Did it ever occur to you that to get the most out of your career and personal life you would have to slay a dragon?
I didn’t realize I was slaying my dragon when I started making life-changing decisions in 2006, but now I understand, and I think you should too.
I’ve been revisiting the work of the late Joseph Campbell, the Sarah Lawrence College professor and author who made a lifelong study of myths and what we can learn from them. Campbell became known outside academic circles when he published his seminal book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” in 1949. His ideas influenced an entire generation, including George Lucas, who acknowledged the influence of Campbell’s writings on the “Star Wars” saga.
Recently, I rediscovered “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth,” a PBS series of Campbell interviews by Bill Moyers, which aired in 1988, shortly after Campbell’s death. One topic was the meaning of dragon-slaying myths.
Campbell explained that dragons greedily guard access to things for which they have no use, typically gold or damsels in distress. The hero slays the dragon in order to get the treasure or the hand of the lady.
These myths are, of course, a metaphor. Getting the gold or the damsel is what Campbell calls finding your bliss, those things that are most fulfilling to you. He explained that the dragon is in each of us, locking up our ego. It is that voice that says, “You can’t do that,” “You have to do only what is expected of you,” “You won’t be accepted there.”
That’s when I realized I had started slaying my dragon in 2006. I was leaving a senior operating role in a major corporation and had no idea what I would do next. The dragon said, “The best path for you will be a job like that one in a similar corporation.” But I hadn’t been happy in my last couple of years and certainly hadn’t found my bliss.
I started thinking about becoming a management consultant. The dragon said, “You’ve never had to sell yourself. You don’t know how to do that. You need to find a job.” I had always listened to the dragon, but this time I didn’t. I met with several successful consultants and decided if they could do it, so could I. The dragon shrank.
Not long after that, I heard about the Penn State Alumni Council, the board of directors of the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world. I’d always thought about giving back to my alma mater, but the dragon had always talked me out of it. He said, “Why would anyone vote for you? Forget about it.” I ignored the dragon, was elected twice and joined the executive committee. The dragon shrank some more.
The final blow to my dragon was this publication. I saw an advertisement in the CPBJ looking for business bloggers. The dragon said, “No one cares what you think, and there are probably better writers out there.” I didn’t listen. I submitted some samples and soon was blogging regularly. Blogging evolved into this column in 2008. The dragon was dead.
I’ve always had my bliss in my family life, and now I have found it in my professional and community roles. That negative voice is gone.
I believe Joseph Campbell’s idea that we should find our bliss and slay the dragon keeping us from it gives us a powerful image. Be aware of what your dragon is doing. Don’t let it keep you from fulfillment in your personal life, career and community. Slay it.
Richard Randall is founder and president of management-consulting firm New Level Advisors in Springettsbury Township, York County. Email him at [email protected].