The Hero’s Journey of an average person pulled into a trek of trial, and eventual transformation always has the victorious ending, but what is often overlooked is how the epic passage begins. A happy event can trigger the call to action for a  journey.  Having a new baby can inspire a parent to stop smoking or eat healthier. A job change or promotion can spark new confidence for someone to step out of their comfort zone. In the movie The Matrix, Neo gets a mysterious message on his computer to “wake up.”  But often, if the original call to action is not jarring, it is ignored.

As much as he disliked his life on Tatooine, Luke Skywalker initially passed on the invite from Obi-Wan to help save Princess Leia. It was not until Luke found his aunt and uncle killed by stormtroopers that he stepped into the adventure. Like these fictional stories, real-life epic journeys emerge from brutal life circumstances or a single terrible event.

  • M.K Gandhi is forcefully removed from a train in South Africa
  • Marco Polo enters Kublai Khan’s court
  • Malala’s blog depicting life under the Taliban rule gets her shot
  • Ariana Huffington collapsing at work from exhaustion

For many, these dramatic calls to action can be the loss of a loved one, getting fired from a job, financial ruin, or a decline in physical or mental health.  The current COVID-19 situation makes all these life-changing events a real possibility for millions of people.  The life and death severity, as well as the harsh economic blow from the virus containment, will impact everyone. 

Mark Twain said that history does not repeat, but it does rhyme, and unfortunately, in the case of COVID-19, his statement holds. In another era, a more severe virus became a call to action for an entire population and sent the world in a new direction.

 The Plague or Black Death of the dark ages was a pandemic that killed about one-third of the population of Europe. The disease moved fast, killing 25 million people in Europe within three years.  The condition traveled two and a half miles per day almost as quickly as the news was communicated by foot, so it entered a community fast and without notice.  The deaths were indiscriminate, attacking rich and poor alike as well as religious and government leaders.  It came in waves, and just when people thought it was over, it would often emerge much more deadly and virulent than before, killing many of the first wave survivors. Advancements in medicine, technology, treatment, and prevention are much different now than they were in the dark ages, but the impact on society and individuals have striking similarities.   

During the Plague, spiritual and political leaders were at a loss to the cause and a cure. The brightest minds of that time assembled and determined some unusual planetary alignment created the epidemic.  Those who survived the Plague were fortunate in several ways. Not only had they survived one of the most significant and deadliest pandemics in history, but they were also able to thrive in a post-plague world that was abundant with opportunities. It was an important factor that brought about the Renaissance, an era that focused on the arts, sciences, and the importance of the individual. 

  • Food was ample and affordable because of the population decline and excess crops.
  • Employment was abundant because there were more jobs than people to staff them.
  • Distrust in the religious and government response to the Plague opened up avenues to scientific research. 
  • Increased trade with Asia and the New World created a wealthy merchant class.
  • The disease reminded people of the wonder and precious nature of life

The darker side of the Hero’s Journey is that transformation comes after a long period of significant discomfort to the point where all seems lost.  Like a bicep that grows strong when doing dumbbell curls to the point of exhaustion, personal growth comes under times of high stress. The cliché of the sharpest sword coming from the hottest fire and hardest hammers is as true for metals as it is for people.

The impact of COVID-19 will not be a gentle nudge to try something different or work on that side project.  The emotional pain and economic destruction caused by the virus will drive many to dig deep into self-examination. Many will set off on a journey to become self-sufficient, independent, and in the process, they will transform.  A large part of the global population will, as Navy Seal Jacko Willick says, “take extreme ownership of their life.”

Hard-working and highly skilled people will lose their means of employment and will look for new career paths. Thankfully, history has shown us that when talented people lose their jobs, they often go to more transformational roles.  Walt Disney was once fired as a cartoonist from the Kansas City Star because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” 

Often when talented people lose their job or businesses, they see it as a call to action and venture into a new calling and challenge. In addition to Walt Disney, these familiar names were fired from their jobs and decided to set off on a different path: Abraham Lincoln, Anna Wintour, Bill Belichick, Howard Stern, Isaac Newton, J.K. Rowling, Jerry Seinfeld, Julius Caesar, Lady Gaga, Lee Iacocca, Madonna, Mark Cuban, Michael Bloomberg, Mozart, Nikola Tesla, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, Steve Jobs, and Thomas Edison. 

Times of economic recession or depression have also been a historically good time to start companies.. The following companies all launched during times of great economic distress General Electric 1890, IBM 1896, General Motors 1908, Disney 1923, Tollhouse Cookies 1933 Burger King 1953, Microsoft 1975, CNN 1980, Smashburger 2008, Kabbage 2008.

There is no sugar coating it. The coming weeks and months will be a time of unprecedented death and economic calamity that this country has not seen since the Great Depression and World War II. These events and their impact shock waves will be the call to action to restart lives and careers. Unlike the masses of the dark ages, the survivors of this pandemic will have an extraordinary amount of data and information, easy access to capital, and a self-reliant growth mindset.  For many, this crisis will trigger a second global Renaissance driven by individuals bravely stepping into the unknown and their own Hero’s Journey of transformation.


Mike Bruening

Keynote Speaker, Writer and Podcast Host [email protected]