call to be a hero? Will you accept the challenge and with that the responsibility that comes along with it? Will you push yourself out of what is comfortable and into what is uncomfortable knowing that who you will be on the other side is worth the pain, fear, doubt and scars?

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