Private Hero’s Journey in Florence: The Power of Your Story

In The Hero’s Journey in Florence you will examine with Peter de Kuster, founder of The Hero’s Journey the way we tell stories about ourselves to ourselves — and, most important, the way we can change those stories to transform our business and personal lives.

“Your story is your life,” says Peter. As human beings, we continually tell ourselves stories — of success or failure; of power or victimhood; stories that endure for an hour, or a day, or an entire lifetime. We have stories about ourselves, our creative business, our customers ; about what we want and what we’re capable of achieving. Yet, while our stories profoundly affect how others see us and we see ourselves, too few of us even recognize that we’re telling stories, or what they are, or that we can change them — and, in turn, transform our very destinies.

A first visit to Florence can be an overwhelming experience, and it seems that no amount of revisiting can exhaust her riches, or stem the growth of affection and awe which the city inspires in regular cultural pilgrims. For hundreds of years the city nurtured an unceasing succession of great artists. No other place can rival Florence for the quantity of first-rate, locally produced works of art, many still in the sites for which they were created or in museums a few hundred yards away. Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo – these are some of the artists and architects whose works will be studied on the tour, fully justifying Florence’s epithet as the cradle of the Renaissance.Florence is the city of creativity. A great place to rewrite your own story, transform your business and life.

Telling ourselves stories provides structure and direction as we navigate life’s challenges and opportunities, and helps us interpret our goals and skills. Stories make sense of chaos; they organize our many divergent experiences into a coherent thread; they shape our entire reality. And far too many of our stories, says Peter, are dysfunctional, in need of serious editing. First, he asks you to answer the question, “In which areas of my life is it clear that I cannot achieve my goals with the story I’ve got?” He then shows you how to create new, reality-based stories that inspire you to action, and take you where you want to go both in your work and personal life

Florence is, moreover, one of the loveliest cities in the world, ringed by the foothills of the Apennines and sliced in two by the River Arno. Narrow alleys lead between the expansive piazze and supremely graceful Renaissance arcades abound, while the massive scale of the buildings impressively demonstrates the wealth once generated by its precocious economy. It is now a substantial, vibrant city, yet the past is omnipresent, and, from sections of the medieval city walls one can still look out over olive groves and lines of cypress trees. Florence offers a richness of stories to inspire you in the discovery of your own story.

Our capacity to tell stories is one of our profoundest gifts. Peter’s approach to creating deeply engaging stories will give you the tools to wield the power of storytelling and forever change your business and personal life.

What Can I Expect?

Here’s an outline of the Hero’s Journey in Florence

Journey Outline


  • Your Story is Your Life
  • Your Life is Your Story
  • What is your Story?
  • Your Hero’s Journey 
  • Is This Really Your Story?
  • The Private Voice


  • A Quest is Never Forgettable
  • They Lived Happily Ever After?
  • The Three Rules of Storytelling
  • The Four Story Scenario’s
  • They Lived Happily Ever After!
  • Do You Have the Resources To Live Your Best Life?
  • Indoctrinate Yourself 
  • The Story Effect 
  • Your New Story
  • The Premise of your Story. The Purpose of your Life and Art
  • The words on your tombstone
  • You ultimate mission, out loud
  • Questioning the Premise
  • Lining up
  • Flawed Alignment, Tragic Ending


  • Turning your story into action
  • Story Ritualizing
  • The Storyteller and the art of story
  • The Power of Your Story
  • Storyboarding your creative process
  • They Created and Lived Happily Ever After

About Peter de Kuster

Peter de Kuster is the founder of The Heroine’s Journey & Hero’s Journey project,  a storytelling firm which helps creative professionals to create careers and lives based on whatever story is most integral to their lives and careers (values, traits, skills and experiences). Peter’s approach combines in-depth storytelling and marketing expertise, and for over 20 years clients have found it effective with a wide range of creative business issues.


Peter is writer of the series The Heroine’s Journey and Hero’s Journey books, he has an MBA in Marketing,  MBA in Financial Economics and graduated at university in Sociology and Communication Sciences.


Story is everywhere in life. Perhaps your story is that you are responsible for the happiness and livelihoods of dozens of people around you and you are the unappreciated hero. If you are focused on one subplot – your business – then maybe your story is that you sincerely want to execute the major initiatives in your company, yet you are restricted in some essential way. Maybe your story is that you must keep chasing even though you already seem to have a lot (even too much) because the point is to get more and more of it – money, prestige, power, control, attention. Maybe your story is that you and your children just can’t connect. Or your story might be essentially a rejection of another story – and everything you do is filtered through that rejection.

