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The Hero's Journey

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

Are you a fan of TOMS Shoes? You might be wearing a pair right now. You might know the company’s slogan, One for One. In 2006, Blake Mycoskie was travelling in Argentina. He saw lots of children growing up without shoes and wanted to help. Blake’s solution? He started TOMS Shoes, a company that matches every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need. The company has since expanded to eyewear, bags, and coffee.

And then there’s Gary Erickson, the founder of CLIF Bars, who was out on a 175-mile bike ride when he got the inspiration to create his own brand of energy bars.

These company founders sound heroic, don’t they? It’s not surprising. Origin Stories, stories about how companies got their start, often draw on elements of the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of storytelling that infuses most Hollywood movies and has been part of the stories we’ve told, myths and legends and religious tales, for thousands of years. The hero leaves their home and strikes out into the unknown. They face tests and ultimately find a way to slay the dragon or overcome whatever dark force threatened their community. They return home with some elixir, blessing, or transformative message that changes their community for the better. Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch of the West and discovers “There’s no place like home.” Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star and learns to trust the Force, well on his way to becoming a Jedi. If the hero were an entrepreneur, they’d start a company. Hercules would start a cleaning service for horse stables. Jesus might manufacture a product that changes water into wine.

Some of you may use Tom’s Toothpaste. Back in 1968, Tom and his wife left Philadelphia for small-town life in Maine. They were big fans of natural, unprocessed foods, and looked around for natural, unprocessed detergent and other personal care products. Guess what? There weren’t any. Did they give up? Nope. In 1970, they started their own company, Tom’s of Maine. Their first product: laundry soap. The toothpaste followed in 1975.

There’s a pattern here, in the Hero’s Journey and in these tales of corporate heroes. It comes down to the Three T’s: Trials, Triumph, and Transformation. Through conflict and challenges and battles and victories, the hero has an epiphany and returns home to share his or her lessons and transformation. Blake Mycoskie searches for and discovers a way to get shoes on the feet of needy kids the world over. Gary Erickson spends a couple years in his mother’s kitchen, while living in a garage, perfecting the recipe for his popular energy bars. Tom and his wife create unprocessed detergent and natural toothpaste, among other products. Through the efforts of these visionary entrepreneurs, companies are built and the consumer marketplace is transformed. Their epiphanies become ours. That’s what entrepreneurs and company founders do. And I’m guessing many of you have, too.

Eager to get started on crafting your own or your organization’s Hero’s Journey story? Steve Budd can help. For more information about integrating the Hero’s Journey into your speeches, presentations, or marketing materials or to schedule a time to chat about bringing me into your organization to lead a workshop, please Get in Touch.

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