12 major lessons 'Harry Potter' taught me about adulthood
I’m not really a die-hard fan of many fantasy series. I casually enjoy a lot of them—I just tend to find more satisfaction from fiction I can at least somewhat relate to. And while I can appreciate the beauty, detail, and appeal of things like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, they just aren’t really my thing.
But then, there’s Harry Potter. I have been a fan since 2002, when I first saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in theatres and then picked up the books immediately thereafter. Thirteen years later, I haven’t looked back—if anything, I’m even more of a fan now at 30 than I was at 17. When people ask me why, I have a simple explanation: JK Rowling put her story, characters, and themes first while magic actually played a supporting role—which isn’t something I can imagine was easy to do considering how vast this magical world she was weaving truly was. And that is the kind of fantasy I can get behind.
Ms. Rowling also did us a service by allowing these core elements to grow as her protagonist did and, as a result, gave us some serious lessons that we can carry with us throughout our adult Muggle lives. Harry Potter is not just a series for children, if for this reason alone, and because of its adaptability it remains something I am proud to pass on to my future children and will always hold close to my heart.
So without further ado, here are the twelve adulthood-applicable lessons I learned from the Harry Potter series.
Choice and action are more important than ability, fate, or intent
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
This Chamber of Secrets quote from Albus Dumbledore, along with many other scenes from the series (e.g., the prophecy giving Voldemort a choice between Harry and Neville and that choice ultimately defining the entire trajectory of the series, Harry asking to be placed into Gryffindor over Slytherin), defines the biggest lesson I try to carry with me in my day-to-day life: No one has the power to define who you are except for you, and intent has no significance when compared to consequence. Most importantly? Nothing can’t be changed by deliberate action.
Scars are cool. Own them.
Harry has a lightning-bolt-shaped scar right in the middle of his forehead that tells the story of what he has endured in his short albeit tough life all on its own. Dumbledore has a scar on his left knee that’s a perfect map of the London Underground. Mad-Eye Moody sports a face full of scars, because he’s a badass Auror. Whether the scars you carry are physical or emotional, all of them come in handy and show where you’ve been (or, in Dumbledore’s case, where you might be going) or what you’ve done, and that is something worth carrying a permanent mark for.
(I’m looking at you, moms with stretch marks. You earned those, and you rock.)
Everyone—even those who seems the greatest and worst—is battling their own demons.
All the fan theories in the world couldn’t have predicted exactly what Severus Snape was going through in the years he served as a double agent, though some did get close. Snape’s less-than-savory behavior throughout the series paired with his ultimate fate taught me that maybe the jerk on the other end of the line has something going on that I know nothing about, and maybe their anger and sadness isn’t about me. The same goes for Dumbledore, but in the opposite vein: Even the coolest, wisest, and seemingly strongest and happiest people are still humans, and they probably have a lot more skeletons in their closets than you think. Remember that next time you’re viewing that highlight reel we Muggles call a Facebook news feed.
Family comes in many forms
I was raised very much on the whole “Blood is thicker than water” ideology, and for the most part I agree with it…but only by default, and only to a point. Sometimes, family has problems in themselves they have no desire to fix, and they project these problems onto you. Somethings, family is the Dursleys. And in these cases, you gotta suck it up, find family at The Burrow, and become an honorary Weasley. And that’s OK. That is real family, and real family chooses you and will always be there for you.
But maybe give Dudley another chance when he’s old enough to get it.
Fear is inevitable, and you should welcome it. What you choose to do with the fear is the thing that really shapes your character, and not the fear itself.
When I first read the series, one of my favorite things about being able to see into the heads of both Harry and Voldemort was being able to see their fear and understand how it affected their actions. Knowing that fear exists and that it’s OK and normal has gotten me through a lot of hardships in my teens and twenties, and I plan to continue letting it drive me and not define me.
Being a woman is extremely rad.
Hermione Granger. Minerva McGonagall. Luna Lovegood. Nymphadora Tonks. Molly Weasley. Ginny Weasley. Fleur Delacour. Lily Evans Potter. Narcissa Malfoy.
