Psychology of the Hero's Journey
Breaking down the Hero's Journey using examples from Shopify
Hi friends 🤝 – Nathan here.
Welcome to 9,186 World Builders. Hope everyone in the US had a great Memorial Day weekend, and thank you to all the service members and their families reading this.
Today’s issue dives into the psychology of The Hero’s Journey with examples from Shopify.
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Steven Spielberg, the legendary film producer, said:
But how do you have a story that “has a beginning that never stops beginning?”
The answer is a structure that never lacks tension, making it impossible for your audience to look away.
There are many examples of storytelling structure, but the Hero’s Journey is the most famous.
Quick background on the Hero’s Journey
Joseph Campbell coined “The Hero’s Journey” while studying Hercules, Achilles, Odysseus, and the rest of Greek mythology.
He explains the Hero’s Journey like this:
The best way to examine a story is by either zooming way in or way out. The Hero’s Journey takes the second approach and breaks each story down to:
- Act 1: The Known World – Departure
- Act 2: The Adventure – Initiation
- Act 3: The Chance to Make it Right – Return
And each of those sections has three to five sub-sections.
Act 1: Departure
1. The Ordinary World
The Hero lives their version of a standard, mundane life, completely unaware of the coming catastrophe. We see the Hero for who they are, and this sets us up to see how they change throughout the story. This is where we’ll have the most in common with the Hero.
Brands are 99% of the time NOT the hero. The customer is the hero.
Shopify is my favorite example:
- To consumers, Shopify is “virtually invisible,” co-founder Tobi Lütke wrote in a 2015 letter to shareholders. “This is by design.”
2. Call to Adventure
Something – usually an external event – threatens the Hero’s ordinary world. It’s clear it’ll lead to a fundamental change in the Hero’s life, whether they like it or not. The Hero is forced to wrestle with the idea of if they are the right person to answer the call.
My friend Wes Kao, co-founder of Maven, says “Brands should position themselves as a painkiller not a vitamin.”
That starts here.
3. Refusal of the Call
This one may seem counter-intuitive. The Hero, who we end up seeing as almost superhuman, needs to initially refuse the call to adventure.
Fear and self-doubt are inane human feelings. When we see this in the Hero, we relate to them. Second, it’s needed to add tension. If the Hero jumps in no questions asked and is fully confident in their abilities, well… it’s just not that interesting.
4. Meeting the Mentor
The Hero needs to level up. The same person from the ordinary world will not be able to overcome the massive challenges headed their way.
Enter the mentor.
- Obi Wan & Yoda – Star Wars
- Dumbledore – Harry Potter
- Alfred & Lucius – Batman
Brands can position themselves effectively as the mentor, the one supporting the Hero and educating them along their journey.
- Shopify says they are "arming the rebels."
Shopify positions itself as the mentor to the millions of entrepreneurs using its platform.
5. Crossing the Threshold
This moment occurs when the Hero fully commits to the adventure, both physically and emotionally. There is no return to how life once was. The Hero has accepted the challenge and decided to face it head-on, even if it changes the entire course of their life.
For brands, think of this moment as when the customer has decided to make a change. Maybe they want to live a healthier lifestyle, start a business, or get married.
Continuing the Shopify example, they have tons of free resources designed to get a person to this pivotal point. Then, once the person is ready to start their business, Shopify becomes the obvious choice of platform.
Boom – that’s the end of Act 1. I’ll be back next week to break down Acts 2, 3, and their respective components.
If you enjoyed today’s piece, the biggest compliment you can give me is by replying to share your thoughts.
See you next week,
Up your game
A few resources I found helpful this week, which you may too:
🧵 A tactical thread detailing how the author raised millions solely through cold outreach (and how you can too)
📝 A brand strategy to make your startup look bigger than it is
🎧 A podcast from Julian Shapiro and Courtland Allen talking storytelling with Jason Silva and Tim Urban
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