After a trip to Ravenna seeking employment or benefaction, Boccaccio returned to Florence in the spring of 1348 at the horrendous climax of the Black Death. Now, in place of the Greek gods and goddesses, nymphs and shepherds, knights and ladies of his earlier works, Boccaccio created his own version of the Human Comedy. And his tales of daily life would survey the succulent sensualism of medieval life.

Story is everywhere. Your body tells a story. The smile or frown on your face, your shoulders thrust back in confidence or slumped roundly in despair, the liveliness or fatigue in your gait, the sparkle of hope and joy in your eyes or the blank stare, your fitness, the size of your gut, the tone and strength of your physical being, your overall presentation – those are all part of your story, one that’s especially apparant to everyone else. We judge books by their covers not simply because we are wired to judge quickly but because the cover so often provides astonishing accurate clues to what is going on inside. What is your story about your physical self? Does it truly work for you? Can it take you where you want to go in the short term? How about ten years from now? What about thirty?

You have a story about your company, though your version may depart wildly from your customer’s or business partners. You have a story about your family. Anything that consumes our energy can be a story, even if we don’t always call it a story. There is the story of your relationship. The story of you and food, or you and anger, or you and impossible dreams. The story of you, the friend. The story of you,  your father’s son or your mother’s daughter. Some of these stories work and some of them fail. According to my experience, an astounding number of these stories, once they are identified are deemed tragic – not by me, mind you but by the people living them.

Luckily for us, Boccaccio was there and survived to write the Decameron between 1348 and 1352. His eyewitness account of the plague became the ‘Introduction of the First Day’. “To take pity on people in distress is a human quality which every man and woman should possess,” Boccaccio begins, while asking the reader’s sympathy for his own frustration in love. He promises “to provide succour or diversion for the ladies, but only for those who are in love, since the others can make do with their needles, their reels and their spindles. I shall narrate a hundred stories or fables or parables or histories or whatever you choose to call them.”. These were to be recited in ten days by seven ladies and three young men who had fled the plague.

Like it or not, there will be a story around your death. What will it be? Will you die a senseless death? Perhaps you drank too much and failed to buckle your seat belt and were thrown from your car, or you died from colon cancer because you refused to undergo an embarrassing colonoscopy years before when the disease was treatable. Or after years of bad nutrition, no exercise, and abuse of your body, you suffered a fatal heart attack at age fifty – nine.  ‘Senseless death’ means that it did not have to happen when it happened;  it means your story did not have to end the way it ended. Think about the effect the story of your senseless death might have on your family, on those you care about who  you are leaving behind. How would that story impact their life stories? Ask yourself, Am I okay dying a senseless death?  Your immediate reaction is almost certainly, “No!, of course not!

Unhealthy storytelling is characterized by a diet of faulty thinking and, ultimately,  long – term negative consequences. This undetectable, yet inexorable progression is not unlike what happens to coronary arteries from a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet. In the body, the consequence of such a diet is hardening of the arteries. In the mind, the consequence of bad storytelling is hardening of the categories, narrowing of the possibilities, calcification of perception. Both roads lead to tragedy, often quietly.

The cumulative effect of our damaging stories will have tragic consequences on our health, engagement, performance and happiness. Because we can’t confirm the damage our defective storytelling is wreaking, we disregard it, or veto our gut reactions to make a change. Then one day we awaken to the reality that we have become cynical, negative, angry. That is now who we are. Though we never quite saw it coming, that is now our true story.

We enjoy the privilege of being the hero, the final author of the story we write with our life, yet we possess a marvelous capacity to give ourselves only a supporting role in the ‘storytelling’ process, while ascribing the premier, dominant role to the markets, our family, our kids, fate, chance, genetics.  Getting our stories straight in life does not happen without our understanding that the most precious resource that we human beings possess is our energy.  

It is our storytelling that drives the way we gather and spend our energy. Stories determine our personal and professional destinies. And the most important story you will ever tell about yourself is the story you tell to yourself. 

So, you would better examine your story, especially this one that is supposedly the most familiar of all. Participate in your story rather than observing it from afar, make sure it is a story that compels you. Tell yourself the right story – the rightness of which only you can really determine, only you can really feel – and the dynamics of your energy change. If you are finally living the story you want, then it need not – it should not and won’t – be an ordinary one. It can and will be extraordinary. After all you are not just the author of your story but also its main character the hero. Heroes are never ordinary.

In the end your story is not a tragedy. Nor is it a comedy or a romance or a thriller or a drama. It is something else. What label would you give the story of your life, the most important story you will ever tell. To me that sounds like a hero’s journey.

End of story.