I could go on. In no other series have I encountered so many well-developed, strong female role models who are their own people without having to rely on a man to get them through to the end. Thank you, JK Rowling. Any future daughter(s) of mine also thank you in advance.
Platonic relationships between members of the opposite sex are not only possible, but can be powerful and loving and—well, platonic
While I may not personally believe Ron was the best match for Hermione in the long run (don’t hurt me, JKR agrees!), I appreciate wholeheartedly the fact that JK Rowling didn’t write the main female protagonist to end up with the main male protagonist of the series—in fact, there was absolutely no romantic or sexual tension between Harry and Hermione at any point in the story, ever. This helped me realize that having friends of the opposite sex is not only OK, but opens an entirely new world of friendship possibilities that I wasn’t sure was feasible. Awesome.
Real-life heroism isn’t always obvious, and is rarely showy
There’s no arguing that Harry Potter is the hero of the story—I mean, the series is named for him, after all. But he’s more of a reluctant hero, and more for reasons other than uncanny ability to be the Best At Everything™. In fact, he wasn’t the best at most things. He had to rely on his friends and mentors a LOT to save his butt, and he knew it. But he was still a hero because he let people help him, and did what he knew to be the right thing.
What about Neville? The shy, clumsy kid ended up destroying a Horcrux and putting everyone who said he wasn’t brave enough to be in Gryffindor right in their place. A heroic act indeed, but was it more heroic than standing up to his friends in their first year because he knew that them being out of bed was the wrong thing to do and would cost their entire house points?
Not to me. Heroism isn’t about taking the riskiest or most pompous action. Sometimes, what makes you a hero is just to not follow the damn spiders.
Take the time to appreciate what you have (because it’s more than you think it is)
In the books, Arthur Weasley is continuously amazed by Muggle items. Let me repeat that: A wizard. Is amazed. By turnstiles. And rubber ducks. AND PLUGS. No, really. He even worked in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office at the Ministry of Magic for a time.
The point? Appreciate what you’ve already got and you’ll have everything you need. Just like money doesn’t solve all our problems, neither does magic or (insert Muggle shortcut/life hack here). You are responsible for your own happiness and satisfaction.
Fight for something you believe in – even if it doesn’t directly benefit you
In the series, Hermione fights tooth and nail for the rights of house-elves in her adolescence and, as an adult, becomes an important player in furthering the cause for the better treatment of house-elves at the Ministry of Magic. As someone who sort of strives to be more like Hermione on a daily basis, I cherish this aspect of the series so much because it reminds me that life exists outside of my personal bubble—and sometimes, to make a difference, all you have to do is listen and encourage others to do the same. Both JK Rowling and IRL Hermione Emma Watson are great examples of women who have managed to nail this concept.
For God’s sake, live in the moment
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
I got this Philosopher’s Stone Dumbledore quote tattooed on my shoulder for my 24th birthday, and it represents one of the biggest lessons from the series I try and live by. I have a hard time living in the moment and to this day tend to err more on the side of planning than living. Think, yes—but do more and think less when you can. You only get one life, so live it. Don’t just exist.
Love conquers all
After the last book came out, one of my friends said something along the lines of, “That’s it? Harry doesn’t become this crazy badass warrior wizard?”
Well, of course he doesn’t. That would go against everything JK Rowling had built from the beginning of the series. The entire point of the story was that love, choice, trust, and friendship trump literally everything else; magic and power were simply the backdrop because the former themes are much more important and stay with us for the rest of our lives, shaping who we become. First and foremost, the Harry Potter series is about relationships among humankind, and that is something we can all learn from and carry with us throughout our existence, as well as pass on to others. Sirius Black perhaps said it best: “The ones we love never truly leave us.”
Jen Juneau is a writer and editor from Orlando, Fla. who has accidentally pulled out her Walt Disney World annual pass instead of her driver’s license more times than she can count. She lives for the ‘90s, Harry Potter, anything with sugar in it, and occasionally running (mostly to offset the sugar). Check out her blog at jenislosingit.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @jenislosingit.