Is Life a Journey? Here Is a Detailed Explanation.


Life is a journey that contains many journeys. The journey from the cradle to the grave has several phases and ideally culminates in total presence. And every significant goal or realization we achieve is a result of an individual journey along the way. 

The Journey of a Lifetime

In his famous series of interviews with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell offers a brilliant insight to those who are growing old. He admonishes that in advanced age there is nothing left to achieve or create. 

The so-called golden years are meant to enjoy every moment. In a sense, it is a perfect opportunity to become enlightened: leave all the worldly worries behind, and live in day-tight compartments, drinking in every moment as if it were the last.

Such psychologists as Piaget and Erikson have divided the human lifespan into a number of stages, from four to eight. But if you consider the total human lifespan, it more closely resembles the Aristotelian dramatic arc that consists of the beginning, middle, and end.

This is why life is first a journey from birth to death. The middle of it is where the majority of the individual, standalone journeys take place. 

Beginning: Birth to Adolescence

We are born into an environment that immediately begins to impose its influence and demands that we comply and adapt. Our parents teach us the basics – how to hold a spoon, how to tie our shoes, and so on. 

School teachers give us broad knowledge and also place demands on our behavior. The church, the state, society, and the media all lay claim to our minds and tell us what to do, what to think, and how to be.

Collectively, in terms of development, we can call this period “Thou shalt.” It is not very interested in our inborn potential or in our self-actualization. 

We begin to notice this conflict on our way to adolescence. As we enter this crucial phase of our lives, we begin to sense, sometimes quite intensely, that we are at odds with most things we’ve learned over our childhood. 

This is where the term “difficult age” stems from. Yes, many of us become difficult because we begin to realize that we’ve been manipulated and lied to. Sex won’t kill us and drugs won’t make us crazy. 

Joseph Campbell retells Nietzsche’s story of the camel, the lion, and the dragon, where the lion (the adolescent growing into an adult) must kill the dragon, “and the dragon’s name is Thou Shalt.” (source)

The journey of an adolescent is to shed the useless and the harmful and to become a master of the societal tools as opposed to being their slave. This is an entrance into adulthood.

Middle: Adulthood

Adulthood is a journey in itself as well. But it is also filled with individual journeys that help us mature and, ideally, self-actualize. 

Adulthood is a journey of self-realization. In it, our job is to live to the fullest extent of our capacity, to “light the candle from both ends,” as Osho would put it. 

To realize our full potential, we must undergo one journey after another, each one revealing some great insight and potentially preparing us for the next journey. 

Let me give you an example of one of my journeys, which I will describe in detail in another article. But in brief, in 2006, I tore the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in my left knee during a dance lesson (don’t ask).

In my efforts to recover, I was given all kinds of advice that was easily available but not very satisfying. Essentially, the only option seemed a rather harsh surgery that was in itself another trauma. 

In other words, my environment kept insisting that I had to go with an accepted, common method of recovery, and no alternatives existed. But I did not want to go under the knife, and something inside me told me I had to look for another way.

Long story short, I ended up traveling to two different countries and learning a highly specific self-healing method before I eventually received my recovery.

However, as a result of this journey, I learned several important lessons:

  • The establishment will always have its plans for me, which I don’t have to accept.
  • Ideal solutions are not usually easily available. They have to be hunted for or created. 
  • Great results are almost always attained with the help of wise mentors and knowledgeable guides. 

Each such journey advances us on our true path. But we need to recognize them as journeys and actively seek them if we want to fulfill our full potential. 

End: Old Age

The culmination of a life well-lived is a deep realization that we have done what we needed to do in life. We lived, we loved, we ate, we drank, we saluted ours and others’ successes with a glass of wine. 

We have made mistakes, but we lived our own life, not someone else’s. And now is the time for us to chill, to gradually wind down and enjoy the present moment without any goals or aspirations. 

The time of achievement and endeavor is behind us, and this is actually a magnificent period when we can simply be rather than do. Yes, doing will be involved. But whatever we do in the final chapter is done consciously, living one moment at a time. 

This is a mature kind of bliss, the reward for a life of self-actualization. It is a wonderful culmination that has its own, distinct joy – the joy of simply being and not worrying about the future anymore. 

A Multitude of Journeys

The maturation process and self-actualization are synonymous. A fully self-actualized human being is a mature human being. The essential quality of having achieved maturity or self-fulfillment is wisdom.

Wisdom is a combination of education and experience acquired through active living. A passive life cannot bring enough experience. And education gained purely from books without acting upon it is useless.

Therefore, a life well lived must contain a series of journeys that:

  • Require theoretical knowledge (book smarts) to complete them
  • Demand that we launch forward into ventures and try new things
  • Give us valuable experience (street smarts)

Stages of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey

You may be already familiar with the stages of the Hero’s Journey, as described by Joseph Campbell in his famous book The Hero with a Thousand Faces

But here is a quick breakdown so you could discern these journey elements as you go through or try to identify your own. 

Campbell outlines 17 stages of the hero’s journey:

  1. The Call to Adventure
  2. Refusal of the Call
  3. Supernatural Aid
  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
  5. The Belly of the Whale
  6. The Road of Trials
  7. The Meeting with the Goddess
  8. Woman as the Temptress
  9. Atonement with the Father 
  10.  Apotheosis
  11.  The Ultimate Boon
  12.  Refusal of the Return 
  13.  The Magic Flight
  14.  Rescue from Without
  15.  The Crossing of the Return Threshold
  16.  Master of the Two Worlds 
  17.  Freedom to Live

Many of these stages have titles that are kind of self-explanatory. Others really do need some explanation. I won’t attempt to explain all of them here. 

Instead, let’s take a look at some of the examples of various journeys we can undergo in our lives and perhaps identify some of these elements in real-life context. That will be more helpful, I think.