If you continue on your same path, what is the relationship you are likely to have, years from now with each of your family members? If your story is not working with one or more key individuals, then what is the story you tell yourself to allow this pattern to persist? To what extent do you blame your business for keeping you from fully engaging with your family? (really?) Your business is the reason you are disengaged from the most important thing in your life, the people who matter most to you? How does that happen? According to your current story, is it even possible to be fully engaged at work and also with your family?

Filippo Brunelleschi found his archetypes in the monuments of ancient Rome. In 1401, luckily for Western architecture, the 24 year old Filippo did not win the competition to make the bronze reliefs for the doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence. The judges announced a tie between him and Lorenzo Ghiberti and urged the two to collaborate. When Brunelleschi refused to work except on his own terms, the commission went to Ghiberti, and Brunelleschi left Florence in pique. So he went to Rome where at the time one could see beautiful works in public spaces. He would give a brilliant new afterlife to the Roman arts of building. Brunelleschi learned more than a style and a set of motifs from the ancient Romans. His triumph as a re-creator would be posthumous and worldwide, for the archetypes of Roman architecture, its columns, domes, and architraves, would be revived in new combinations in buildings. In his own time he created a unique monument of architecture that was as eloquent of Renaissance Florence as the Pantheon was of Hadrian’s Rome or Hagia Sophia of Byzantium. Using Roman techniques and a bold engineering imagination he built the dome of the cathedral of Florence, which dominates the skyline and still charms 21th century visitors.

Your Story Around Health

What is your story about your health? What kind of job have you done taking care of yourself? What value do you place on your health, and why? If you continue on your same path, then what will be the likely health consequences? If you are not fully engaged with your health, then what is the story you tell yourself and others – particularly your spouse, your kids, your doctor, your colleagues and anyone who might look up to you – that allows you to persist in this way? If suddenly you awoke to the reality that your health was gone, what would be the consequences for you and all those you care about? How would you feel if the end of your story was dominated by one fact – that you had needlessly died young?

Do you consider your health just one of several important stories about yourself but hardly toward the top? Does it crack the top three? top five? If you have been overweight, or consistently putting on weight the last several years; if you smoke; if you eat poorly; if you rest infrequently and never deeply; if you rarely, if ever, exercise; what is the story you tell yourself that explains how you deal, or don’t deal, with these issues? Is it a story with a rhyme or reason? Do you believe that spending time exercising or otherwise taking care of yourself, particularly during the workday, sets a negative example for others?

Given your physical being and the way you present yourself, do you think the story you are telling is the same one that others are hearing? Could it be vastly different, when seen through their eyes?

The citizens of Florence had begun their cathedral back in 1296, a century before Brunelleschi made his first trip to Rome. In 1334 Giotto had been honored by the commission to design the bell tower, but work on the main structure had proceeded slowly. By the early 15th century the nave was completed and work began over the great octagon on the east (altar) end. As the walls of the complex octagon rose, overseers of the works found themselves confronted with a vast opening 138.5 feet across, which had to be covered by a dome. They had no choice, but how to do it? How their urban rivals – Pisa, Siena, Milan, Padua – might have enjoyed the spectacle of an ambitious city that could not even roof its own cathedral! But successive supervising architects had evaded the problem by focussing on every other part of the work. By about 1413 the walls of the octagon drum at the east end had risen to their full 180 feet and the challenge had to be faced. Brunelleschi had been eagerly anticipating the assignment. By 1417 he had already been paid for some drawings and had made a wooden model of the design. In 1418 the overseers of the works finally announced a public competition. The other leading competitor was Ghiberti, Brunelleschi’s bete noire. The tactless judges trying to bring these two together, as they had vainly tried once before gave the supervisory assignment of building the dome to them jointly with a master stonemason working under them. A Brunelleschi-Ghiberti team was designed for trouble. Brunelleschi, who had never forgotten losing to Ghiberti the commission for the bronze Baptistery doors, would leave a series of inventive sommets as his literay legacy. During work on the dome Brunelleschi seized every opportunity to show up his rival’s incompetence. He would even pretend to be ill at crucial moments so Ghiberti would have to face the most difficult problems alone. Luckily Ghiberti was dismissed in 1425 and completion of the work was left to Brunelleschi.

Your Story about Friends

What is your story about friendship? According to your story, how important are friends? How fully engaged are your with them? (that is don’t calculate in your mind simply how often you see them but what you do and how you are when you’re together). If close friendships are important to you, yet they are clearly not happening in your life, what is the story you tell yourself that obstructs this from happening?

To what extent are friendships important to your realizing what you need and want from life? If you have few or no friends, why is that? Is this a relatively recent development – that is, something that happened since you got married for example, or had a family, or got more consumed by work, or got promoted, or got divorced, or experienced a significant loss, or moved away from your hometown?

