Think of personal growth and transformation as a journey. Everyone does. The metaphor just works.
In every heroic story you’ve ever read, there are two stages which open and close the hero’s journey of growth and transformation: leaving home and returning home.
Both stages are hinges upon which character development turns: one is a catalyst for a dangerous but transformative journey, and the other is the end goal of that journey.
You’d think that leaving home is the hardest part, but there’s a reason we have the phrase “you can’t go home again.”
You can’t go home again. . .
Remember Frodo? The hobbit hero of The Lord of the Rings? When he and his companions leave their idyllic home of the Shire, they are inexperienced, harmless, and naive country gentlemen and farmers – just like most hobbits.
When Frodo and his companions return, they have seen and caused death. They have faced down big evil bad guy Sauron and numerous smaller evil bad guys, including Orcs, Orc hybrids, war elephants, dead faceless zombie kings, a demon, and a wizard, among others. They have explored distant lands and have become heroes in lands which most Shirefolk have never dreamed of.
To put it simply, they are not the same. That means the naive land of the Shire will never entirely be home for them. Their minds and souls are bigger as a result of their experience. The Shire may be the same, but it is different for them because they are different. They aren’t exactly going to be happy being farmers now.
They can’t go home again – not really – even though they can return to the same place.
This difference sits especially hard with Frodo, who took quite a beating and changed quite a lot on his hero’s journey. He can’t ignore the ways his wounds and his effort have changed him:
‘There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?’
Gandalf did not answer.”
Frodo’s struggle is not unique. Every person who experiences transformation struggles to relate (to return) to the places and people they knew before they changed.
Have you changed your beliefs? It will be hard to understand and communicate with people who believe what you
Have you changed your personality? It will be hard to relate to people who remember you when you were different?
Have you changed your values? You won’t be able to hang out with the same people or relate to them in the same way.
You can’t go home again. To go home unchanged – to go to a home that is therefore also unchanged – is to deny the future and cling to a wrongly idealized past.
. . . but you must go home again.
For all of the ways in the return journey is the hardest, you must try it.
If the hobbits had not returned home from their journey, they would have abandoned the ideal they fought for throughout their journey away from home. What’s more, they would have erased their histories. Perhaps they could have remained as great heroes in other lands, but they would never have been able to recognize their naive Shire pasts as the actual foundations of what made them heroic in the first place.
They, like every other hero and every other person who experiences transformation, have to come to terms with their past to understand what they have become and what they can become in the future. The extent of their transformation only makes facing up to the past – and doing it head on – that much more important.
The return home is a reckoning with the good and bad of the past. Yes, you may have left much of your past beliefs or values or attitudes behind somewhere on your journey, but that’s no reason to throw out your whole cultural backdrop.
Return home as a wiser changed person. Use your new eyes and see what you can redeem or repurpose in what you once left behind. You might be surprised how much wisdom you never before saw in your upbringing, in the simple people around you, that you can now embrace in a new and better way. When we have worked on ourselves and worked for our values, we appreciate the important things that much more.
In other words, your past may have died, but if you want to experience true strength and wisdom, it’s up to you to resurrect the parts that will matter for your future. Because **SPOILER ALERT** like for Frodo, you will have another journey to begin almost as soon as you get home.
You must go home again. To leave your home behind completely is to deny the value and reality of your past and to cling to an indefinite future.
The leaving and the changing and the returning – in all their difficulty – are all key parts of transformation. You won’t ever be able to return home unchanged, and you will never be able to fully change unless you return home. Don’t sacrifice either the past or the future by failing to complete the circle. Embrace the full process of change and see what it brings you.