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Mukesh Bansal pens lessons on entrepreneurship and life in new book

Mukesh Bansal is dabbling in the medium popularly described as 'mightier than the sword'. The ex-Myntra founder has penned a book on entrepreneurship and the life lessons that he learnt along the way on his journey. His book 'No Limits' is full of advice for startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs. Bansal's aim is that this book will act like a guide to helping them unlock their potential.

Bansal himself has come a long way in his entrepreneurial journey. Originally a computer science engineer from IIT Kanpur, he founded fashion retail app Myntra in 2006. Once Flipkart acquired Myntra, he was in charge of heading Flipkart's e-commerce division. Currently, he's the co-founder of Cure Fit Healthcare - a digital health and lifestyle platform.

Below is an excerpt from the book...

On the surface, we may feel that each hero is unique, with their own journey. We learn about the journey of many heroes with rapt attention as if that journey is unique, or at least that’s how it appears to us. But people who have looked into this from an academic perspective have discovered that an almost identical structure runs through most of these journeys. The best explorer of the ‘hero’ construct was Joseph Campbell who studied mythology and coined the term ‘monomyth’—a singular myth that is repeated throughout history across different cultures. This monomyth defines the journey of a hero whose legend is carried on, generation after generation, by people who continue to marvel at his feats. So, what is the hero’s journey? Drawing on psychology, philosophy, and the myths of the world, Joseph Campbell created the elaborate framework of the hero’s journey, which he describes in great detail in his seminal book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

This theory of a single underlying myth across hero stories of the world might contradict your view of the hero as a special, once-in-a-lifetime individual who forges his unique path. But what Campbell identified were elements of the archetypal hero’s journey that recur across stories and mythologies from around the world. And you might be surprised to learn that almost every fairy tale you’ve ever listened to or read to your child at bedtime, every comic book, every film you’ve watched and every classic myth that is passed down through the generations seems to fit into this structure in some form or another.

Storytelling is crucial to humanity because it is through stories that we understand ourselves and the world around us. This is why every tribe, civilisation and culture has had stories and legends tracing their beliefs, origin myths and ways of living. The narratives we then build, reflect certain universal truths that go far beyond the geographical and the cultural, and resonate powerfully with people, irrespective of their histories and identities. It is these truths that Campbell located, and from which he carved out his concept of the monomyth. Not surprisingly, we seek such narratives for our ourselves as well, and inevitably, each of us seeks to embark on our hero’s journey.

Mukesh Bansal
Mukesh Bansal

If you are wondering how the idea of a hero or the hero’s journey is relevant to your performance journey and aspirations, the answer lies in the fact that any worthwhile aspiration cannot be achieved through a straight and easy path. If it were easy, you would have achieved it a long time ago. Just like any of the heroes you admire, the journey will have its ups and downs, setbacks and comebacks, which will test your resolve and deeply ingrained habits requiring you to transcend your current level of effort and thinking. What will get you through all this is a vision for who you want to be and an unwavering commitment to the path that you will select for yourself. It will only take a few hours to read this book, but at the very least, a few years to achieve something meaningful—a few years of toiling every day, just like your heroes. As you embark on your hero’s journey, it might be useful to keep this framework in mind and, occasionally, recall a step from this book as it relates to your experience. Who says that you can’t live the life of a hero in your own way?

Campbell claimed that almost every hero’s journey can be mapped into twelve distinct stages. There might be minor deviations in these, but by and large, these stages are relevant to most hero’s journeys, whether ancient or modern. Let’s take a look at the twelve stages:

1. Ordinary World

Almost all heroes start as ordinary people like you and me with unremarkable beginnings. At this stage, the hero starts to learn the ways of the world and tries to fit in but is usually plagued by some sense of discomfort born out of not fitting in or dreaming of something larger. Think of Gandhi’s early days as a student of law, trying to fit into the British hierarchy and even taking dance lessons and learning British aristocratic manners.

2. Call to Adventure

This is the next stage, during which the hero is shaken awake from his slumber and a great adventure looms ahead of him. This call to adventure might come in the form of an immediate threat or tragedy in the family, the awareness of an approaching danger or just a strong desire to rebel against his set ways of life. Gautam Buddha underwent a profound transformation when he saw a dead body for the first time, and it strengthened his resolve to understand life and suffering, and the ultimate cause of it all.

3. Refusal of the Call

All heroes go through an inner struggle at the first sign of the call to adventure. Accepting the call involves letting go of everything familiar, saying goodbyes to loved ones, dealing with endless self-doubt and often, stepping into the unknown world that contains life-threatening risks. Many superheroes in comic books hesitate to join the larger cause and try to hang on to everything safe and familiar for a bit longer.

Mukesh Bansal pens lessons on entrepreneurship and life in new book

4. Meeting the Mentor

When the hero is at the crossroads, unsure about his capabilities and anxious about letting go of the comfort of the familiar, he often meets a mentor who has gone through a similar journey before and has the wisdom of experience. Think of Gandalf meeting Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, a universally loved adventure story, where the hobbit hero eventually triumphs over the evil and mighty Sauron. He is ably guided by Gandalf on his journey, plagued by self-doubt and obstacles, which eventually pave the way for his growth, maturity and ultimate victory.

