A little girl was sitting in a doctor’s office staring at the floor while her mother spoke with the doctor. The mother was desperate. She wanted some medication to ‘fix’ her troubled child. She had been officially warned by the School Headmaster to get her daughter professional help, or she would have to be removed from the school.
According to her teachers, the little girl was irritated, disruptive, and had a learning disorder. Before they left the room, the doctor advised the little girl he would step outside the room for a few minutes with her mother, and put on some music to keep her entertained while she waited.
Once alone, the mother began explaining again what was wrong with her daughter, and asking what he could do to fix her–but the doctor did not answer her. He was captivated by the little girl inside, who had immediately gotten up, jumped on his desk and leapt off all in rhythm with the music. She danced all around the room, having the most fabulous time. Watching the little girl through the door glass, a heart-warming smile emerged on his face. He turned to the mother and said, “There’s nothing wrong with your daughter, she’s just in the wrong room. She’s a dancer. Put her in dance school.”
A few days later the mother did put her in dance school, and the little girl was overjoyed; for the first time, she felt she was in a room where the other kids were just like her. Finally, she was in the right room. That little girl was Gillian Lynne, the now legendary dancer who choreographed “Cats,” and “Phantom Of The Opera,” and considered to be Broadway royalty.
This story was made famous by Sir Ken Robinson, who shared it in his TED talk, which is also the most watched TED talk of all time. What made his talk resonate so deeply with so many people? It was on education, but there are many educational TED talks. I don’t think it was the theme that was so appealing, but the power of his stories, most significantly this one. Why this one?
Because we’ve all felt at one point (perhaps we still feel it?) in our lives that something is wrong, that we are in the wrong room. But I don’t believe that is why the story appeals to us. It’s because at a very deep, emotional level, we long for someone like the doctor to come into our lives, someone who can see what others can’t, our inner genius, and also had the foresight to explain we are in the wrong room and what the right room is. For most of us, perhaps we are still hoping to meet such a person, and to find that right room?
Joseph Campbell was a researcher on mythology and storytelling. After studying thousands of stories and myths from a range of different sources, ages, cultures and religions, he noticed a common pattern. He called it the Hero with a thousand faces. Essentially, Campbell believed that almost every epic story that had garnered mass and lasting appeal, had at its core the same story structure: the story of the hero on a life-changing journey who meets a range of characters that help & hinder him, and who must face and overcome many obstacles and setbacks along their way to eventual victory.
Who would Neo have become without meeting Morpheus? Who would Luke Skywalker become without Yoda? What about Frodo without meeting Gandalf? In the Hero’s Journey, a defining experience is when they meet the Sage, the mentor figure that knows what they don’t know, who can see what they can’t see, and knows how to get to their great victory when they have no idea what victory even looks like. Don’t be mistaken, the hero still needs to do the work, risk it all on an epic quest, but without the mentor they would likely not even start; doubt would take them out.
What would have become of Gillian Lynne if she had not crossed paths with that doctor? In an interview I recently heard, she attributes all of her career and success to that doctor. It’s not that the doctor did the work. He didn’t master the craft of dance. He didn’t devote his life to being a great dancer. She did it all–but he still played a critical role. He was the pivotal moment in her journey that directed her to eventual victory.
How about you? I want to encourage you to keep your eyes open for a great, authentic, and powerful mentor. For the lucky few, mentors find them; for the rest of us we have to find them. In a business world, that means you’re going to have to pay for a good mentor. Don’t let that hinder you because a great mentor will almost certainly cause your financial income to increase, not to mention your level of confidence and sense of satisfaction in the progress you make in a professional and personal level.
There’s no doubt you’re a hero. I mean that honestly. I know, because we are all heroes, it’s just that most of us haven’t yet truly embraced our status as a hero, we haven’t truly committed to the epic journey required for victory–but we all can, and we all should.
I love the sage advice from Hellen Keller:
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not
exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”
It’s time to embrace your inner hero. The journey awaits. If you feel you are in the wrong room, take the time to find a mentor who can help you understand what the right room for you is, and how you can get into it.
In short, choose to be epic, but don’t go it alone. Get some guidance; and, if possible, a little magic from a Mentor before you truly launch into your daring adventure. Victory awaits!