Man, Doctor Strange was just magical, wasn’t it? The fans and critics agree. I’d give you my own review, but pieces of my brain are still floating around in an alternate dimension. It simultaneously accomplishes molding a mystical world to fit the aesthetic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, adds a whole new dimension to said universe (literally), and manages to be a damn entertaining adventure to boot. Since I’m talking about it here though, there are some motivational lessons to be found in it too.
Doctor Stephen Strange, in both the comics and film, hails from the proud Marvel tradition of flawed heroes that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko popularized in the Silver Age of Comics. He began his journey not as some plucky kid at a wizard school, but a successful heart surgeon with a colossal ego and severe deficit of empathy. A car accident that shatters his hands (and surgical career) leads him to a mystical monastery where he learns the art of sorcery, and more importantly, humility.
So to celebrate the Sorcerer Supreme’s cinematic debut, let’s look at some lessons in emerging miraculously from tragedy and setback from the film. If it wasn’t already apparent, spoilers for Doctor Strange follow.
Relinquish the Lost Opportunity
Things go wrong in our lives, that’s inevitable. Stephen Strange’s successful and (in)famous surgeon career comes to catastrophic halt when his car careens off of a mountainous road and shatters his hands in the resulting crash. The reconstruction robs him of the dexterity he needs to perform surgery, and by extension robs him of his perceived purpose in life. He rebukes his former girlfriend Christine Palmer’s suggestion he can still save lives as a medical consultant or researcher. He pours all of his money and resources into experimental procedures to restore his hands to their former glory.
This leads him to the Ancient One’s monastery in Nepal, but despite his pleas, she refuses to magically fix his hands so he can return to his old life. Her message to him is simple: His old life is over, but that doesn’t mean he cannot begin a new one. She offers him the secrets of magic and the infinite multiverse. His decrepit hands were no longer fit for surgery, but they were more than apt for spellcasting.
In time, he engrosses himself in his studies and progresses faster than any of her previous pupils. The looming threat of Kaecilius draws him into the battle between good and evil. He even gets a brief flirtation with his old life when assisting Christine in saving himself from a bullet wound, but in the end, he embraces the role of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Doctor Strange the surgeon was no more, but the career of Doctor Strange the Mystic Protector of the Earth was just beginning.
Discover New Ways to Excel
Beginning a new life after decades of investment in a previous one is no easy feat. It takes dedication and diligence, but more importantly, one must open their mind to find new opportunities. Initially, Doctor Strange only wishes to repair his hands and return to the world of medicine. That was exactly what a previous protege of the mystic arts, Jonathan Pangborn, did when he learned to heal his paralysis.
Stephen learns however that his intellect was just as suited to sorcery as it was to surgery. Throughout the film, his hands are never fully healed, but by the end, it no longer concerns him. He discovers fulfillment and responsibility beyond what he ever knew as a surgeon. Being a world-famous doctor is great, but it just doesn’t compare to the life of a master sorcerer that even gods ask for help.
Working hard is great, but working smart is just as important. Creativity and flexibility are paramount to overcoming obstacles and setbacks. Shortly into his training, Doctor Strange impresses those around him with his creative application of magic. Quick and inventive thinking helps Strange defeat an entire gang of Kaecilius’s zealots who studied the mystic arts for decades longer than him. The Ancient One recognizes the vital symbiosis between hard work and innovation when she encourages Mordo to continue working with Strange, saying his flexibility and Mordo’s steadfast determination create an unbeatable team.
Doctor Strange’s most impressive feat of innovation is undoubtedly his defeat of the tyrannical ruler of the Dark Dimension, Dormammu. The demon is lightyears ahead of any of Earth’s sorcerers in power. It would take a feat of brains, not brawn, to save the Earth from his advance. Stephen Strange does just that. He traps Dormammu in a repeating time loop, and despite repeated painful deaths, Strange refuses to release him until he agrees to leave his realm. Eventually, the demon lord does just that, and takes Kaecilius and his followers with him.
And to think, the magic used to create the time loop came from the same book that specified instructions to summon Dormammu.
Draw Power from a Higher Purpose
As Batman once said, “It’s a good tonic, altruism. Nothing helps one put problems in perspective like allegiance to a higher cause.” Doctor Strange lived a self-serving life before the career-ravaging car crash, but he finds greater meaning than he ever knew before as a mystic protector of Earth. Without his involvement, all of that fancy buildup towards Avengers: Infinity War would have been brought to a premature erasure by Dormammu and Kaecelius. By the time the requisite post-credits sequence rolls around, Doctor Strange possesses a calm sense of inner peace seamlessly intertwined with acknowledgement of his responsibility as Sorcerer Supreme.
Focusing on wants, worries, and fears drag us down into a sea of envy and anxiety. We pull ourselves out again by considering the problems and struggles of others. You can start small with a focus on altruism. Try volunteering or a commitment to acts of kindness. You’ll be surprised how quickly your worries can dissipate.
To once again quote the Ancient One, “Surrender. Silence your ego and your power will arise.”
Open Your Eyes to New Worlds
Sure, you can say there are motivational lessons in every superhero story. Many of the same trials Doctor Strange faces mirror those overcome by Tony Stark. Different people take inspiration from different things, so perhaps this mystic story could help you in a way a technological one didn’t. Doctor Strange is delightfully entertaining, but let it teach you something too.
Stephen Strange can’t instruct you in the mystic arts, but his movie can, as the poster proclaims, “expand your mind,” and “change your reality.”
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