I was always a bookworm; I grew up reading novels in lieu of living a life. For as long as I can remember, I lived vicariously through the experiences of fictional heroes. Whether it was Tris Prior or Jane Eyre, I pictured myself in the shoes of these heroines. Deep down, a part of me suspected I would one day be a hero too, that I would grow up to live a life of epic adventure.
Yet I am 20 years old and I have incited zero revolutions, I have defeated zero enemies, I have been part of zero epic romances. I was not born to be a hero; I am more likely to save a dragon than to slay one. I grew up believing I was destined for greatness, but I never stopped to consider the fact that greatness doesn’t come in a “one size fits all” package. The hero is not the only significant character in the story.
Lately I’ve spent a lot of time wondering which character archetype I best fit, as if literary tropes are as good a measure of personality types as the Myers-Briggs or Enneagram systems. I know I am not the hero, I am certainly not the villain (I’m far too much of a goodie two shoes), and I can’t quite see myself as a sidekick. For a while I believed my role was merely that of narrator: I watch other people live their lives, and I recount the tale. I may chronicle the misadventures of those around me, but that doesn’t mean my life was meant to be lived on the sidelines.
There was a day this week where quite a few people told me I’d given them good advice, and it gave me this warm glowy feeling inside. It’s the same feeling I get when people tell me my blogs have touched them emotionally, or helped them understand themselves. And that was when I realised what character I am. I am the mentor archetype, my purpose in this life is to guide others. It is no accident that I have not lived a heroic life, because that is not my path. I look at the gifts which fate has bestowed on me, and I see those gifts as tools to help others. I am a writer: I look into the soul of humanity and regurgitate what I see so others can read my words and know they’re not alone.
A couple of weeks ago, I stood in the pyjama section of Primark with my best friend. I was somewhat drunk, because we’d gone out for lunch and my lightweight self couldn’t handle a couple of cocktails. Drunk Eliza likes to talk, and spout random philosophical bullshit (so does Sober Eliza, to a certain extent). I stood before the Harry Potter themed pyjama sets, looking at both the Gryffindor and the Ravenclaw ones, and I came out with some speech about how if I were to buy one of these sets of pyjamas, it would be the final decision on which Hogwarts house I belong to. I am forever torn between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, I am equal parts brave and wise, or at least that’s what I like to think.
A couple of days later, I found myself discussing Hogwarts houses with another friend, who told me I wasn’t a Gryffindor because bravery isn’t my defining trait. I was mildly offended by this, because I believe I am brave. I’m the kind of brave that travels alone across Eastern Europe for two months, I’m the kind of brave that chooses uncomfortable truths over easy lies, I’m the kind of brave that tells people exactly how she feels about them even when it can only end in embarrassment. But is that my defining trait? Even looking at the things I just listed, I wonder to what extent they are signifiers of bravery. Could they not equally be signifiers of wisdom? I travel to learn about the world and myself; I am honest because I pursue knowledge and wisdom through truth; I tell people the truths of my heart because I know that is the only honest way to live. I am a Ravenclaw, whether I want to admit it or not. I am wiser than I am brave. I am a mentor, not a hero.
When I think back through the people I have admired in my life, they were not the Gryffindors of this world, they were Ravenclaws too. The people I have idolised in my life have always been teachers. The people I admire are those who dedicate their life to helping others. My heroes were the school teachers who supported me, my hero is the university lecturer whose classes have been the highlight of my week since January. Now the semester is over I have to content myself with stalking her twitter, soaking up the wisdom of her words, even if I have to scroll through lots of tweets about Star Wars to find it. Sometimes it’s more about the mentor themself than what they have to teach. They become the embodiment of what we have to learn, and what we seek to become.
Many mentors in literature were once in the role of the hero. Look at Haymitch in The Hunger Games, he was in the same position as Katniss once; he is only the mentor rather than the hero because of the point in time at which the story takes place. The label that defines his character is not a fixed entity.
Our labels change throughout our lives. Who we think we are changes over time, as we discover new parts of ourselves or experience new situations. It’s okay if we don’t figure ourselves out straight away. Changing the way you identify doesn’t make your past self and past experiences any less valid, it just means you are ready to explore a new dimension of yourself, that you’ve found the key to the door of a room that’s been locked your entire life.
I like labels and systems because I like knowing what pattern I follow. Whether that’s by identifying with fictional character archetypes, or anything else that can be categorised, it’s a fundamental part of who I am. It’s why I love astrology, and systems of personality types. I like putting myself into boxes, I think it’s because I have Mercury in Capricorn.
It’s important for me to have something to identify with, because that’s how I learn about myself. The labels don’t make me who I am, but they give me a point of reference to relate to.
Healing and mentoring isn’t something we just do for others, it’s also an integral part of our relationship with ourselves. Lately I have made it my priority to heal myself. I have some wounds which go back years, others which have been around for months, and some wounds which are only now in the process of developing. Healing is a process, and I can’t always provide myself with the wisdom I need. Sometimes all you can do is be a witness to your pain, and let it wash over you until it flows somewhere else. You can’t be consumed by it, even if that is the easiest option. I have spent 20 years fighting hard to find a sense of inner peace, and in recent weeks it has finally begun to bloom within me. I look inside myself and it doesn’t hurt there anymore. I’m no longer my own enemy.
In our internal journey, the hero is our future self. When we look within, there are two archetypes at play: the mentor, and the villain. One is doing everything in their power to aid the journey of the future hero, and the other is doing everything they can to thwart them. I don’t listen to my inner villain anymore, when I can help it, because I don’t want to be destroyed. There will be enough people in the world who’ll tell me I’m not worthy, I don’t need to hear it from myself.
I may not be the hero archetype, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to experience a hero’s journey. The mentor was once the hero, the only difference is that heroism is not the end of their story. The mentor lives the journey of the hero and more, because their journey is not over until they have taken all they have learnt and transmuted it into the gift they give to others. They live the hero’s journey in order to heal others through their own experiences.
The theme of my life journey is transformation, and I exist to transform both myself and other people. I look back at the various kinds of emotional trauma I’ve experienced, and they have played such an important role in the development of my craft as a writer. Whether we like it or not, art and pain are inextricably linked. Whilst the two can exist separately, their paths are often interlinked, because through art we can transcend pain and allow use it to help others heal. Perhaps I will not grow up to save the world, perhaps I will never start a revolution that alters the course of history, but if I can transform one person, if I can ignite internal revolutions within people’s souls and hearts, I will know that I am living my true purpose, and that, in a way, I have become my own brand of hero and achieved my own definition of greatness.