League of Everyday Heroes: Dr. Clive Williams

 In Interviews, League of Everyday Heroes

The next to enter our League of Everyday Heroes is the one and only Dr. Clive Williams. Based in Brisbane, Dr. Williams is a psychologist who uses the Hero’s Journey to help his clients to foster change. He authored the sensational A Mudmap for Living, which applies Joseph Campbell’s model to our life’s journey. Dr. Williams is also the author of his own successful blog. We had a discussion with Dr. Williams about his work and his own hero’s journey.

How would you describe your work?

I’m a psychologist who uses Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a template (or as I say, a mudmap) for change. Psychology is the business of change, whether it’s trying to improve academic performance, organisational culture, your marriage, your health or your anxiety, psychology provides strategies in navigating and achieving change.

For me, the Hero’s Journey is a framework that helps me to facilitate the change process in a way no other technique does. It encourages the client to view their life, their current dilemmas as a hero’s journey. Every hero’s journey, whether it’s Snow White, David Copperfield, Hamlet or Katniss Everdeen, is really a story of someone faced with what initially appears as as overwhelming problem and the story of how they resolve the problem. The Hero’s Journey is problem solving in story form. Jospeh Campbell proposed that life is a series of hero’s journeys, and that these are occurring in our lives whether we are aware of them or not. At first I thought this was the silliest idea I’d ever heard but after trying to prove him wrong, I’ve come to the conclusion that he was right. Now I’m trying to find ways to document and find evidence for these recurring hero’s journeys in people’s lives.

Could you tell more about your book A Mudmap: for Living The Hero’s Journey?

The book came about as a result of clients wanting to know more about the hero’s journey. As well I wanted to document in someway, how this storyline structure appeared in my own life and how (after initially trying to prove Campbell wrong), I came to see more and more evidence that my life was indeed a series of hero’s journeys. Once I began applying the structure to my everyday life, it was if I could see for the first time. I felt like Neo in the Matrix where he goes from doubting himself and begins to see everything as a series of zeroes and ones. The book details each stage of the Hero’s Journey in everyday language, devoid of psychological jargon or theories. It’s an aid to identifying where you are in your own current hero’s journey, what to expect at this stage and what is required to progress to the next stage and move close to resolving your life dilemma.

How do you describe the Hero’s Journey?

I sometimes think of it as a skeleton. Every person is unique even though the basics never change (two eyes, two ears, two legs etc). Underneath this variety however is a very similar skeleton. This is the same for life. For every individual and unique life, there is a skeleton and a hero’s journey structure underneath. If you know about the structure, the hero’s journey, you have a guide for life. If you don’t, you have to work it out as you go without anything to help navigate.

What is your perspective on using the word hero with your clients?

I don’t use the word ‘hero’. People have an idea that a ‘hero’ is someone who has achieved a certain task or level or done an amazing feat. They think being a hero is a static thing. I talk with clients about being ‘heroic’, that is taking the risk to move from your comfort zone, taking the risk to be more your true self, taking the risk to tell someone we love how we really feel, what we really need. Such behaviours are ‘heroic’ as they teeter on failure and there are no guarantees that you will succeed but the world needs all of us to more our true selves. Each of us is a ‘Frodo’ waiting to do the things that only we can bring to the world.

Could you tell us about one of your own hero’s journey experiences? How has this impacted you?

I was working in as a manager in a hospital and got shown the front door. Similar to one of those scenes where they give you a box and you leave the building with your pot plant and stapler. I found this exit shocking and moderately traumatic. I had been under the misapprehension that my manager, staff and colleagues had thought I was the best thing since sliced bread (or so they had said many times). This most unwanted Call to Adventure threw me into fear (about the future and what on earth had happened) with overwhelming grief (I loved my job and colleagues and clients). I immediately went into a refusal stage (This can’t be happening!’) This went on for about 6 months. Once I accepted the reality I then crossed my first threshold into being an author. Of course every aspect of my Shadow self declared war on me and repeatedly told me ‘You can’t be a writer! No one will read any book you write’ “Get a real job’ ‘Look at what a failure you were in your last job’, et cetera.