5. Crossing the Threshold

A time comes when the hero must make the choice and take the decisive step to cross the threshold from which there is no return. In your journey, this might be leaving your home, declaring your intentions to the world or quitting your job. Alexander is said to have burnt the bridges that his army used to cross a river so that there was no option of running back out of fear. Many first time entrepreneurs face this when they need to take a call about whether to quit their jobs or not. It is only when your resignation is accepted that your adventure into the world of entrepreneurship truly begins.

6. Tests, Enemies, Allies

Once the hero has crossed the threshold, the quest begins, and it is not an easy path. The hero encounters ever more challenging tests of his commitment to his cause. This is also the time during which he comes in contact with people who might present obstacles to the quest. Some turn out to be true friends while some who appear to be friends, end up being traitors who are not aligned to the cause. The hero learns to navigate this world and understand who he can partner with and who the true enemy is. Quite often, the true enemy turns out to be another side of his own personality that he must overcome to be successful in his quest. In the epic Ramayana, Rama recruits many allies during his time in the jungle and also slays many demons as he prepares for the decisive war against Ravana.

Some turn out to be true friends while some who appear to be friends, end up being traitors who are not aligned to the cause. The hero learns to navigate this world and understand who he can partner with and who the true enemy is.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

As the hero approaches the definitive battle, they must confront a serious danger and reach a precipice, either real or metaphorical. This is where the hero comes face to face with the ultimate danger or starts to recognise a deep inner conflict. As the hero gets closer to the inevitable, they are plagued by second thoughts, doubts about their capabilities and with each step closer to D-day, their heart grows heavier and heavier. At some point, the hero comes to terms with the danger they face; by accepting their destiny and trusting their strengths and preparations, they decide to plunge ahead. As the epic battle of the Mahabharata approached, Arjuna faced a deep inner conflict about fighting against his close friends and relatives, a conflict that almost paralysed him. It was the timeless wisdom of Lord Krishna as narrated in the Bhagavad Gita that helped Arjuna to come to terms with the battle and accept his role in it.

8. Ordeal

This stage represents the final frontier. The ordeal is often a defining battle, an ultimate challenge that the hero has been preparing for, or it could be a serious inner conflict that the hero must resolve in his mind. In the battle of the Mahabharata, the ordeal lasted eighteen days, with loss of life on both sides, from which the Pandavas eventually emerged victorious. In the Indian freedom struggle, after decades of protest, Gandhi had to issue a final call of ‘Do or Die’ during the Quit India Movement that ultimately led to the British leaving the country.

9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)

After the decisive victory has been won, the hero can claim his just reward be it recognition, a prized possession or even the slaying of the mind’s dragons. The proverbial frog is transformed into a handsome king and gets to marry the princess. This stage sees the hero being transformed into a person that he was always meant to be, coming to terms with his new status in a world in which he is widely seen as a hero and deserves his many rewards and exalted status.

10. The Road Back

This is the opposite of the call to adventure, the stage during which the hero embarks on the journey back to where he came from. There is a feeling of excitement and anticipation about the hero’s welcome, coupled with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in his heart. Imagine a victorious Julius Caesar riding back into Rome, the city’s streets lined with all its inhabitants wildly cheering his return. In the Ramayana, Ram’s return to Ayodhya is celebrated as Diwali, which remains a festival till date. This stage may often give rise to yet another conflict, the final resolution that marks the final stages of the journey. Whether the hero returns to the ordinary world and accepts higher responsibility depends on this stage.

Steve Jobs coming back to Apple after a forced hiatus of almost fifteen years is a perfect example, where he not only resurrected Apple from near-death but also transformed it into the most valuable company of all time.

11. Resurrection

After a brief respite, the hero is usually called upon for one final challenge and this is for a cause greater than the hero himself. This time, the hero is fighting on behalf of a large number of people, even all of humanity, and often, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. The hero is willing to give his life for this larger cause and often, he emerges victorious at this stage, permanently securing his status as a legend with an enduring legacy.

Steve Jobs coming back to Apple after a forced hiatus of almost fifteen years is a perfect example, where he not only resurrected Apple from near-death but also transformed it into the most valuable company of all time.

12. Return with the Elixir

This is the final stage that represents the hero’s true return to the ordinary world. The hero has achieved everything that she set out to achieve, had a profound inner realisation and is at peace with herself. The hero looks to start a fresh life in the ordinary world and settles into a state that most stories portray as the ‘happily-ever-after’. By this time, the world is more settled, big threats have been quashed and normal life can continue for a long time.

Our journeys aren’t very different from the journeys of the heroes we read about and watch on TV screens. In fact, Campbell’s blueprint for the universal hero’s story is as relevant in each of our lives as it is in the narratives of some of our generation’s best-known tales from George Lucas’s Star Wars series to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. It gives us a lens through which we can examine our journeys—questioning what it is we aspire towards, what is most important to us, and how we can keep going in the face of adversity. It can empower us to take our stories in our hands, to carve out our narratives and determine our paths. By helping us in understanding the universality of this journey, the blueprint can enable us to reach into the depths of our awareness and push the limits of our potential.

‘A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles’.
Christopher Reeve

Excerpted with permission from No Limits by Mukesh Bansal, published by Westland.