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Zack Ryder & The Hero's Journey

Zack Ryder & The Hero's Journey

Zack Ryder & Detours on The Hero's Journey

Let me tell you a story about a guy named Zack Ryder. Well, actually, his real name is Matthew but in the world of Pro Wrestling, “real” is a loosely defined term. Zack grew up loving wrestling more than anything. He went to the shows, collected all the gear and eventually he even decided that he wanted to become a Pro Wrestler. Very few people are able to maintain the heart and soul necessary to follow childhood dreams until they become reality. Those silly aspirations grate against the status quo and often get squashed out of us pretty early on. We give up our dreams of being an astronaut and landing on the moon to settle for being an accountant and landing a job.

Zack made the decision to go for it. He pushed through all the stigmas that go along with the weird world of Pro Wrestling. ("You know that’s fake, right?") He did the work. He jumped through all the hoops. He paid all the dues. Then, in 2007 he made it to the big time, The WWE. This is way more impressive than you might think being that there are probably less than 100 “jobs" in the world for a Pro Wrestler to make a significant amount of money.

Mission accomplished. He made it.


Not so fast, this is where the story gets interesting. Here is what the last decade or so has looked like for Zack Ryder:

Zack Ryder debuts in WWE in 2007.

Gets to work with Edge, one of the top guys in WWE. Very cool way to start.


He and Curt Hawkins win the Tag Team titles in 2008.

This is a huge win for Zack and so early on in his career — Way to go bro!


Then from 2008-2010 he kind of just floats.

He’s on some of the shows, doesn’t really win a lot of his matches. This is NOT what he was dreaming about.


So he decides to take matters into his own hands. He starts a YouTube show (Z! True Long Island Story) and it takes off! Thousands of people are watching every week. He gets a million followers on Twitter. All the while, he is STILL not on TV often and would surely have been forgotten about had he not started this show. He becomes so popular from this show that the WWE sells out of all of his shirts and merchandise. Fans start chanting “We Want Ryder” at live events. In June, he debuts on WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night RAW! He starts getting more and more TV time and eventually he wins the United States Championship in December of 2011. What an amazing way to end the best year of his life yet!

Then the bottom dropped out. He lost the title soon after and was pretty much written off of WWE TV completely. Literally at one point, he was pushed off the stage in a wheelchair and from then on, Ryder was gone. Nowhere to be found.

He was still getting paid. But this was a real low point and it lasted through 2012.

And 2013.

And 2014.

In 2015, they sent him down to the NXT, the minor leagues of WWE.  

When you decide to chase a dream. You embark on a journey for which there is no map. Sure, there are inspirations and examples, but this is your story. I’m pretty sure that you don’t want to be a Pro Wrestler, but your dream is probably equally outrageous and it’s probably not any easier to accomplish. You’ve got obstacles, real obstacles standing in your way. If you’ve got guts enough to start on a heroes journey, you’ll quickly find out that the level of boldness and determination that it took to start, is not enough to keep you moving forward on that path. There are detours. Things beyond your control. Everything will take longer and cost more. There will be moments of relief when you feel like “you made it” but soon after you’ll have to pack up the lil’ party you were throwing yourself to keep moving forward. You’ll have times where you plateau and push through with determination to the next level only to feel further from your goal than ever just 6 months later. A life spent pursuing dreams is a life lived on a roller coaster, one that doesn’t end. You can stop at any time but then again, now you’ve got years invested and starting over with something else would probably be worse.

When you leave the known to pursue the unknown, you know that it won’t be easy. Nothing worth doing ever is. But what we don’t forsee is how much the detours on this journey take a toll. If you can survive the detours, you’ll make it. If you can survive the “do not pass go, do not collect $200” moments, you’ll find yourself on top of mountain peaks every now and then. It’s not so much the hurdles or potholes on the journey, it’s the “4 steps forward 28 steps backward” moments that make you want to quit. The late great Joseph Campbell has written volumes on what he calls, The Hero's Journey. I recommend that anyone who has decided to chase a dream take a deep dive into his writings and lectures. You’ll find it encouraging, inspiring and comforting. One thing is for sure, there is a reason that Joseph Campbell calls it the Hero's Journey and not the Hero's Race. There is no rush, no hurry. It’s the path that makes the hero, not the destination. 

Newsflash: There is no finish line. Just pick the direction your heart is leading you in and go that way. Then keep going.

Zack Ryder kept going. Despite being sent down to the minors in 2015, he got the opportunity of a lifetime in April of 2016. He got to wrestle at WRESTLEMANIA! If front of 101,763-ish people, he won a ladder match for the Intercontinental Title—the highlight of his career came after his greatest detour.


He lost it the next night and wasn’t even in the building at the next pay-per-view event. (He wasn't in the building for the next one either. As a matter of fact, he tweeted about it from an Outback Steakhouse in a different city). But I’m sure his story isn’t over yet, and I’m sure yours isn’t either.

Happy detouring dreamers!

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