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by Jim Herbert

Every summer when I was a kid my mom, dad and I would make the long drive from Detroit to New York to visit my paternal grandparents who lived in a little village named Pelham, just north of the city. Since I had no devices or distractions like my daughter has these days, I spent much of the 12 hour car trip simply staring out the backseat window of our forest green Chevy Impala, watching the mileposts along the side of the road. Each time we passed the bigger number mile markers like Mile 100 or Mile 200, I would celebrate as we moved closer to our destination. As I look back now, I can’t help but notice how that younger version of myself was foreshadowing just how much crossing thresholds and measuring mileposts would matter to me through my entire life. Basically, I like to measure and keep track of everything. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

Like each of you, I have crossed many mile markers in my journey through this lifetime. Another major mile marker of life inches closer on the not too distant road ahead as I prepare to turn 60 next week. Unlike that younger version of myself riding towards New York, I’m not celebrating getting closer to the end of this journey, but I’m also not afraid of crossing this next mile marker. I can’t help but feel like the best is yet to come for me.
For many years, I have been a student of the work of writer and teacher Joseph Campbell who is most known for his work titled The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In this groundbreaking piece of literature, Campbell outlines his theory for the structure of the journey of the archetypal hero that is found in all the myths of human history,
regardless of cultural or theological connections. The stories of Moses, Ulysses, Siddartha, Gilgamesh, Luke Skywalker and even Harry Potter all follow the basic standard path of what Campbell called the monomyth. In the monomyth, the hero is called to an adventure, has a victory in a crisis situation and returns home transformed to share their gifts. Years later that story arc would be dubbed The Hero’s Journey, a 17-stop circle around the plotline of any individual story arc of life.

The hair on the back of my neck stands up in excitement any time I start thinking about anything as it relates to the topic of The Hero’s Journey. My favorite part of the hero’s journey is the part where the hero crosses the threshold into the world of the unknown. To me, each new chapter of life is like its own individual hero’s journey. As I look back ten years ago to my last major mile marker of turning 50, I can’t help but notice how many thresholds I have crossed moving towards this next big mile marker of 60. To me, crossing this next threshold into the unknown of 60 and beyond is likely to be the greatest hero’s journey of my entire life: the journey to becoming the man I came here to be and to truly understanding the essence of mature masculinity.

Ten years ago I was at one of the lowest points of my life. I had just turned 50. I was not in good health. One of my very best friends and an important mentor to me had just died suddenly of a heart attack. My wife and I had moved from downtown Chicago to the far north side which I was not in favor of since downtown had been my home for almost 25 years. I was depressed, struggling with debilitating anxiety and dangerously close to the
slippery edge of suicidal ideation. I was a mess. In addition to doubling down on my weekly psychotherapy, at my wife’s suggestion I attended an empowerment conference with author Mike Dooley who teaches about the infinite power of our mind, the importance of emotional intelligence and how taking action, any action, breeds clarity
even if that clarity opens a door that your were not expecting. That conference with Mike Dooley was a huge turning point in many ways. One of the most significant and unexpected outcomes was hidden in a brave decision I made a couple of months after the conference ended.

I couldn’t help but notice that 90% of the attendees at this conference were women, so on a whim, I asked a handful of men who I met at the event if they wanted to start a monthly men’s group meeting online since we were spread out all over the country. Little did I know back then how significant that threshold would become. My original vision was that each month a different man would take the lead and organize the next meeting. What happened instead was that I became our de facto leader. Each month I would create a new topic by reading about men’s issues, studying articles about how to run a men’s group and bravely leaning out into the unknown of becoming the leader of a men’s community. Ten years later our original core group still gathers once every month or two depending on my schedule and many men from that community have merged into MenLiving and other men’s communities I have become involved with since. At about the same time I started my own men’s community, I converted my long standing blog into a weekly newsletter. I started by sending that email newsletter to a handful of long term friends and a few of the people who I met at Mike Dooley’s conference. Little by little my list grew and before I knew it, I had written hundreds of stories about the little hero’s journeys that were unfolding in my daily life. I still send that email newsletter out every week. Five years ago, I decided to segment my list so that I could also occasionally send out material specifically to the men on my list. In that first ever men’s newsletter five years ago, I wrote:

“For some time now I’ve been wanting to start a once a week email with content written specifically for men. After nearly six years of sending out a once a week Monday newsletter to many of our friends, family, and followers, I felt a calling to write more often and to write from a new perspective. I can’t think of a time when there has been a greater need for men to work together to heal each other and to create change across the entire planet than the time we are all living in as men right now.”

