All of us have dragons to slay. At work or at home, in personal or professional relationships, each of us is on a Quest to find the treasure or save the prince/princess. Or perhaps, our goal is more prosaic: getting that promotion, standing up to that bully, or finishing that big project.

In his book The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker lists seven story forms which story tellers employ over and over. Each is plot is linked to a fundamental metaphysical Question that we as human beings ask about our own lives. One of those "plots" is that of the Quest: a difficult journey towards a goal. The Quest requires exertion on the part of the hero, who must overcome obstacles to achieve the goal. Examples include Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. The underlying question the storytellers ask about life is:  Can I get what I want?  Will I be able to achieve my goal? Yes! You can achieve your goal. And if you are on a Quest, there are lessons about how you can fulfill your Quest, based on plot elements that go back for as long as people have been telling stories.

The Quest Begins when Something Is Wrong…

Some fearful calamity has taken place, and the hero must act out of necessity, not simple desire. In The Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Frodo’s bucolic existence is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf arrives. Frodo would probably have continued living his quiet life. However, something was amiss in the realm Middle-Earth, something evil, and the Quest begins.  

In your life, it may be that your Quest has begun because something is amiss. If so, you can be grateful for whatever that thing is. There may be a silver lining. When old paradigms break, when sudden changes take place, when a wizard tells you the ring you have hidden away is enchanted, it may be an opportunity to shake up your life and start seeking treasure. 

The Hero of the Quest Feels Unworthy…

The hero of the Quest Story is called to action, and frequently feels unworthy or unable to achieve the task. "After all, I am but a hobbit."  However, in the Quest Story, motivation arises and the hero takes action.

You may have experienced a call. You may be thinking about going back and finishing that degree, enrolling in a weight loss program, going after a promotion, or moving to a new and exciting place. If you are like most heroes, you worry the Quest is too lofty, the goal too noble. If you feel that way, you are the typical Quest hero!  Fulfilling the Quest will involve acknowledging and accepting your resistance and pushing through to get started.

Getting Started on the Quest Is Often the Hardest Part…

One feature of Quest stories is that the hero often has a hard time getting out the door. As soon as the Quest begins, Frodo must immediately contend with the arrival of the Black Riders who are looking for the ring.   

Pointedly, the lesson from this Quest Story is that once our goal is sighted, almost immediately can we expect to encounter "Black Riders."  Identify one simple act you can take toward your goal (making a phone call, sending an email, signing up for a single class) and then push through the resistance that will arise to keep you from taking that one step. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that every Quest Story gets off to a bumpy start.

The Quest Will Take You Through Unfamiliar Territory, So Pace Yourself…

The first problem the hero and his companions must face is that the terrain through which they journey is usually wild and unfamiliar. Unexplored territory is to be expected; be prepared.

Fortunately, the dangers are not continual. The hero and his companions may go through a succession of terrible, near-fatal ordeals, but they interrupted by periods of respite where the group recoup their strength. The message is clear, manage the pace of your Quest so you don’t burn yourself out. 

The Quest Involves Both Allies and Adversaries……

A distinctive mark of the Quest Story is the fact that the protagonist is not alone as he/she pursues the goal. A key feature of the story is presence of companions and friends – allies – who accompany the Quester. As you pursue your goal, look for your allies. Some of them will be friends and relatives you have had for many years. Your Quest will probably require that you reach out to new companions. You may even wish to say, "In order to fulfill this Quest (or achieve this goal), I will need allies. Will you be one of them?" Presenting your goal and asking for help is a powerful way of enrolling others in its pursuit.

At the Story’s End…

The protagonist has achieved the goal, and the life-transforming treasure has been won. You too can pursue your own Quest, but heed the truism that achieving a valuable goal is never an easy thing. Take that first step, which may have been just to read this article and think hard about what is calling to you!

Andy Black is a playwright and a speaker with AccelaWork.

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