Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Hope for the Hero

Written by: on February 1, 2024

Facing the struggles of my doctoral journey thus far has led me to question why I even started and I felt shamed by my initial response.  Had I really convinced my husband to accompany me on a three-year investment of time and money out of a twisted ego need to earn the title of ‘Doctor?’ In the template of the monomyth, ordinary people take pride in living life within the expected norms but I have always seen myself as an outsider, one who lives outside the ordinary.[1] At first blush it seemed that my competitive desire to be someone other than ordinary had brought me to a path I was unable to travel.

I began to doubt whether I had been called to embark on this journey and feared my own ego had led me to begin. I am not a hero. Enter the familiar beast of spiraling self-doubt which inevitably accompanies an inward focus. Then I discovered the temptation to center myself might actually be fitting since the myths are a pattern for men and women everywhere in all times. [2]  If I could but find own place on the myth map, then I might make it past the barriers I’m facing. I just need some signposts, and they have come.

Dr. Clark revealed himself as one who knows the way and as willing to be a guide. Fellow travelers in the cohort also seem willing to be companions on the journey. A deeper understanding of additional symbols of the monomyth also served up encouragement. For example, the hero ultimately returns to the status quo, but it is a ‘new and improved’ sort of status quo in which the hero has something to offer others.[3] This others-centered image of the destination helped me reconnect to my real motives. I am a doctoral student, in this particular program, on behalf of others. My purpose is to become a better leader who helps others become better leaders, too. The sacrifices I and my family make are on behalf people who will never have this development opportunity and on behalf of still more who will be influenced by those leaders. I inhaled yet another breath of hope when reading that the Hero’s Journey template is used as metaphor to guide students in becoming researchers. Students learn to research by identifying a topic that has rich personal meaning.[4] The research topic side of the program is also vitally important to me for all of the reasons just listed. Perhaps choosing to recognize myself as a hero in a myth is not childish or regressive, after all.

If identifying oneself as a hero in the monomyth of the Hero’s journey is helpful, how much more helpful could it be to connect one’s place in the story of Jesus, the ultimate Hero? At first blush, it seems like the Jesus story is just one of many cosmic myths encompassing elements familiar to people across time and across the globe. Even the central idea of atonement can be reduced to a psychological slaying of the twin dragons of an angry father and repressed id.[5]  What is special about the Jesus story among global multiplicity of myths and how can my own connection to it give add to my hope today…and tomorrow?

Perhaps the universal nature of the Hero’s Journey and accompanying symbols are a form of God’s prevenient grace. People, ancient and modern, having grown up with stories following a similar pattern, may resonate with the tale of Jesus dead, then resurrected. The other myths actually prepare people to receive the Spirit of Jesus and become reborn as agents of a new status quo, heroes who make a difference.[6] Each and every person who identifies with Jesus’ journey into death and subsequent resurrection through baptism is declared a new creation. The outside is the same, but inwardly they carry a treasure, the Spirit of Jesus. This treasure gives them power which was previously unavailable. They now have super-human eyes to see unjust-ness and a pure heart transformed by grace to act in love on behalf of all the fellow travelers. Of course I am a hero. My life is patterned after the ultimate Hero, the Hero of Hope.

[1] Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) (Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2020), 117.

[2] Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 176.

[3] Matthew Winkler, “What Makes a Hero?”  TedEX, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hhk4N9A0oCA&t=167s.

[4] Matthew Burgess, Helen Georgas, and Mariana Regalado, “Chose Your Own Adventure: The Hero’s Journey and the Research Process, 2017, Association of College and Research Libraries Conference, 122.

[5] Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 187.

[6] Matthew Winkler, “What Makes a Hero?”  TedEX, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hhk4N9A0oCA&t=167s.