Examples of Life Journeys

Here are a few examples of different types of journeys that we are likely to undergo in our lives. 

Physical Healing

Earlier I gave you an example of my own journey that resulted in me healing my knee without surgery. If I had listened to my local doctors and gone for a surgery, that would have been a very different journey, perhaps more painful and filled with different lessons.

A very important thing to understand about getting a trauma or becoming sick is that you should not necessarily view it as a negative event. Very often, an illness can be one of the most liberating and educational challenges to encounter in life.

A major illness is almost always a Call to Adventure which is a real journey, with some failure and disappointment on the path to triumph. 

My own knee healing journey taught me several lessons I listed above. Your healing will bring you different takeaways. But if you ever happen to have a serious health issue, be on the lookout for an unorthodox solution because it may open your eyes in very unexpected ways. 

Many well-known doctors and holistic healers were inspired to start their own practices after receiving a “miraculous” healing. 

One of my favorite examples is Dr. Schulze of herbdoc.com, from whom I often buy herbal solutions. As a teenager, he was on the brink of death due to an inborn heart condition. Doctors told him that his only option was a heart surgery. 

But after witnessing his ward-mate die on the operating table, he ran away from the hospital and eventually found his own way of healing his body. Later, after mastering herbal medicine, he started his own company and now helps thousands of people get well.  

Psychological Healing

Mental and emotional distress often causes us to go on a journey of healing. This type of  journey is also a gift, if we have the insight to regard it that way. 

I am not talking about serious, inborn mental disease that is hard to treat even with medication. I am likely talking about something that happens to a person which sends him into a depression, anxiety, or a prolonged period referred to as the “dark night of the soul.”

Finding yourself in this dark place is an example of what Joseph Campbell refers to as the Belly of the Whale. It is a scary place from which there seems to be no escape.

I’ll give you my own example of descending into a dark, scary place. At the tender age of 30, I found myself completely burned out as a result of working and studying full-time while trying to build a business on the side. 

I had major anxiety and depression, and panic attacks literally prevented me from driving my car. Well, I sold the car and went on a wrong type of vacation with a lot of moving around and intense sight-seeing, all around Italy.

Italy was beautiful, but I came back home even more exhausted, and that was the beginning of my own Dark Night of the Soul. 

I probably had clinical depression – not sure. I was hell-bent on healing myself without resorting to medication. Maybe that decision set me back some time.

But all I know is that it took me about three years to recover well, and another couple of years to recover fully. I eventually felt better than ever before, even better than when I was a teenager. 

But I had to learn a TON along the way. That journey taught me courage, persistence, and the power of psychocybernetics, among other things. 

Self-Expression

Interestingly, the journey of self-expression very often results in material success, which I’ll talk about next. It is a journey from timidity and lack of self-confidence to a sense of self-worth.

Who would ever need what I have to say, sell, sing, or create?” That is the question which sometimes launches a person into an adventure of self-expression. It takes tremendous courage because the fear of failure can be overwhelming.

Perhaps the most powerful example in modern times is J. K. Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter books.

A single mother with barely any means, armed with an old laptop on which she wrote her first Harry Potter book, she had a lot to fear. She was told her writing was terrible. She had to live in cheap rooming houses and write in coffee shops.

And most interestingly, she was told that children’s books don’t make money, so she shouldn’t get her hopes up. A great thing to hear for a writer of children’s books. Talk about the Road of Trials. 

It took her tremendous courage to keep going in the face of adversity. And it took courage to recognize the face of Harry Potter when its faint contours first touched her imagination. 

Her journey of self-expression resulted in massive material success and self-fulfillment. 

Material Success

This one is self-explanatory. We humans live in a world in which we depend on money to live. And history abounds with people who achieved tremendous material success as a result of an arduous journey. 

The best book on this subject is Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Here is my video in which I give my view of the value of this book:

One of the best and most well-known examples is Tony Robbins. He faced great adversity early in life when his mom kicked him out of the house, and he had to fend for himself in his mid-teens. 

That was a special kind of a Call to Adventure – a call that could not be refused 🙂

Needless to say, money became top concern for young Tony. His journey is well-known. He has been a massive material success for a few decades now. Is he brilliant? Yes. but most importantly, he had the courage to pursue things most other people never dared.

Romantic Story

Boy gets girl. Girl gets boy. Human gets human. 

A romantic union between two loving souls is a culmination of many a fairy tale, myth, and personal journey. It can also be an element within a journey, as in the Meeting with the Goddess journey stage. 

A very good example is my short-lived romance with a goddess I met in Czech Republic while looking for a solution to heal my knee without surgery. More than a woman with whom I became involved romantically, she was also a goddess who had pretty good knowledge of self-healing.

No, she did not heal my knee. But she opened my eyes to the possibility of self-healing, and that was a pivotal insight in my knee-healing journey. We only knew each other for a few days, but that was a deeply meaningful encounter with a goddess. 

An Escape

Escaping a confining situation is another kind of a journey. The situation can take any form and can be defined as the Belly of the Whale. We already talked about escaping a psychological prison in the section on Psychological Healing.

But if you ever find yourself in such a situation, know that you definitely have answers and solutions. And the key to an escape is hidden in your psyche. 

I really recommend that you read this article I wrote that details this type of a journey.

And for a physical, vivid example from my own journey of an escape from a reality I did not like, here is a video I made:

Well, I hope this guide will help you identify and undertake your own journey in life, probably more than one. 

To your success and freedom,

Philip S. 

Philip Saparov

Philip Saparov is a Life Purpose Coach and a teacher of Awakened Entrepreneurship. He writes on how to become a successful entrepreneur and gain freedom, no matter where you're starting.

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