Today, you're going to learn how to think mythically, to see how ancient stories can reflect your journey through life and business, and gain some insights to help you on your way.
Now, you might be thinking, “Hold on, myths and legends are all about witches and fairies and monsters and dragons. That's all very well for kids, but I'm a business owner. I live in the real world. What's this got to do with my life and my business?”
A whole lot, according to today's guest teacher, Daniel Allison, a bestselling author and oral storyteller.
He's going to share a simple yet profound story from Borneo, and along the way he'll stop to discuss how it might apply to your life, your hero's journey. And he'll give you some tools you can use when looking at other stories.
Today's Guest Host
Daniel Allison is a USA Today bestselling author, oral storyteller, and creative coach from Scotland. His fortnightly podcast, House of Legends, features myths and legends from across the world and has been downloaded over 100,000 times. Daniel’s debut novel, The Shattering Sea, and his story collections, Scottish Myths & Legends and Finn & The Fianna, are available now.
SPI 578: How to Use the Power of Myth to Unlock Your Hero's Journey with Daniel Allison
Pat Flynn: Hey, hey, it's Pat here. You're about to listen to something a little different on the show today. It's not our usual Friday format, where I follow up on Wednesday's episode. Don't worry, those aren't going away forever. Just a little break to bring in something even more special, in my opinion. And this episode and the next few are a part of our Teaching Friday series, which we do with our SPI Pro members. We have an incredibly talented pool of people within SPI Pro. So we thought, why not give our Pros the spotlight, and teach you here on the podcast every once in a while? It's just one of the perks of being a part of Pro, in fact, is this possibility. With each episode, you get to hear a different Pro teach you something special from their area of expertise. Without further ado, I'll let them take it away. Oh, and if you want to find out more about SPI Pro and be a part of it, you can go ahead and [email protected].
Speaker 2: Welcome to The Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it's all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later.
Speaker 3: And now your guest host, he can do a mean Golum impersonation, Daniel Allison.
Daniel Allison: Hello, I'm Daniel Allison. I'm a bestselling author and oral storyteller from Scotland, and I'm a coach for writers and oral storytellers. I run the Roundhouse Storytelling School, an online school for oral storytellers and lovers of myths and legends, and I'm the host of the House of Legends Podcast. As an author, I write folklore collections, as well as fantasy novels set in prehistoric Scotland. And I currently do all of this from the island of Phuket in Thailand. Today, I'm going to be teaching you how to think mythically, to see how ancient stories can reflect your journey through life and business, and provide you with insights to help you on your way. Now, I know you might be thinking, "Hold on, myths and legends are all about witches and fairies and monsters and dragons. That's all very well for kids, but I'm a business owner, I live in the real world. What's this got to do with my life and my business?"
Daniel Allison: Fair question. Consider this. What did people do at the end of the day, 100, 1,000s, 10,000, or even 100,000 years ago? When the work was done and everyone had eaten, they gathered around the fire and they told stories. Just the kids? No, adults told stories to other adults. And as well as sharing gossip and information, people told stories of giants, talking animals, shapeshifters, journeys into other worlds. And we're not talking about frivolous people, we're talking about hunters, farmers, traveling traders, people who lived hard lives and had to be canny to survive. And yet, they told fantastical stories, because there is a part of the human mind that thinks in this language, the language of myth, the language of dreams. It's a language that we spoke in African caves and that echoes in our favorite modern stories like Star Wars and Game of Thrones.
Daniel Allison: By speaking to this part of us, a story can capture our hearts, can light a torch in the dusty, painted caves of our minds, and in a way that dry facts just can't manage. And can we apply these stories directly to our modern technological world? Yes. The mythologist Joseph Campbell observed a pattern within myths that he called the hero's journey and he identified it in stories from places as far apart as India, Western Europe and West Africa, spanning continents and millennia. Great stories speak to people in all times and all places. Our world may be changing fast, but we haven't changed since the Paleolithic. So I've made this case for applying myth to our lives, and hopefully you're on board. So how do we do it? I'm going to show you how this works by telling you a simple yet profound story from Borneo, and stopping along the way to discuss how it might apply to your life, your hero's journey.
Daniel Allison: After that, I'll give you some tools which you can use when looking at other stories. So let's get to it. This is a story called Half-Boy. A long time ago and a short time ago, there was and there was not a village. This village was surrounded by lush forests, rocky hills and rushing rivers. Many animals lived in the forest and all kinds of delicious fruits and nuts and edible plants grew there, so the people of the village rarely went hungry. It so happened that in that village, there was born once a boy who was very markedly different from all the other people of that village, for he was a half-boy. What do I mean by that? I mean that quite literally there was only half of him, as if he had been split down the middle with a mighty cleaver. Now, his parents were shocked and disturbed and embarrassed by this. So though they did meet his basic needs, feeding and sheltering him, they mostly ignored him. They focused their attention on his brothers and sisters.
Daniel Allison: And you probably won't be surprised to learn that as he grew up, the other children in the village regarded him as strange and different, and thus, didn't include him in their games and he was left to spend most of his time alone. So the half-boy grew up in his own company. And as he got older, he became ripe with questions. "Why am I a half-boy?" he would ask his parents, the other adults, the village elders, even they didn't have an answer for him. At times, he would ask these questions a lot, and at other times, he would give up and stew in sullen silence. But when he came to about the age of 12 or 13, and some wispy hair began to sprout from his half-chin, these questions came again, and they grew and they grew into a raging torrent. Nobody gave him any answers. So eventually, the half-boy said, "If I can't find the answers I need here, I will go out into the world. And I will travel and I will wonder, and I will take many paths until I do find them."
Daniel Allison: And that is just what he did. He packed a little knapsack and he walked out of the village gates, and nobody watched him go or wished him well. Let's take a quick break here to talk about what we've heard so far. A hero's journey or a hero quest begins when something happens to set our hero apart from their environment. No story begins on the day when nothing much happened. The hero might discover they have a supernatural strength, or be ordered by a bossy wizard to take a magic ring to a faraway mountain. For Half-Boy, the inciting incident happens at birth, his being a half-boy sets him apart. As an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur, you're a bit like our Half-Boy. Either by dint of your own nature or through an inciting incident, like losing your safe job due to COVID, you stand apart from those around you.
Daniel Allison: You're not one of the contented villagers, happy to receive your paycheck every month, you're the outsider. How does that feel? While many of us take pride in being entrepreneurs, we also take on risks, pressures, and we can't take comfort in the safety of the herd. Ultimately, it's all on us. These mythic stories that run through our lives don't just show up once and then disappear. They reappear again and again. We might be living a dozen of them at any one time. I felt like a half-boy growing up. I was a bit different from those around me, unable to join in the games the other kids played. And I was a half-boy again when I had a regular job, and tried to join in the water cooler chat. I just didn't belong there, and on some level, everybody knew it.
Daniel Allison: It's not easy being a half-person, but it pushes you outside the village gates. And that's a good thing, if you want your life to be worthy of a story. I've left the village many times. And my heart sings when I think of those moments, difficult as they might have been at the time. So how can you use this? Well, try asking yourself, "Where in my life right now am I like half-boy? Or when did I walk through the village gates?" This can help you to look at things through a new lens. Ruminating on these questions might help you to realize that you could do with the support of a business community, to serve as a village where you're not the odd one out. It might help you to see that you never celebrated the day you jacked in your job to go solo, and that you need to do that. Thinking in myth helps us step outside our story, gain perspective and gain insight. Let's get back to the story.
Daniel Allison: Half-boy left a village behind and went out into the world. Nobody knows exactly where he went, and nobody knows for how long he wandered. As we all know, it's tough being out in the world and out on the road when you're a half-boy. He might have washed dishes for pennies in a sweaty Parisian kitchen, perhaps he became a proficient pickpocket while living in a Berlin squat. This time, must surely have had its moments, bursts of heady freedom, when he looked up at the star sky and howled, like a drowning man, suddenly hauled to the surface and filling his lungs with air. But many more were the dark moments. The days wandering the woods, stalked by savage hunger, the nights he was robbed and beaten and left for dead. And of course, the crippling loneliness, the resentment spreading like rot through his soul.
Daniel Allison: And then, one day, Half-Boy was walking down a dirt road through the forest, when he heard the rushing of a river. He came to where the road met the river and stopped. The river lay across the road, he would need to ford it if he wished to continue. But that is not what drew his attention. What drew his attention was the half-boy standing on the far bank of the river, staring at him. Half-Boy stared back at this other half-boy. They were transfixed by one another. Half-Boy stepped into the river, the other half-boy took a step into the river too. Another step, another step, another step, the river rushing around their ankles, then their knees, then their waists, until finally they met in the middle of the river. And there, in the middle of the river, Half-Boy punched the other half-boy.
Daniel Allison: The other half-boy swung at him, smacked him across the jaw, sending teeth flying. Our half-boy lunged at the other half-boy. And now they're underwater wrestling, emerging and gasping for breath, hammering one another with punches, biting and kicking before going under again. Down they went, up they came, down they went, up they came, until finally they're emerged from the river a whole boy. Or you might say, a whole man. What did wandering the wilds look like for you? Your first years as an entrepreneur might have felt like this, or you might feel like this now, lost in an unending forest of YouTube videos, all telling you to do different things. Scrambling for clients who never bite, disastrous launches, your partner glaring at you as they pick up the check again. You know there's something out there for you, but you can't quite see it. Maybe it's blogging, maybe it's podcasting, maybe I should buy this course, maybe I shouldn't.
Daniel Allison: For me, this was the years I spent as a support worker, watching people half my age get promoted above me. And meanwhile, getting up in the early morning darkness to write before work, year after year. I looked like I was going nowhere, but I knew there was something out there for me. Whether this is you now or you 10 years ago, this story not only gives us space to reflect on the journey, but it also says to us, "It's not just you." It's not just you. You're not the first half-person to wander lost in the woods. This is a mythic pattern, a deep current that moves through lives from tribal Borneo, to Birmingham, to Brooklyn. It tells us that no matter how much despair life might heap upon you, if you keep on going, you'll find there is something else for you. There is something else seeking you.
