Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Myths throughout time and across cultures curiously share common characters, themes, and narratives. We call these "archetypes," and they exist because they are shared across humanity. There is debate as to whether this is due to there being an original story that was told to the first humans who then perpetuated these themes through history, or if there is something remarkably and transcendentally human about them. Maybe it's both.
Either way, one of the most salient and common archetypal myths is the "Hero's Journey." It's a story that has been retold countless times in recent, let alone ancient, history. There is an ordinary, soon-to-be hero that receives a call to action. The hero must leave the "normal world" for an extraordinary one. S/he (although mythologically speaking it's usually a he) encounters a mentor of some kind who tests him. He experiences some kind of temptation or weakness, encounters the perceivably insurmountable beast (usually a dragon) and loses, maybe even dies, only to be reborn with a stronger resolution to defeat the dragon and obtain the treasure that is guarded by this beast. He of course slays the dragon, obtains the reward and returns to the original world. Only now it's different. Now he is a hero, waiting for the next call to action.
Think Harry Potter. Luke Skywalker. Bilbo Baggins. Neo from the Matrix. Or Katniss Everdeen.
It's archetypal because it speaks to something deep within our humanity. Our desire for adventure. Our fear of the deadliest beasts.
"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." - Joseph Campbell
All of us, our children included, have a desire to be called to action, but we have dragons that keep us from crossing the threshold into the world of adventure. That which we most desire is in the place where we're most afraid to look.
For myself as a child that was water. I grew up surrounded by water (most of the year it was frozen, but either way). I craved it! But I was afraid of drowning and eventually afraid of looking stupid for not knowing how to swim. Water was my dragon and I successfully avoided it for over a decade and a half. Until one day, with the unlikeliest of mentors, I crossed the threshold into adventure and literally dove into the deep end.
I slayed my decade old dragon in one day and when I returned from that adventure I was changed. Not only was a I free from my fear of water, I was empowered to know that I was capable of overcoming my fears in general. I became a dragon slayer!
Each of our children have a deep-seated and human need to slay their dragons. With our help we can guide them to the darkest caves, equipped with courage and the necessary skills and tools to confront their fears. Maybe they fear public speaking or reading. Maybe they fear social situations. Maybe they fear losing you and being alone.
They want to defeat these dragons. They want it so badly.
Let them go there. Let them battle. Let them experience loss and the rebirth of trying again. And then rejoice when you see them standing victorious.