The Hero’s (or Heroine’s) Journey

“What is the change you want to see and what is your first step?” Your answer to this question puts you on your own personal path of change.

Joseph Campbell first popularized the Hero’s Journey as a universal guide for the explore setting out on an unknown journey.

Through our work, we have recognized that it applies to anyone who is seeking change.

At its core, the Hero’s Journey is that pathway from what you know to what you do not know, from the known world to the unknown world. It is exciting and scary in equal measure. It takes us to edge of our comfort zone and what we know. It requires us to embrace uncertainty, risk, and adventure.

Source: Illustration by Kelvy Bird. Adapted from Campbell (1973)

Source: Illustration by Kelvy Bird. Adapted from Campbell (1973)


A hero’s journey follows eight stages – as we explain these, consider how one or all might be already familiar to you:

  1. Call to Adventure. The Call to Adventure can be an external event, a challenge, an opportunity, an idea, or an internal shift. You have been living in your ordinary world, but now things feel different—there is something inside you that is calling you to adventure and to leave the current and known world behind.

  2. Fear and Uncertainty. Having heard the call to adventure, you begin to feel the uncertainty and fear of embracing the unknown. You know the path is uncertain and full of risks, and you don’t (yet) have the skills for the task at hand.

  3. Meeting the Mentor. Serendipitously, you meet the mentor. Meeting the mentor can be listening to your own inner voice, or it can be meeting a wise friend, colleague, or stranger who helps you with advice and support for the journey ahead. You might find that mentor inside or outside of your current context.

  4. Taking Action. You commit to the path and cross the threshold from your known (and in many ways, safe) world to the unknown world. You have crossed the threshold from what you know, to that which you do not (yet) know.

  5. Challenges and Finding Your Tribe. Having crossed the threshold, you meet a series of challenges, allies, and enemies. Sometimes those enemies are external. Sometimes they take the form of your inner critic, telling you that you are not capable of what you have chosen to take on—that it is too big, too scary, and who do you think you are for even trying? It is also a time when you meet people who are on a similar path, who resonate deeply with your work or goal. These are the people who offer commitment, support, and help when your perseverance and commitment are tested. They are your adventure-sustaining tribe.

  6. The Abyss. There comes a stage on your journey when you meet that which you fear the most. It can feel like a life or death experience. It puts you through the wringer and you are not sure if you are going to get through it. You go into this darkest of caves and you leave the old version of you behind when you walk out.

  7. Lessons Learned and New Understanding. This is the treasure that was found in that cave. Having faced death in its metaphorical sense, you have discovered a gift or a newfound understanding. That gift or new understanding is now an integral part of who you are.

  8. Sharing What You Learned and Being a Mentor to Others. You are transformed by this journey and return to the world you once knew, sharing what you have learned. You inspire and help others with your mastery and mentor others on the path.

Regardless of the change you want to see, the more change leaders we coach, the more we see that every single one of them is on the path of the Hero’s Journey. While the challenges and opportunities to stumble are plentiful on the Hero’s Journey, the capacity for growth, learning, and self-discovery are equal in measure. It is a path of deep learning. It brings us up against the limit of our current knowledge, skills, and abilities. 

What about you? How might your Hero’s Journey unfold? You might be ready to take that first step, or you might already be on your path. The questions that follow will help you prepare for the journey as well as provide helpful signposts while you are on it.

Your Hero’s Journey

Call to Adventure: What is calling you? What are you becoming more aware of? What is the change you would like to see? Why is this important to you?

Fear and Uncertainty: What fears come up for you when you think about this change? How is it difficult for you? Why is it difficult? What will happen if the change does not happen?

Meeting the Mentor: What do you need to help you overcome that fear? Who might help you? Who could be part of your tribe? How might they help you? Is there a group of like-minded people out there, who share your purpose and passion, with whom you could join? Is this an opportunity to build a new tribe from scratch? How might you be your own mentor?

Taking Action: It’s time to action—and it does not have to be a massive leap, unless you want it to be. It can be a small step. What’s the small action step you could take today to move your vision forward?

Challenges and Finding Your Tribe: Who is with you? Who is resisting the change? What challenges are you experiencing? What are you learning from those challenges? How might you align with your allies to help you weather that which your enemies throw at you? Sometimes your enemies are external, and sometimes they are internal—in the form of the inner critic.

The Abyss: What are your deepest fears in this work? How are you overcoming them? What is the biggest lesson that you are here to learn through this work? Why is it important? What parts of yourself do you have to let go of? What part of you needs to die, in order to move on?

Lessons Learned and New Understanding: What are the lessons learned? What new thing about yourself do you need to claim? How are you fortified to do the work that is in your heart to do? How are you changed?

Sharing What You Learned and Being a Mentor to Others: How can your story help others? How can your work have a broader impact beyond yourself or beyond your own school or community?

We Need You

“You have a masterpiece inside you, you know. One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be. If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you.” 

- Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball

One of our greatest untapped resources when it comes to change is the final stage of the Hero’s Journey. The final stage invites you to be a mentor to others and to share what you have learned. It’s the boon; the gift that when shared energizes and inspires others to respond to the call. The mighty combination of doing your own work AND subsequently sharing that learning with others produces a flywheel of change. Change that is meaningful and change that is practical – because it is led by people who have experienced the work and who know the reality on the ground. People who have faced real challenges and obstacles and who have found a way to overcome them. People like you.

We need more people doing the work that is in their heart to do. We need you ☺

Jennifer StineComment