As diverse as these stories were, they shared a common core: the model of growth that they hung their narrative on was linear.
In all cases, an unlikely hero became aware that they had some Greater Destiny. In order to fulfill this destiny, the hero had to overcome a set of challenges that brought them face to face with their ‘shadow,’ a darkness that lurked within and was made manifest in external enemies. Darth Vader. The Goblin King. The Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. Their own resistance to romantic entanglement.
By the end of the movie, the hero had emerged victorious, a stronger version of themselves. And they lived happily ever after.
With this ‘Hero’s Journey’ hardwired into my brain, I naturally assumed that my own process of personal growth would mirror that which I had consumed throughout my childhood and adolescence. After all, what is the purpose of story if not to prepare us for the challenges of life?
Imagine my confusion and pain when I found myself confronting the same challenges over and over again. No sooner than I would emerge victorious from a battle with, for example, low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness, than the same foe would pop up again, perhaps in a different form. Clearly I was doing something wrong. My inability to vanquish my enemies pointed to some intrinsic deficiency in my approach. Perhaps even in my soul.