Daniel Allison: I wonder, when Half-Boy met the other half-boy, did you expect them to hug and weep with joy? I can't remember what I thought when I first heard this story, it was long ago, but I think I probably did, which is silly because, well, when the big moment comes, when opportunity throws open your door, it's not usually so tidy, is it? In life, the wrestle in the river, it might mean some painful hours on a therapist's couch, coming to terms with the parts of you that you've locked away. In business, maybe it's when the book deal or the dream podcast booking comes your way, and you find yourself wanting to run away and hide, scared by the stark reality of the thing you've worked so hard for all these years, and the potential for failure. Success can be every bit as frightening as failure, but the stories tell us, "Don't feel bad, it's not just you." Let's get back to the story.
Daniel Allison: The newly whole young man emerged from the river. Presumably he dried off and dealt with the challenges of his new clothing situation, before going on his way. He hadn't traveled far, he hadn't traveled far at all, when he saw the smoke of cooking fires, rising above the trees ahead of him. He heard children playing, he heard laughter and chatter, and up ahead, he spied the gates of a village. The young man walked through the gates and into the village. And as he walked, he was surprised to see people gathering around him. They were smiling at him warmly, and it was almost as if they knew him. "Hello," he said, "we, I mean I, I was hoping I might stay here tonight. But as I look around, I can't help noticing that you seem to recognize me."
Daniel Allison: "We do, said an elder woman, we do. The thing is, you don't recognize us. You don't recognize that this village is the very village which you left behind you, to go out into the world, seeking the other half of you. And because you were young and missing certain vital parts of yourself, you didn't notice during those years that every single person in the village was a half-person, and that we all have done as you have done. But on this particular day, it is you who has returned. And so tonight, it is you who we will celebrate." And celebrate they did. Soon, the center of the village was full of music. People were rushing home to put on their finest and brightest clothes before coming back out to dance and to eat and drink, and to celebrate the young man who had gone out half and come back whole.
Daniel Allison: And in that village, down that dusty road, deep within the forests of your heart, they're dancing and singing even now. I once read about the initiation practices of an Australian Aboriginal tribe. When it's time for the boys to be initiated into manhood, the men will come running and yelling into the children's compound and pull the children from the arms of their mothers. The mothers will hold onto them, screaming and pleading with the men to stop. The children are terrified. The thing is, it's all an act. It's theater designed to create a mindset in the boys that will prepare them for what's to come. When our hero arrives at, or rather returns to the village, we discover that something similar happened. In truth, everybody did watch him go. In truth, a hundred prayers were said for him that night. But he had to leave the village feeling utterly alone, or the whole journey, the whole ceremony, the whole initiation wouldn't work.
Daniel Allison: A hero quest like this is an initiation. It takes us from one stage of life to another, it remakes us. That's exactly what being an entrepreneur can do. You break away from the everyday and the ordinary, you wander alone and you feel lost. And eventually, if you keep at it, you find something that seems like it was also seeking you. It's as if it was made for you, it fits you perfectly. And when you return to your own village, you come with the knowledge, with ideas, with art, with new creations, which make your village a richer place. That's what the hero quest is about. Not slaying dragons, but uncovering your hidden gifts so that you may return and be of service. So I invite you to remember that you are on your own hero's journey, and to take pride in being one who stepped out onto the road, even if no one was looking or wishing you well.
Daniel Allison: Take pride in having gone through those wrestling matches in order to come back and serve, and find solace and strength in the tougher moments, that you're a part of a story, which is itself willing you onwards, like a great roaring river surging through caverns deep beneath the world, carrying all of us half-people onwards. I hope you enjoyed the story of Half-Boy and this introduction to mythic thinking. I'd like to thank Michael Meade, whom I first heard the story from, and the people of Borneo who have carried this story. Half-Boy is a very simple story, it's great as an introduction to this stuff. But there are many other stories, of course, all of which have their own unique voices, some of which will speak to you more than others.
Daniel Allison: In every case, I'd say the best way to start a dialogue with a story is to simply ask, "When was I? Or where am I?" When did I spend years in silence, sewing a shirt from nettles? Where in my life right now am I like Hades, unwilling to let go of Persephone? If you'd like more stories, you can find my books at all major online bookstores, and you can find my podcast, House of Legends, wherever you listen to podcasts. You can find me on Instagram at @houseoflegendspodcast. And if you'd like to study folklore and tell stories yourself, you can join my community at roundhouseschool.com. Also, as a special gift for Smart Passive Income listeners, I've prepared a short course around a slightly longer and more complex story. The Scottish tale of The Crow's Wife, which you can get delivered to your inbox by visiting roundhouseschool.com/spi. It's an ideal next step. Thanks for listening.
Pat Flynn: Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at smartpassiveincome.com. I'm your host, Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess, our series producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland, sound editing by Duncan brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We'll catch you in the next session.