When you think of your closest friendships over the last five years, can you say any of them has grown and deepened? People who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work, get more done in less time, have fewer accidents and are more likely to innovate and share new ideas.

Suppose you had no friends – what would that be like? This may seem like a morbid exercise but write down three ways in which being completely friendless might make your life poorer (no one to turn to in times of crisis and celebration, no one to mourn your passing, etc.)  

Your Quest

Who has a why to live, can bear with almost any how.

When you have a great quest, it dramatically changes your willingness to spend energy and take risk.  When the stakes are a large sum of money people don’t take great risks. When the stakes are love and life and that which has incalculable value, people go the extra mile.

A great quest is the epicenter of everyone’s hero’s journey story.

Leonardo’s combination of limited book learning and long workshop training helps account for his lifelong distrust of bookish knowledge and scholastic commentators. He felt at home among craftsmen and engineers. In 1482 when Leonardo was thirty, Lorenzo de Medici (the Magnificent) sent him to Ludovico Sforza, duke of Milan to present a silver lyre in the shape of a horse’s head, on which Leonardo was a adept performer. There in Milan Leonardo remained for 18 years, from age 30 to 48. it is not clear why Lorenzo, a jealous patron and shrewd judge of talent made no effort to bring him back. Perhaps Leonardo himself, the scientist-artist-engineer, preferred the enterprising spirit of Sforza’s Milan to the Neoplatonic miasma of the Medici circle in Florence. These years in Milan were among his most productive – as a painter and as a designer of court festivals and noble weddings – yet he made the time to pursue his interests in anatomy, biology, mathematics, physics and mechanics. His anatomical studies, Leonardo himself boasted, had led him during his life to dissect some thirty corpses. He engaged the stirring companionship of savants and filled his notebooks with subjects for treatises he would never write, while offering plans to the Sforzas for fantastic weapons, grand schemes of military architecture and hydraulic engineering.

Without quest, no character in a book, or movie or in art would do anything interesting, meaningful, memorable, worthwhile. Without quest, our hero’s journey story has no meaning. It has no coherence, no direction, no inexorable momentum. Without quest, our life still ‘moves’ along – whatever that means, but it lacks an organizing principle. Without quest, it is all but impossible to be fully engaged. To be extraordinary.

With quest, on the other hand, people do amazing things: good, smart, productive things, often heroic things, unprecedented things.  Quest is the thing in your hero’s journey you will fight for. It is the ground you will defend at any cost. Quest is not the same as ‘incentive’, but rather the motor behind it, the end that drives why you have energy for some things and not for others.

I have seen many seen articulate their passion to themselves and to others. But articulation is not nearly enough; in fact it is really not even worth of a pat on the back, so long as one continues to live one’s life in a way that does very little, if anything, to support that quest. Indeed, to say you have a quest and then to do nothing about it is, first, a sham, and, last, a tragedy.

To find one’s true quest sometimes takes work. Fortunately, the skill it requires is one that every person is blessed with.

Of the many mysteries surrounding Leonardo da Vinci none is more remarkable than the disproportion between the quantity of his finished works and the grandeur of his reputation. Our awe of Leonardo is as much for what he was as for what he did, as much for his reach as for his grasp. His career was vagrant and unfocused – in fact, he never had a career. His efforts and his works were dispersed among Florence, Milan, Venice and Rome, in a lifelong search for patrons. Unlike Dante, he had no passion for a woman. Unlike Giotto, Dante, or Brunelleschi, he seemed to have had no civic loyalty. Nor devotion to Church or Christ. He willingly accepted commissions from the Medici, the Sforzas, the Borgias or French kings – from the popes or their enemies. He lacked the sensual worldliness of a Boccaccio or a Chaucer, the recklessness of a Rabelais, the piety of a Dante, or the religious passion of a Michelangelo.

For a few people, naming one’s quest comes with remarkable ease. The individual feels it in the deepest part of his or her soul; the quest has always been there, even if it got lost for a very long while, remaining unexpressed to oneself and to those who are the objects of one’s quest. Deep enduring quest is virtually always motivated by a desire for the well-being of others.

You know a quest when you see it.

To author a workable, fulfilling new story, you will need to ask yourself many questions and then answer them, none more important than those that concern passion. Quest is the sail on the boat, the yeast in the bread. Once you know your quest – that is, what matters – then everything else can fall into place. Getting your quest clear is your defining truth. What is the quest of your life? Whatever it is, it had better be someting for which you will move mountains, cross deserts, seven days a week, no questions asked.

Once you find your quest, you have a chance to live a story that moves you and those around you. A story that make them live happily ever after.  

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