A Field Guide for The Hero’s Journey

By Jeff Sandefer and Rev. Robert Sirico

Published by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty (November 21, 2012)

A Review

The human race has a long and fascinating history. Just seek a little and you’ll find an almost endless list of writers, builders, thinkers and warriors brought to life in the many myths and legends, histories and plays that our tradition has accumulated. Heck, even if you talk with someone twice your age, you’ll be surprised to hear how many real-life heroes he has known.

But nowadays it’s easy to forget the human race’s reputation for greatness. Especially if you’re young. Maybe it’s our fault for paying no attention, or maybe it’s the fault of teachers like Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, who couldn’t get our attention if they were teaching the anatomy of Salma Hayek.

Either way, even the most successful people in our generation suffer from a sort of malaise. As Shia LaBeouf recently said: “Sometimes I feel like I’m living a meaningless life, and I get frightened.” Coming from a straight guy whose typical work day at the time included making out with Meghan Fox in a Camaro, this statement really begs the question….

What’s missing? And here’s where A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey comes in. Written by Jeff Sandefer, “a serial entrepreneur,” and Father Robert Sirico, “an entrepreneurial priest,” this short guide revisits the inspirational classics of the Western tradition, while also providing practical advice informed by the authors’ own experiences.

And these two men are far from being boring teachers. Not only are they highly educated, they’ve also learned a lot from years of teaching. “As a teacher,” Sandefer writes, “I’ve seen three types of students:

“The first are those who have a deep-seated anger against an authority figure … When properly guided, these types often will use their conflict to change the world for the better.

“The second are those who have overcome a potentially crushing challenge …These types attract other upbeat companions and role models and often go on to great accomplishments.

“The final type seems most successful in schools and early life. …I pity this last group, because I have never had success in reaching one of them. Not a single one. Having faced no epic battles or catastrophic mistakes, they haven’t learned that the sting of failure almost always is more imagined than real.”

At the age of 17, Sandefer already showed himself to be a leader, and frankly makes my 17-year-old self a memory I’d rather leave behind. And that’s what Sandefer advises. He even goes so far as to write, “…I encourage students to fail early, often and as cheaply as possible.”

this shall be my finest moment

Father Sirico is not afraid to recall his failures, and has humility enough to tell of how he’s learned from his mistakes. An author-priest and public figure now, he learned some lessons the hard way in the ’70s, when he spent his time picketing for Leftist causes with “jean-clad, Birkenstocked, and patchouli-oil scented comrades.”

The “Field Guide” is as good a guide for young and old alike as humankind could offer, and draws its treasures mostly from the wisdom of the ages. The reader will learn from teachers like Shakespeare, Bunyan, Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Hugo and Longfellow, not to mention classics like Beowulf, Aesop’s fables and the King James Bible, and heroic examples like Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt and the Reverend Martin Luther King.

Most of all, this book is what its title promises: a real and practical guide. You won’t just read this book and move along, as if it were only another assignment in your Ben Stein class. You’ll take it along with you on your own hero’s journey, dogear it, scribble notes in it, and eventually have to buy a new copy because the old one will have become illegible from use. And when the time comes to replace it, buy a copy for Shia while you’re at it. For a person who “seems most successful” in “early life,” he really does look miserable.