Five years later, I still feel that those were some of the truest words I have ever written. I made the move to start creating content specifically for men in an effort to challenge myself to get comfortable talking with and being around men, after a lifetime of feeling WAY more comfortable and safe around women. In that first men’s email I went on to mention that I would be writing things about the male archetypes, seeking closure in times of transition and healing from a distorted patriarchy. I then wrote:

“I’ll share things that I’ve read that have inspired me and I’ll be more than happy to listen to things that you have to share as well. My dream is that as our community grows it will create more online men’s circles that we can join from the comfort of our own homes. Ultimately it’s my hope this space will also lead to ongoing in-person gatherings or even multi-day special events. Building the foundation of this platform has been in progress for me for a number of years. Now is the time to build up from that foundation.” Isn’t it amazing that by putting those thoughts out into the cosmos, all the wheels were put in motion in leading me to where I am at today. Shortly after I started my men’s only messages in conjunction with my weekly newsletter, I started exploring other men’s communities. Crossing the threshold into the unknown world of men’s work was terrifying to me, but I did it anyway and along the way I have met many new mentors and teachers who have helped me find my way. As I sit here eight days away from turning 60, I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.

Being a part of MenLiving is in many ways the culmination of a vision that started to bud a decade ago as I crossed the threshold into my fifties, coming from a place of brokenness and entering into a decade of growth and healing. Every single week I have the opportunity to sit in and moderate both virtual and in person circles. I continue my writing and have the honor of being a regular contributor to the MenLiving blog. About two years ago I started to recall fuzzy memories from my childhood that I had been blocking out for five decades. I am still very much in the middle of processing the trauma from the bullying and sexual abuse that were a part of my story when I was nine or ten years old. I have done brave work. I have had brilliant teachers, coaches, mentors and therapists that have helped me make sense of something that in so many ways can feel senseless. One of the biggest things that I have come to accept is that what happened to me is my story, but it is NOT who I am. Being in a safe community of loving and supportive men like we have at MenLiving has in many ways been the elixir I have needed to find my way to a place of atonement, which by the way is the final stage of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey before the hero crosses the return threshold, transformed and ready to share the gifts he received with others for the betterment of all.

So about this turning 60 thing?

With the momentum I’m feeling right now it’s hard not to feel excited about the path ahead. There are mile markers left to cross. There are more lessons to learn. There is work to be done. A world of healthy, intentional and connected men is inching closer to being a reality, one man, one moment and one mile at a time. Who else is ready to be the hero of their own journey? I would love to walk the path with you today, tomorrow and for all the days that lie ahead.

Footnote: If you are unfamiliar with the concept of the male archetypes and mature masculinity, check out one of my all time favorite articles about the four male archetypes by Brett McKay of The Art of Manliness

About Jim Herbert

Jim is the founder and director of The MindSmith Academy, a platform for mindset work, mindfulness training and self-development. Over the years Jim has had the benefit of working with countless teachers and mentors that have helped him synthesize his own signature brand of teaching. Jim’s method of doing the work is highly spiritual in nature, but it is not tied to any one specific spiritual tradition. Jim splits his time between Chicago, Illinois and New Buffalo, Michigan with his Divine wife Christiana and his Magical daughter Emma. In addition to yoga and martial arts, Jim is passionate about all aspects of physical, emotional and spiritual fitness. He is an avid cook, a lover of all things nature and is at his most peaceful state when he is in or near water. Plunge!

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