Losing to Win: Doctor Strange and Fear

"Doctor Strange" | Art by WisesnailArt. Used with permission.

I despise losing at important things in life. I hate failing people, failing at jobs, failing to follow certain rules that end up getting me in trouble, and especially failing myself. Sometimes I am my worst enemy. I kick myself far worse and far longer than any outside consequence or berating.

When I went to the movie theater to see Doctor Strange last weekend, I expected another typical superhero film focusing on the final battle between the villain and hero, not in a bad way at all, but that’s how most superhero films tend to go. Instead, I left the theater recognizing how crippling my fear of failure has been this past year. Doctor Strange didn’t focus on the epic battles between a villain and the hero, it focused on the battle between the hero and his own inner demons.

Sometimes you have to lose in order to win.

Stephen Strange was an excellent, albeit prodigy, surgeon. He succeeded with every patient he accepted, and this fueled his ambition and arrogance. Despite this exterior, he still refused patients, ones that weren’t challenging enough and ones he thought were unfixable. The latter surprised me because refusing patients seemed contradictory to his utter confidence in his abilities. Ironically, after looking away from the road for but a few seconds, Doctor Strange becomes the unfixable.

The devastating accident robs him of his steady hands, ending his career as a surgeon. Doctor Strange completely falls apart. Desperately, he spends his savings trying procedure after procedure to regain full mobility. Every effort fails, leaving him with incurable tremors. During a physical therapy session, he hears about a patient who miraculously recovered from paralysis—by unconventional methods.

As a final resort, Strange spends the last of his money to travel to Nepal and seek healing. There he meets the Ancient One, who tells him the only way for him to gain healing is ultimately to conquer his own demons. When Doctor Strange becomes frustrated at his inability to grasp the magical arts concepts, the Ancient One points out that his fear of failure is holding him back. To proceed forward, he must let it go.

At that moment in, it dawned on me why Strange refused to treat people he believed he couldn’t fix and why he was so devastated by his injury beyond the obvious consequences. He was terrified of failure, terrified of failing his career, terrified at failing at an operation, and he covered it up with ambition to cope—just like me.

I wouldn’t call myself an arrogant person, but I would call myself a highly ambitious person, much like Strange. I’m passionate, hardworking, and put my one hundred percent into my career and my life choices, but I find myself using my ambition to cover how terrified I am if all of my efforts come to naught. I’m terrified of losing.

The only way for Strange to gain healing is to conquer his own demons.

During the climax of the movie, Doctor Strange is faced with defeating the great entity Dormmamu. To do this, he damns himself to a time loop where Dormammu kills him over and over, where he fails over and over. I was almost moved to tears. Strange condemned himself for the unforeseeable future to live out his worst fear to save the world. And after dying dozens of times, he finally wins.

This hit home. Every time I have failed, I have gotten upset for days, weeks, even months. Like Doctor Strange, of late I have been running from the dreadful pain of failure. I’ve been avoiding entering writing contests, submitting my books for publication, applying to jobs that I feel are out of my league, sharing my beliefs with others to escape debates that might cause conflict—because I’ve been afraid. Doctor Strange opened my eyes to my own behaviour. Fear isn’t something to run away from. I’m not avoiding it by running; I’m giving in to it. Though failing hurts, it’s often an important step to success. Just recently, I regained my courage and submitted my books to two publishers. I’ve changed my perspective on failing because if I don’t try, I may miss out on something amazing. In my heart, I know that however hard it is to accept, sometimes you have to lose in order to win.

Victoria Grace Howell

Victoria Grace Howell

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Victoria Grace Howell is an award-winning writer of speculative fiction and an editor for Geeks Under Grace. When not typing away at her novels, she enjoys drawing her characters, blogging, Kung Fu, cosplaying, and a really good hot cup of tea.
Victoria Grace Howell

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