“We don’t make slow cars.” – Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Blogger’s note: I and many of my friends in our age cohort say that we are surprised we survived our adolescence. Truly, when I look back, I shudder. My adolescence peaked at the age of 23, but there were at least four brushes with death between 1972 (age 18) and 1978 (age 26). Others from my high school and college cohort were not so lucky—at least one was killed, one caused an accident that killed someone else, a couple went to prison, and a few others continued downhill into failed adulthood with chronic substance abuse. I made it through, but not without a lot of trials.
The Hero’s Journey
In my view, adolescence is a journey similar to the 12-stage Hero’s Journey as adapted by Christopher Vogler from Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth from his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In this case, the hero is the child entering adolescence.
The Ordinary World is the pre-adolescent world where parents reign and the Call to Adventure represents the early biological changes inherent in puberty. Refusal of the Call represents the fears of puberty and the status quo threatened and Enter the Mentor is where the mentor could be a father, other adult or friend. Crossing the Threshold is perhaps taking that first step into a “special” world—doing something perhaps risky that one has always been afraid to do. Often, it is an “adult thing” like drinking alcohol. Then there are Tests, Allies and Enemies. These are early obstacles—physical or people—who thwart your progress. Here, the hero must learn who can be trusted and who cannot. Approach to the Innermost Cave represents an inner conflict in moving forward; facing fears, preparing to face the unknown. The ordeal is the trials inherent in the risk-taking phase of adolescent development where the hero must draw from all his skills and experience to overcome. In one such struggle, he faces perhaps his greatest fear and in the struggle, loses something important (a metaphorical death). Reward (Seizing the Sword) represents the successful overcoming of what seems to be his biggest challenge. He emerges stronger, perhaps smarter. Resurrection is the pivotal moment that arises when one faces the most dangerous encounter—an existential threat. This is the climax. Ultimately, the hero must persevere. The final stage, Return with the Elixir, is his return to the ordinary world, reborn as a full-fledged responsible adult; the final reward is self-realization of his journey—metamorphosis, success, and confirmation of his journey—a new life.
The question for me is, where is my son in this process? I am about to embark on a 6,000-mile road trip along dangerous mountain roads with a testosterone-fueled adolescent in a Tesla electric vehicle.
A year ago, I would not have considered this trip. At 16, Neo was in his first year with a driver’s license and he needed a good safe car to get him across the Valley (a 45-minute commute each way) to his after-school program, West-Mec, where he is learning aviation maintenance technology. So, we bought him a new Ford Mustang. He wanted a V8, so we got him a fuel-efficient EcoBoost Model, essentially a turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine (we are not crazy). He earned a few flashes from speed cameras while he got used to the tolerance of local traffic control systems. However, a year ago, Neo was wanting to race cars. He and a friend (also a West-Mec student) were hard at work restoring and “modding” a 1984 Chevrolet Camaro with the stated goal of racing it. Not what a parent wants to hear, but likely par for the course.
Neo has also been taking flying lessons and this year, at age 17, he earned his private pilot license, high-performance endorsement and “tail-dragger” certification, and he is on his way to earning a commercial pilot license. He is very motivated and his instructors remark on how quickly he learns and how determined he is to progress. As you may imagine, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) is unforgiving. One must strictly follow the rules—a good support system for risky adolescent proclivities. However, what gives us pause is Neo’s stated goal of becoming an Alaskan Bush Pilot, signaling that he still has at least a few more adolescent years ahead of him.
Our son, whose name means “new,” was named as a kind of a metaphor for the better world we hope he will help to build. He is a good kid—smart, well-mannered, well-spoken, and knows what he wants and works hard to achieve it. But he is also approaching, what my experience tells me, is the most dangerous period in his adolescence—early young adulthood. This road trip is my opportunity to guide him without getting in his way. Enter the mentor.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” ― Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces