The Hero's Journey: Tests, Allies, & Enemies

Author's note: This week is the sixth in a 12-part series on the Hero's Journey, or the monomyth proposed by Joseph Campbell. The sixth stage is Tests, Allies, and Enemies.

At the crossing of the threshold, we committed-through action-to finding a new way, and to making a difference by choosing to do something different than those around us have done before.

Now, the real work begins.


Before we committed to the hero's journey, our struggles were internal, fighting our own doubts, fears, and self-serving objectives. As we cross the threshold, we face a series of tests.

These tests don't just measure our readiness for the Ordeal that awaits, they also provide invaluable preparation, practice, and training to meet and overcome that ultimate challenge.

To do so, we must master the Heroic Arts.

"A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist." -Louis Nizer

To master anything, particularly the Heroic Arts, requires consistence, persistence, and repetition. (See The ABC's: How to be a Hero Building Organization)

Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo identified the Heroic Arts, which are necessary for awakening and nurturing the Heroic Imagination. They are identified here as: Question, Courage, Strength, Speed, Sacrifice, and Team.

Question - The ability to look at any situation with a discerning eye and from a fresh perspective. The person who has developed this Heroic Art will challenge her/his own and others' thinking, and will accept ideas only after careful examination with objective facts and her/his own guiding principles. You can find an in-depth discussion of the Hero's Question: 1st of 6 Heroic Arts here.

Courage - The ability to connect with what is in your heart, both the things you feel (emotions) and the things you treasure (values). The person who has developed this Heroic Art will recognize how feelings such as anger, compassion, and fear affect her/his ability to act, and will ground her/his decisions according to her/his beliefs, principles, and values. You can find an in-depth discussion of the Heart of Courage: 2nd of 6 Heroic Arts here.

Strength - The ability to ground yourself at all times with your past, your present, and your future, to comprehend how past experiences have shaped you, to embrace all of the distinct parts of your identity, and to hold firm to the aspirations of the person you want to be, both now and in the future. The person who has developed this Heroic Art will demonstrate a strong sense of self, and will not waiver from that foundation despite any social or situational forces. You can find an in-depth discussion of the Rock of Strength: 3rd of 6 Heroic Arts here.

Speed - The ability to be the first to act, despite any personal doubts or fears, or pressure from others. It is embracing one reason to act, being the first to speak up, being the first to stand out, and knowing that one can lead the way and create a movement. The person who has developed this Heroic Art will leverage the skills of Question, Courage, and Strength, acknowledge her/his discomfort, and choose to be the first to act. You can find an in-depth discussion of the Speed of One: 4th of 6 Heroic Arts here.

Sacrifice - The ability to offer your energy, your gifts, your talent, and your time to something greater than yourself. It is easy to follow once one has shown the way, but to lead the way requires sacrifice and struggle. The greatest risk, however, is to dare to examine your everyday life, to connect with your emotions, to be your authentic self, and to step into ambiguity and discomfort to make a difference for others. The person who has developed this Heroic Art will serve others. You can find an in-depth discussion of the Practice of Sacrifice: 5th of 6 Heroic Arts here.


In our world, we oftentimes credit a singular hero with extraordinary feats. The truth is, none of them-and none of us-do it alone. Even in the cases where one individual performs one individual act, that person has allies, coaches/mentors, and supporters that she/he relies on.

Team - The intentional and purposeful recruitment of others who will directly participate in the struggle with us (allies), who will provide valuable advice and counsel as we navigate the difficult terrain of addressing the challenge (coaches/mentors), and who will provide influence or resources to smooth the struggle (supporters). You can find an in-depth discussion of the Heroic Team: 6th of 6 Heroic Arts here.


It is easy to conjure up images of maniacal or sadistic villains, but oftentimes our “villains” are people who are afraid of change, or who embrace the status quo. For others, enemies may include a lack of financial or human resources, bureaucracy, distance, groupthink, peer pressure, or time. These enemies may not be "evil," but they are in fact obstacles standing in the way of positive change.

On the other hand, many villains may be more intimately known to us. We may see their faces each and every day. These enemies are the parts of us that don’t want to get involved, that are afraid or embarrassed, or that have "better things" to do. Oftentimes, these internal "villains" can be more powerful and unrelenting than external opponents.

The hero's journey is not an easy road, but the tests, the allies, and the enemies all prepare us to face and overcome the great challenge that awaits us, the challenge to be and to do more than the ordinary, the challenge to transform ourselves and the world.