#47 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Ambition

I was listening to the fifth Harry Potter book the other night and there’s a part where he realises he can drop Potions (a subject he hates) the following year, and he got so happy.

I could appreciate his relief, but I realised quitting something had never made me feel that way before. Harry is someone who didn’t enjoy something → had the option to stop doing it → and then just stopped it and felt good.

This might sound super straightforward if you’re already healthy, but if you’re like me, the pathway of commitment doesn’t exactly look the same.

My path is more: I have to do something → I don’t enjoy it → I’m terrible at it → I panic and get insecure → I compensate and work way too hard painfully → I get slightly better at the thing → depending on what it is: I now enjoy it or completely resent it → I then cycle through pain and shame until someone else puts my out of my misery and I try to forget it all until I randomly remember embarrassing moments when I can’t sleep at 3am or when I’m in the shower. Standard, right?

So Harry (at least in this regard), was healthy.

Although he did have a lot of internalised pressure, the one type he was missing was family pressure. (I don’t want to completely skim over the fact that there was clear child abuse and neglect that happened in his household or the fact that his parents died), but if we just focus for a second on the angle that he didn’t have negative pressure from his family. Unlike Ron (or me), he had no-one who would care to see what his grades were and what subjects he took up or dropped.

I’m guessing most of us had this to some extent, but what if that constant fear of a parent looming over our shoulder, judging our grades and performance, being ambitious for us has become internalised forever?

If we’re raised to assume ambition is good because it matters to someone else, do we ever get to question that reasoning properly? I want to get a more Harry attitude to things I don’t enjoy now. He’s helped me try to calm myself down, showing how things might have been different for me, and how my futile cycles of pain are often misguided, unquestioned, faulty programming that fuels a desire that was never really mine.

So in the end of the day, I’m trying to be more OK telling myself: “Drop Potions, Lizzie. Drop Potions.”


“Remember you used to believe all types of nonsense until recently.”

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, with Readwise

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