Of course, then, the tests and trials came daily. Writing is solitary and that blank page can be daunting. How does one get published? There were setbacks, rewards (showing snippets to clients who liked the draft), the Supreme Ordeal of making money to pay for family and mortgages (running the business of a full time private practice, being psychologist, marketing person, IT person, web designer, book keeper and account etc). The Resurrection stage came after paying several thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours editing and formatting to have it all lost (reminder to self – never use an editor who uses PC when I use Mac). Finally, however, I published it and it continues to sell and open doors I never knew existed.

How would you suggest someone can become more heroic?

Think of the thing that you need to do that really scares the hell out of you and start working towards doing it. For example, if you tell people in your life you are fine but you aren’t, then get honest. If you need to tell a manager or colleague something important to you but you avoid and then complain later behind their back, then work on a way to say it respectfully to their face. If you are unhappy in a relationship but keep quiet to keep the peace then start figuring out how you really feel and what you really need and tell the person.

For most of us I believe the most scary, heroic moments are going to happen in our homes, in our jobs with people we know and/or care about. These moments will not be one-off but will require you to develop and maintain a voice that gives you and others equal recognition. Remember the hero is the person who puts relationships as equal to their own needs. This is a tricky and tough juggling act. You will drop balls — just remember to pick them back up!

How do you feel about superheroes? Are they beneficial or damaging to the heroism

For me, reading or watching superheroes was always a revolutionary thing to do. My parent considered superhero comics or TV shows as trash. Finding ways to watch Thor or Iron Man was a real test. They can add to our understanding of heroic action as they nearly always follow the Hero’s Journey structure and more often than not now they have a personal dilemma to resolve. They might be able to leap tall buildings or have an invisible plane but they still experience emotional pain, seek connection, just like all of us and experience a long list or trials in resolving such issues.

If you’re a fan of superheroes, who’s your favourite and why? What superhero do you identify with the most?

My first superhero was Thor. I used to get in the back yard and grab any stick that looked remotely like a hammer and throw it around my head to try and fly. Any superhero that flew caught my attention.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

I think following the Hero’s Journey has given me a superpower. I am able to link together the minutiae of everyday life and connect it to the lack or the learning of a key polar opposite skill. For example, clients may often relate a story (often in great detail with considerable emotion) about someone they are having a difficulty with and they want this person to change. They could be talking about how they stack the dishwasher or how they won’t listen. More often than not, such a story is really about a core skill that this client lacks on this particular hero’s journey. We then shift from the minutiae of the story and wanting others to change to identify what they need to do, could do.

What is your vision for the field of heroism?

Not sure only that it’s exciting to see it begin and grow. For many years I thought I was the only one interested in such things but turns out there are lots of us! I’m currently developing a program for a university based on Campbell’s hero’s journey. I don’t think anyone would have taken me seriously about such a program even 5 years ago. I’m most grateful.

At the end of a full day, or after an emotionally draining experience, what is your favourite self-care activity?

Being with my husband. Running and listening to music. Jumping in the pool.

If you could share a single message to everyone in the world, what would the message be and why that message?

Whether you are aware or not, your life is potentially a series of hero’s journeys. I say ‘potentially’ as you need to say ‘yes’ to the Adventure for this to be true. If you say ‘no’, you will become stuck at Stage 3: the refusal stage. I’ve met such people, some who have been stuck for decades. They blame and complain and hate their lives and often themselves. If you say ‘yes’ however to the Adventure, each adventure, wanted or unwanted will help you to become more of who you really are (which may be quiet different to the version, mummy or daddy or your church or government thinks you should be).

There is a map for life. Give the hero’s journey a go. See if it opens doors for you, provides direction when lost or helps you to breath easier when you are scared. Now that is a pretty handy map to have!

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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