Startup Diaries: The Hero’s Journey Part III: Refusal of the Call

As the CEO and Curator of MAH, Ondina Montgomery works with a broad range of artists, designers and photographers In a tribute to US mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, who asserted that all mythical heroes experience the same 12 steps on their adventures, Ondina Montgomery draws parallels between Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and that of the entrepreneur.

Part 3 of the Hero's Journey describes the protagonist's Refusal of the call, where the hero attempts to refuse the adventure because she is afraid. Click here to read the second part of Ondina’s series, The Hero’s Journey Part II: Call to Adventure.

When I finally arrived in Sydney after an amazing time immersed in the culture of South East Asia it didn’t take me long to find a place and start to settle in. It is such a beautiful city and I found myself a job in tourism (naturally), and took a cute little flat on the edge of the CBD in Darlinghurst. It was all feeling perfect. Like a holiday!

I remember one morning I woke up and looked out of my window at the incredible vast blue sky. No creepy rain; not a cloud to be seen. It was just blue skies shining on me. It was literally my dream come true. Or so I thought. I loved getting out of bed ready to embrace the day.

I could literally walk to work through the exotic botanical gardens, with strange prehistoric looking birds that I had never seen before squawking as they flew overhead. I truly felt like a stranger in a strange land!

I didn’t know anyone really and it was not long before the holiday feeling started to wear off and I realized that all the skills I had acquired in life up to this point may not be what I needed in the future. Have you ever had a similar epiphany? It is kind of scary. I needed to rethink my toolbox. Things I had taken for granted before like family and friends were not on hand. All my usual support systems were unavailable.

I had of course met some great new people but they didn’t really know me, which was good in a way because when people are really familiar those things that make you special can kind of be lost in the routine of the relationship. I started to reassess my personal life. And that is a scary thing to do.

I realized I had changed the scenery but I was unconsciously recreating what I had left behind. The job I was in was virtually the same. The friends I was making were similar.

I remember one day accidently bumping into a person I knew from Copenhagen while shopping in Paddington.  There she was 16000 km away from where we last saw each other 18 months ago. She didn’t know I was in Sydney, I didn’t know she was in Australia and yet there she was!  “How incredible to see you here!” was my initial reaction, but later I thought, in this global village, it not that incredible really. We were the same age, we liked similar things, so naturally if she was to come to Australia she would seek out the same environments I would; the chances of meeting each other were not that statistically unlikely.

It was then I came to the understanding that I was in need of some real personal development if I was to find what I was looking for; if I was to find my elusive dream.

So I started to look for things I could do outside my comfort zone. If you have not done it I suggest you try. This meant I had to get off the beaten track.  Even though I was in a different environment the pattern was the same. I was in my “recreated” Ordinary World. Up until then I realized I had been operating purely in survival mode. I was more concerned about where my next footstep was going to land, as if looking down at my feet repeating the same pattern rather that looking up and taking in the world around me.

So every chance I got I put myself in even more remote situations. Suddenly I realized that swimming in the ocean past the waves was a lot scarier that I had imagined. I could hear my friend’s voices talking about being eaten alive by sharks. Big sharks! But hey that didn’t happen. And driving into the wilderness where there were no street-lights or towns for miles and miles; just a dark endless road stretching out ahead of you.  For a city girl from Europe these were big steps.

Eventually I found myself standing smack in the middle of the Great Australian Desert, thousands of miles away from anything where the horizon seemed endless and the sky was enormous. Meeting the indigenous people was like stepping back in time; it was an incredibly overwhelming experience. I didn’t have a camera, just a phone that didn’t work.

I started to take it all in and as each day passed what I had imagined was a barren lifeless place (I could have been on the moon) was actually the complete opposite.

There was life teaming all around me. Strange frilled neck lizards and creepy snakes and huge big red kangaroos, and a landscape that every evening and morning put on such a spectacular display of colors it was more beautiful than any painting I had seen in the Louvre. 

The clutter of my everyday life started to fade. No more messages on the phone distracting me every minute, no horns blaring, and no incessant chatter around me. Instead it was replaced by the sound of my breath and my inner voice. It was totally humbling and I felt like a very tiny speck in this endless expanse that is nature. Suddenly I realized instinctively the true importance of mother-nature. The creativity! And I was part of it! And it felt perfect! 

For the first time since I could remember I was alone, but far from lonely.

By the time I got back to the city and washed the red dust off (that seemed to get everywhere) I realized as I went to work walking through the beautiful botanical gardens that the few months earlier that had seemed so strange and prehistoric were not so strange after all.  And after such a natural experience I also realized how the world we lived in was now looking very messy. There was plastic rubbish everywhere and suddenly all this processed “created” lifestyle we are provided with seemed to homogenize me; I felt that no matter what I did I would never be able to find my individuality. 

The job I was so happy to have a few months before suddenly became a treadmill, and I understood what I had tried to leave before was not just the creepy rain. It was in fact the treadmill. I suddenly felt a sense of hopelessness. Like Groundhog Day! Here I was now missing my friends, missing Europe (although I did love the climate in Australia), and wondering what it was all about. I felt the things that were important to me were beyond my capabilities. That I would have no impact on the things I wanted to effect such as my new love, the environment. And if I couldn’t do that how could I control anything in my own life?

I was on the verge of returning to Europe when a friend of mine invited me to a party and I met a person who said, “The books we read and the people we associate with determine who we will be in 5 years’ time”. Well, being an avid reader I thought about all the books I had been reading, the plays I had been seeing, the magazines I had been reading and upon reflection I realized it was not surprising that I was asking the questions I was asking. I wasn’t reading self-help books like “The Secret”, but books that were important to me. “French Riviera: Living Well Was the Best Revenge” and Sylvia Plath poems and books about one of my Gods…Coco Chanel!

So I concluded if I felt I was reading the right books, maybe I should start hanging around with a different crowd. When someone asks you what you want that can be a daunting question. I had been asking that to myself a lot lately and not really getting any solid answers. So I decided since I was in the land down under I would flip the question on its head and see what happened. I started asking myself what I didn’t want and eliminating with Danish precision those things from my life. And the result was extraordinary!

To be continued…..

Ondina Montgomery grew up in Denmark and has always been passionate about Art and Design. Raised by a family of artists including her creative grandmother and her artist father, a highly accomplished painter and sculptor, working with artists and designers comes naturally. Before living in South East Asia, she traveled the world extensively, eventually settling in Sydney in 2006.

During her time in Australia, she started a design course and became involved in diverse design-related projects. After moving to Singapore in 2010 to expand her knowledge and her international client base, she obtained her Interior Design Diploma from Lasalle College of The Arts Singapore and then decided it was time she founded her own company. MAH was born! As the CEO and Curator of MAH she works with a broad range of artists, designers and photographers who share her interest and passion for scarves.

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