Joseph Campbell wrote, “Not everyone has a destiny: only the hero who has plunged to touch it, and has come up again—with a ring.” Simon Winchester, author, journalist, and broadcaster, might offer a paraphrase based on his book, The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. He might say, “Not everyone has a destiny: only the hero who has plunged to touch it, and has come up again—with a [map].”
His book is classified by the Library of Congress under the science umbrella, specifically geology, but it reads like a biography of William Smith’s life and recounts his hero’s journey—a hero’s journey fueled by Smith’s insatiable sense of curiosity or what Winchester describes as his “intellectual passion.” And a hero’s journey whose resultant boon “…signified the beginnings of an era not yet over, that has been marked ever since by the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed human beings to start at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something certain about their own origins—and those of the planet they inhabit.”
Smith’s hero’s journey included times of severe testing. He was of common birth in 18th-19th century England where only being born noble opened doors of opportunity. He was predominantly self-educated, and so had no institutional clout. His pre-eminent work in mapping what could not be seen beneath the earth’s surface aroused vicious jealousy among those gently born—to the point that these rivals copied his geological-formations-of-Great-Britain map and claimed it as their own. This, in part, led to Smith’s utter financial ruin, eventual imprisonment in debtor’s prison, and the ruination of both his health and that of his wife.
But Smith also encountered helpers on his hero’s journey, including nobleman Sir John Johnstone, who recognized Smith’s brilliance and employed him as his estate surveyor. This opportunity eventually led to Smith being recognized in London by fellow geologists for his original, brilliant contribution to the fledgling field.
Smith’s tenacity and single-minded focus also brought to my mind Steven Pressfield’s insights regarding creativity. Pressfield writes: “The essence of professionalism is the focus upon the work and its demands, while we are doing it, to the exclusion of all else.” Winchester captures this tenacity when he writes,
All the Herculean labors involved in the mapping of the imagined underside of an entire country were accomplished not by an army or a legion or a committee or a team, but by the single individual who finally put his signature to the completed document—William Smith…it was conceived, imagined, begun, undertaken, and continued and completed against all odds by just [this] one man.
Indeed, Smith lived Pressfield’s closing remarks, “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention…It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.” Surely Smith’s geologic strata map of Great Britain has been a gift to the world.
Winchester’s artful description of the impact Smith’s map has had on the world also caught my attention. As quoted above, he writes that Smith’s map: “…allowed human beings to start at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something certain about their own origins—and those of the planet they inhabit.” In our readings and discussions related to Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism (and Other Writings) we have grappled with the human need for assurance and the implications this has had for theological discourse and the resultant practical impacts on people’s actions and decisions—birthing both the development of the Protestant work ethic and capitalism. In Smith’s map, and this glimpse into the fledging filed of geology, born on the cusp of the second Industrial Revolution, we see another contribution to the human hunger for assurance as well as a tool that fueled the spread of capitalism, industrialization, and both the beneficial and destructive dynamics emergent from these realities.
It leaves me pondering the complex intersections of ideas, discoveries, and practices that laid the foundation for the world I now inhabit. It also pushes me, as a leader, to recognize that new innovations bring both benefits and negative unintended consequences; I need to press forward in rigorous ethical reflection and practice as I seek to birth new initiatives into this world that may also have long-term benefits and negative unintended consequences.
 Campbell, Joseph. 2008. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Bollingen Series XVII. Novato, Calif: New World Library, 196.
 Winchester, Simon. 2009. The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. Repr. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.
 Ibid., 195.
 Campbell, 211.
 Winchester, xviii.
 Ibid., 257.
 Ibid., 278.
 Ibid., 281+.
 Pressfield, Steven. 2002. The War of Art: Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. New York, NY, Los Angeles: Black Irish Entertainment LLC, 99.
 Winchester, xix.
 Pressfield, 165.
 Winchester, xviii.
 Weber, Max, Peter Baehr, and Gordon C. Wells. 2002. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings. Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics. New York: Penguin Books.