As I sat in a darkened movie theatre this week with salty tub of popcorn watching Barbie – I quickly realized that the film followed the tried-and-true narrative arc of the hero’s journey. This story-telling device follows a “hero” who is moving through their life contentedly when suddenly they are faced with an overwhelming challenge. At that point, the hero must make the decision to run away from the challenge (the coward) OR tackle the challenge (the hero), with the help of guides/mentors, to discover new possibilities. Barbie fit this story device like a beautiful pair of pink gloves.
I often work with my clients as they prepare for important speeches or presentations to help them discover their own heroic journey and encourage them to share it to support, inspire, and guide others. The hero’s journey is described as “a common narrative archetype, or story template, that involves a hero who goes on an adventure, learns a lesson, wins a victory with that newfound knowledge, and then returns home transformed.”
Back to Barbie (and a spoiler alert). Barbie is living her best life in the matriarchal society of Barbieland without a care in the world until she begins to ponder the concept of death in the middle of an exuberant dance party. By the next day, she discovers she has both flat feet and cellulite. Crisis!
She meets a guide (Weird Barbie) who tells her that to cure her affliction she must travel to the real world and find the child playing with her.
Barbie takes on the challenge and travels to the real world with Ken in tow. The pair go on opposite but equal journeys of self-discovery. Barbie wades through an existential crisis and searches for meaning and identity. Ken learns about the benefits of a patriarchal system and temporality embraces its philosophy.
Another guide appears in the spirit of Ruth Handler (Mattel co-founder) who tells Barbie that her story has no set ending and she can choose the direction she wants her life to go in – and it will always surpass her origin story. In other words, she can be whoever she wants to be.
Barbie and Ken move forward establishing their own identities, sharing the lessons they’ve learned and commit to ever-evolving lives leaving audience members feeling empowered in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind.
Each of us has our own version of the hero’s journey and if we are willing to explore it and surface its lessons – our audiences, our listeners will be engaged and thankful. While our journeys are not pink fantastical tales – they are likely more relatable. How you overcame a fear, mended a broken heart, survived an injury, or made a decision that changed the direction of your life. Whether big or small – what we do when faced with a challenge and our ability to share what we’ve learned – is key to communicating with authenticity and humanity.
As Barbie herself says, “There’s a star that’s right inside you, so come on and let it out. Find out what you’re about and just shout, ‘Here I am’.” Barbie, 2012.