Saturday, June 10, 2006

Pathways to the Heroic

Every year I make it a point to take a vacation and find inspiration in new settings. This week I'm in Wailea, Maui. Something about water vistas is conducive, I find, to reflection and invigoration. It was a beach vacation during the winter break of my sophomore year at Duke that I sat overlooking the ocean, reading a book that would influence me greatly: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. As I looked over the water, the thought came to me: this is what I should do with psychology. I should be helping normal people reach their heroic stature, not just assisting troubled individuals with their problems.

It is 30 years after that eventful vacation, and now I face the ocean in a similar fashion as I type these words (ah, the joys of technology that bring wireless communication to nature's settings!) I have not lost the conviction that psychology is not merely a set of tools for coping and solving problems. Properly employed, it provides pathways toward the heroic: toward our living life meaningfully, purposefully, and constructively.

Anthropologist Joseph Campbell identified the essence of heroism across cultures when he described the descent into the depths to battle forces greater than ourselves. The hero is one who accepts this quest, meets the challenges, and brings back from the depths a boon that betters the world. Heroes, however, are not simply motivated to improve the world. Rather, they are driven by the heroic quest itself: the desire to transcend obstacles, test themselves, and be more than they are at present.

Few, few people understand that trading can be one forum for tackling inner forces and outer challenges and continually testing and honing oneself. The successful trader captures the boon of profits, but this is not the crucial motivation. Ask most successful traders if they would put aside what they do in exchange for a guaranteed mechanical system that made money each year, and the majority would decline--just as Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods would have declined if someone offered them millions at the start of their careers in exchange for giving up their sports.

Every meaningful activity--art, science, sport, trading--is a potential pathway to the heroic. This week on this blog, I will outline several keys to the pursuit of the heroic. Perhaps this vacation on the blog can help readers, as it helps me, stay grounded in what is most important.