Seeing Yourself in ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’

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by Matthew Lafleur |

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I wrote this speech last week for a group of middle-schoolers. I like the topic and think it is relevant for people like me, decades past the age of junior high students.

Now that the school year is coming to a close, students are about to make a big transition: a new grade, new teachers, and, for some, a new school with all new people.

This transition is incredibly nerve-wracking. Believe me, I understand because when I was in that position, I was terrified. I thought my life was pretty much figured out when I was in junior high. Change was threatening. It felt too much like chaos to me. So I didn’t want anything to change, and was afraid of anything changing.

Hopefully you’re a lot smarter than eighth-grade Matt. Maybe you’re not scared of change and even welcome it. After all, since that time I’ve learned that periods of change are great opportunities for reinvention. Maybe you’re not entirely satisfied with the story of your life so far, and the thought of starting fresh in a new environment is really appealing. If that sounds like you, your adventurous soul will guide you to greatness.

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But on the other hand, maybe the thought of many things changing is terrifying to you. Here’s the thing: That’s still OK. Because no matter if the thought of change is terrifying to you, or if a change is just what you’re looking for, change is coming. It always comes.

My hope is that you endure whatever change life has in store for you and come out of it a hero.

Maybe you’ve never considered yourself a hero before, but you should.

About 1949, a college professor named Joseph Campbell wrote a book called “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” The idea behind the book is that every hero in every story has a similar path: humble origins, a huge challenge that they couldn’t imagine, finding a wise mentor in a distant land, facing the hero’s own insecurities, and ultimately resolving his or her situation.

Needless to say, I’d never thought of myself as a hero. Being diagnosed with a very rare and scary disorder made me never know what tomorrow had in store. At school, I never knew if I was going to trip in the hall or fall on the way to the board, making everyone laugh. I didn’t want anyone to laugh at my disability, so I became ashamed of it.

I encourage you to see yourself as a hero. Ask yourself what element in your life is your main battle, your arch nemesis. In mine it is Friedreich’s ataxia, but for others it may be home life or a family member or a desire to make good grades or substance abuse or the death of someone close.

Life is not always easy. Sometimes, it’s even a bitch.

The bad news is that each of us, no matter who or how old we are, will eventually face a major challenge in life that makes us wonder how we can possibly go on.

The good news is that we can always find a way to go on, no matter what life throws at us.

So remember that you’re a hero, even when you don’t feel like one. The hero with a thousand faces is Odysseus from “The Odyssey,” Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars,” Batman, and countless other characters from myths and stories. But I think heroes can exist in the real world. Maybe I can even be one. Maybe you can, too.

There is a motto I live by that I probably copied, but I don’t know from where. It goes: If life were easy, you wouldn’t be a hero.

Be a hero, even when it‘s not easy.

Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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