What Harry Potter taught me about realistic expectations


Since the age of 9, I’ve read at least one Harry Potter book a year. I realize that admitting that in a space that pretty much anyone has access to is probably a dangerous thing to do. #nerdalert.

Harry Potter is probably the only thing that I’m super dorky about and it’s something that after 12 years of attempting to downplay, I’ve come to accept about myself.

Trying to explain my HP obsession has been a tricky thing to do, even to myself. But I think it has something to do with the comfort of returning to a world where a good and noble hero beats the bad guy (spoiler alert).

Another cool thing about JK Rowling’s writing, is how she makes a completely fantastical world such an accurate reflection of our own, painfully real, lives. A good example of this is the Mirror of Erised.

In the first book, Harry (while escaping from an angry Snape during a midnight venture) comes across an empty classroom that has an enormous, old mirror called the Mirror of Erised. To Harry’s shock, it shows not just his reflection, but that of his whole family…family that is no longer alive.

As we come to find out, the Mirror of Erised reflects our deepest, most ardent desire (Erised = desire spelled backwards). Which is an interesting idea, because isn’t what we really want a significant part of who we are? At the end of the chapter in which we find this out, Harry asks professor Dumbledore what he sees when he looks in the mirror. To which he responds:

I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks.

As Harry suspects, (and as we come to find out 6 books later) that is not Dumbledore’s honest answer; but then, (as Harry reflects) it is also quite a personal question.

I love this concept because I think a big issue we face today is not knowing what we want. 

We go through our day-to-day lives without really stopping to think about what our long-term goals are and end up unhappy and unfulfilled without understanding why. Sometimes we think we know what we want and when we get there, feel dissatisfied. Sometimes we try to convince ourselves that what we want is what other people want for us and then come to realize that it also is disappointing. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were a mirror we could look into that would tell us what direction we should take, or what job would be best suited for us, or where we should live?

Finding direction and purpose in life is so essential to both our happiness and the good of society. Though it may not seem that way, you and your life matter and can make more of a difference than you can possibly imagine. But wandering aimlessly and looking to others for direction will make it a lot more difficult to reach our potential. Because the Mirror of Erised is something that doesn’t exist (or at least not accessible to us Muggles), we have to think, and ask and try and then try again and then maybe have a quarter-life crisis or two…it’s not an easy endeavor but one that I’m sure you’ll agree is worthy of our time and effort.

That thing that you really want to do, that person that you’d like to become…those desires are on your heart for a reason and shouldn’t be pushed aside as unattainable or trivial. They are an essential part of who you are and when we embrace them, we open up doors to contribute so much more to the world around us.

Having said that, Dumbledore also makes another good point as he sees Harry becoming obsessed with what he sees in the Mirror of Erised.

“It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live, Harry.”

As an idealist, I often see myself, others and the world around me, as it could be. Or as I think it should be. This can be dangerous as it often leads to disappointment and frustration when the person, situation or even I do not meet those expectations. Accepting the present as it is, ourselves as we are and others as they are, is also important; to recognize the value that already exists and not just what could be better. We need to see the good and feel grateful for how things are before we can work toward something better.

Questions to ask yourself today:
What and who are you grateful for right now? Why? What is one thing you want? What is something you would like to work toward and how will you take the first step?

It doesn’t have to feel big or super scary. Maybe it’s learning a new skill or trying a new dish or finally getting up early (even just 5 minutes earlier) to start your day off more calmly. It’s in the small, daily changes that we move forward.

We want to be active (and grateful) participants in this life and to do so we need to see the good we are surrounded by now and decide the direction we want to move forward in.

Here’s to starting off Monday inspired by a (seriously awesome) children’s book.



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