How you can unlock your potential like Harry Potter
You have magic inside of you.
Maybe not the sort of wand-wielding magic in a Harry Potter battle. But magic, nonetheless.
How do I know this? Because we all do. You just need to understand what yours is and how to unlock it. Harry Potter can help us learn how we might gain control of it. Much of what happens to him mirrors what happens to elite business and sportspeople to reach the top of their fields.
The story about ‘the boy who lived’ is one of the most remarkable phenomena of modern times. By weaving such an extraordinary fantasy, JK Rowling created some of the top-selling books of all time, and one of the most successful film franchises ever. It truly is magic.
How was this possible? In some ways, Rowling’s story has many of the human elements that appear in Harry’s. Even though she was a single parent, living as close to poverty as you can be in the UK without being homeless, she had always dreamed of writing a book. She wanted to create something with meaning and impact. It took something quite extraordinary to bring her to the place where she had enough motivation, energy, and insights to construct the amazing world and characters that populated the pages of her seven-part series.
A lot of people have tried to write books. Some in more challenging situations than Rowling. So, why was Harry Potter so successful? It’s because we can relate to his trials, tribulations and his successes. It’s a story that connects with people of all age groups, nationalities and genders. There’s something universal about the struggles and truths in Harry’s life. His story is relatable.
Harry didn’t really understand who he was. He didn’t have a sense of belonging. In fact, he knew he didn’t belong in the house where he lived or the people he was surrounded by. He was made to feel stupid and worthless, and he had very little say in how he got to live his life. His controlling Uncle despised him. Harry’s existence was not one that would help him become the best version of himself.
And then one day Hagrid showed up. Hagrid, the gentle giant — who had known his mother and father before they had died — introduced him to a world of magic. This was the start of Harry discovering a place where he felt a sense of belonging. Somewhere he could relate to. And true friendships.
This journey of belonging took place throughout the seven books. He steadily understood the power of deep friendships. He learned what it was to be surrounded by people who understood and cared for him. But it was more than that. There was the sense that he had found his tribe. He identified with this world. He had known something was missing, but would never have imagined that this would be the answer.
As Harry transitioned from the loveless, controlling family his uncle had created — where he always had to do as he was told — he suddenly felt a new sense of autonomy. Once he got to Hogwarts, Harry had far more choice about many aspects of his day-to-day life. Sure, he was at school, and he had to do some things that he would rather not do (such as potions with Professor Snape). But now he had choices to make that related to him. He also had teachers, guides and mentors around him who helped him select and determine his own path in life. Some of them became friends who encouraged him to explore and grow in ways he could never have imagined.
It wasn’t long before he found himself able to do things that he was really good at. Harry definitely wasn’t the smartest, the most academic or the most studious. But he had some talents and skills that made him Harry. He learned that he was an amazing Quidditch player and extraordinary on a broom. He found out that he had a real flair with a couple of spells that made him a formidable wizard during the series. In short, he had a sense of competence and satisfaction from doing the things he was good at.
The final piece of the puzzle was when he figured out a key part of his own story. He figured out his reason to go to battle with Lord Voldemort. He came to peace with his purpose. In some ways, this exploration led him to a destiny that felt right.
I’ve spent many years working with top performers in business and have also experienced elite sports situations as a youngster. There is so much in Harry’s story that resonates with the stories of how elite performers develop. When any of these ingredients are missing — or if there’s internal turmoil of doubt, lack of confidence or self-esteem — then it’s challenging to dig deep inside to do the hard work required to excel and develop mastery in a chosen field.
Harry’s story is the classic hero’s journey. In most fantasy books, the protagonist starts as someone who doesn’t quite know who they are. They struggle with some aspect of their own character. It might be a poor temper, a lack of confidence, or an inability to control or access their powers. They meet a wise guide, and they go on a journey. During the journey, they learn how to unlock their power. They learn to harness and control the things that have caused them the challenges of the past. In a sense, they manage to become masters of their internal turmoil. They start to sense the potential within and what they want to achieve.
All of the ingredients in these stories hold the key elements of unlocking potential in all of us. Whether you are destined to become a captain of industry, a world-class sportsperson, a novelist or anything else that fits your own path, the ingredients are similar for human potential. These are the essential ABCs of performance:
A) Autonomy — the ability to decide what and how you do things. This means taking control of where you want to go and how you might get there.
B) Belonging — a sense of relatedness to the people you spend the most time with and the feeling of being valued in that group. It doesn’t mean you only spend time with these sorts of people, but you have a sense of how you fit into the world and the people supporting you.
C) Competence — every day you need to spend time doing things you enjoy doing and are good at. It means balancing out those days when you are forced to do something that you struggle with or are made to feel bad because you aren’t particularly good at it. Again, you will sometimes have to do things that stretch you and, in some cases, you might be asked to do something you just can’t do. What is important is that you get to spend a decent proportion of your time doing things where you feel a sense of competence and satisfaction.
These are the three attributes of psychological wellbeing that are important for overall wellness in life. Things that thwart these ABCs stop us from meeting our potential. Being aware of what might get in the way and harm these three aspects, and coming up with strategies to deal with them is a skill that will serve you throughout life.
This doesn’t mean we won’t struggle. Learning requires a struggle, and doing anything to a high level requires practice.
And therefore the last ingredient is your own compelling reason for working hard. Whether this is a passion, a purpose, a vocation or just a jolly good reason that is meaningful to you, you must decide what to do and the path you want to take.
Harry’s story is extreme. His starting point is probably worse than in most situations. His challenges are more fantastic. However, his journey of learning, growth and passion is universal. You might not need to fight a dark wizard or save the whole of the wizarding world from he who shall not be named, but it is important that you let yourself choose to create a future that motivates you, find people you want to be alongside you, and keep working hard to learn the skills you need along the way.