My Hostel Adventure: The Psychological Benefits of Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story

What in God’s name am I doing with my life?

This is what I asked myself as I dragged my suitcase containing all of my life’s possessions through the streets of London on a rainy October night in 2017. 

I was on my way to start a new job as a receptionist in a Hostel in Shoreditch. 

My plan was to work there and build my company (which at this point was only an idea) in my spare time. 

Then, when I had enough funds built up, I would move out. 

This meant I could live in London rent free, earn an income, and get my business off the ground.

However, it also meant night shifts, sleeping in a dorm with about 16 other staff, changing beds, and sometimes even cleaning toilets. 

There was also no guarantee my business idea would work.

To provide some context, I didn’t have to do this. 

I come from a family business and could have created a comfortable life for myself by going into it.

On paper, it was a great deal.

It’s a profitable company with a steady customer base that’s been in operation since the 1970s. It was always expected of me that I would finish university then start working in the business. From a material point of view, this route could provide everything I could want.

But my heart wasn’t in it.

What I really craved was an adventure — a life filled with meaning, purpose, creativity, contribution, and growth.

I wanted a journey into the unknown, and I wanted to see what I was capable of.

I tell this story because it provides an insight into human nature and what I believe we really want in our lives.

We live in a society obsessed with comfort. 

The problem with this is that millions of years of evolutionary pressures have shaped us for struggle.

So our efforts to make life easier are actually destroying us — both mentally and physically.

We have an obesity epidemic, 8.6 million adults in the UK are on antidepressants, and studies show a direct correlation between growing up in a culture of affluence and increased risk of mental health problems.

I believe that what we really want (and need) is a meaningful purpose to work towards.

We want to feel like the hero of our own story. 

Victor Frankl – a holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and the developer of logotherapy put it well when he said:

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

This isn’t anecdotal either.

Research from Professor Benjamin Rogers at Boston College has found that viewing yourself as the hero of your own story leads to a wide range of psychological benefits. 

Eight studies involving thousands of participants found that this view leads to a greater sense of meaning, flourishing, and purpose in life; increased resilience, and a more positive reappraisal of personal problems.

Of particular interest from Rogers’ research is that the story we hold about our lives isn’t just a mirror reflection of what we have done in the past.

Rather, our story actively shapes our behaviour in the present.

There’s a bidirectional relationship. 

Your actions influence the story you hold about yourself. (I.e. If you volunteer, you’re more likely to see yourself as a good person.)

And the story you hold about yourself also influences your actions. 

(Seeing yourself as a good person means you’re more likely to volunteer.)

Therefore, if you’re interested in changing your life for the better, one of the most effective things you can do is to begin viewing yourself as the hero of your own story.

If you’d like to start seeing yourself in this way, here are three ways to go about it:

#1 – Take an Inventory of Your Past

This involves making a list of moments from your past where you’ve overcome a challenge while pursuing something important to you or made a meaningful change in your life for the better. 

Maybe it was helping a friend in a time of need, finishing a qualification despite wanting to give up, or completing a difficult physical challenge.

You’re looking for times where you did the right thing, even when it was difficult to do so.

#2 – Reframe Your Present

Imagine that someone is making a movie about your life and you are playing the lead role. 

How would the hero act? 

What decisions would they make in your situation? How would they treat others? 

#3 – Reorient Your Future

This involves asking: 

(1.) What goal(s) if you worked towards would require you to realise more of your potential and transform as a person?

(2.) What’s the greatest contribution you could make to the lives of others, that you would be most excited to make?

If you’re wondering what happened, my hostel adventure turned out ok.

I earned enough to move out of the dorm by January 2018 and get my own place, and the company I started at the time is still in operation to this day.

It was also a lot of fun living and working in a hostel — although I was relieved to move out when the time came!

Niall McKeever

Niall McKeever

Writer and Founder of The Weekend University. Passionate about making great ideas more accessible.

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