About the Author

Julie O'Hara

8 responses to “Hope for the Hero”

  1. Noel Liemam says:

    Hi, Julie, thank you for your posting for it is very insightful. I would never doubt your ability to sail right through this doctoral journey. You mentioned that ‘the hero’s journey’ framework can also be used by doctoral researchers? I would like to learn more about it. Thank you.

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Hi Noel,
      I appreciate your confidence in me! I am growing to trust in whatever God has for me along the way. Thank you for your question. I found this article on the website we explored explaining how professors and librarians introduce the Hero’s Journey framework to undergraduate students as a guide for their initial research project. The research becomes the journey and by seeing themselves as heroes on a journey they grow more confident that obstacles and trials are part of the overall process – and that the destination is worth it.

      Research: City University of New York (CUNY)’s Choose Your Own Adventure: The Hero’s Journey and the Research Process

  2. Daren Jaime says:

    Julie! As I read through your post, I echoed your sentiments in questioning the doctoral journey. However, I have come to conclude we never get all the answers until we answer the call and then are fortunate to understand the process when we see what is on the other side. I truly believe our labor is not in vain. You mentioned connectivity to Jesus and the treasure associated with it. Looking at where you are in your journey what treasures come to mind in your own experience?

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Hi Daren,
      Yes, friend, it was you who introduced me to this way and fanned to flame the tiny spark of doctoral dream that was inside. I had always thought it was out of reach, impossible, but here I am. So right on not getting the answers until we answer the call! That was true of my journey to pastoral ministry and I remind our candidates all the time that they actually cannot see the future!
      Regarding the treasure of being connected to Jesus on this journey – it is the sense of doing something meaningful. Until I fully surrendered my life, any quest was for purely selfish motives, stepping on others to get ahead, to ‘win.’ I really sift my heart a lot because never want to be that again. Now, all my work, including this program, is for the purpose of making a Kingdom difference and that feels really exciting. Another treasure could be the ‘re-making’ of past experience. In the hands of the potter those ugly things are refashioned as tools to connect with others whom Jesus is calling to himself.

  3. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Great post, Julie! Thank you for being vulnerable with your self-doubts (the same ones the rest of us are having, too!!) and how you brought it all back in your last statement. Loved it!
    One thing that popped into my head while reading this was that our journeys mirror our transformation over the next 3 years. We are filling the bottle of elixer ever so slowly as we learn, and upon graduation, we get to share that elixer with those who need it.
    Until then, How can our individual journeys, self-doubts, and gradual transformations come together to create a shared well of wisdom over the next three years, so we can support and uplift others when we are down or doubting?

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Hi Chris, thank you for your response. I keep coming back to the idea of companions for the journey. When one flags others are alongside for encouragement. I have read lots of fantasy fiction and this seems to be a consistent pattern. It is also true in the Biblical stories. The first human was not to be alone, but God created another to reflect Godself as a relational being. They left the ‘garden’ together to face the trials ahead. When humanity returns to the ‘garden’ status quo, it will be the next level! Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ arms, and I think that is how we will be for one another.

  4. Elysse Burns says:

    Hi Julie, I appreciated the vulnerability shared in your post. I resonated with your statement, “I am a doctoral student, in this particular program, on behalf of others.” I can remember drowning in my masters program and the only thing that kept me treading water was, “This isn’t for me. This isn’t for me.” I have been repeating this sentiment with the doctoral program. I keep thinking, “The Lord has placed this desire or purpose in my heart and I can use it to bring life to others.” You are already doing this in your life! So, I was thrilled at the end of your post when I read, “Of course I am a hero.” After hearing some of your story while in Oxford, I would like to reiterate that you are a hero.

    What have been some of the most life-giving promises God has brought to mind on this Hero’s Journey of our doctoral program and how did they manifest?

  5. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Julie. I really respect how you did your syntopical connections, especially with a foundation behind your educational journey on behalf of others. You’ve caught the self-sacrificing sense of the hero’s journey and given us a strong case for how compelling it is for you. This is inspirational. Well done.

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