When I was in London earlier this month I went on the Harry Potter Tour at Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden, which is about 20 miles outside of central London and is where all eight of the Harry Potter movies were made.
If you follow me on Instagram you already know that the five hours I spent on this tour were some of the best of my life; I cried three times, and every moment was more magical than the next.
The Forbidden Forest! Diagon Alley! The potions classroom! Dumbledore’s office! The Burrow! Gryffindor’s common room! It was all there – stunning sets, intricate props, costumes and wigs and more behind-the-scenes information than I could ever remember. Did I mention that it was magical and that I couldn’t stop crying?!
On the train ride back to my hotel, wearing my new Marauder’s Map scarf and clutching photos of me riding a broom, I couldn’t stop thinking about how this – everything I experienced that day, how meaningful it all felt for me – was the result of a single story that was created by one person.
J.K. Rowling published the first tale of Harry Potter in 1997, and 20 years later there I was, a 32-year-old woman who had cried the moment she walked through the doors of Hogwarts’ Great Hall.
Earlier this year I read a book by Donald Miller called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, in which he grapples with the question of what makes a good life.
The foundation of a good life, he comes to believe, is the same as the foundation of a good story: a character wants something and has to overcome obstacles to get it.
And he’s right, I can’t think of a single story I’ve loved, whether it’s been a book or a movie or something else that doesn’t essentially boil down to a character wanting something and needing to overcome obstacles to achieve it.
The challenge, he points out, is that it’s easy to love watching someone struggle to get what they want in a movie, but it’s much less fun to be the one who is struggling in real life. He says:
“Here’s the truth about telling stories with your life. It’s going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you’re not going to want to do it. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. Joy costs pain.”
I could read Harry Potter all day every day, but can you imagine the courage it would take to actually live that story? To be Harry or Hermione or Snape or Sirius? To stand up to evil, to fight against it, to sacrifice everything. It’s certainly an entertaining and emotionally-gripping story, but I’d bet it would feel like terrifying shit to actually live it.
One of the themes I’ve constantly been coming back to over the past few months is the idea of choosing courage over comfort. Because I truly don’t believe that courage is the opposite of fear. When you’re doing something courageous, how can you not feel afraid? So no, courage isn’t the opposite of fear. Courage is the opposite of comfort.
Because if you are already uncomfortable and you have nothing to lose, then choosing to act isn’t necessarily courageous. But Harry didn’t have to stand up to Voldemort. The Weasleys could have just been a nice family who sits quietly and hopes things will improve without their involvement.
But no, the characters we love in Harry Potter are characters who wanted something – a better world – and were courageous enough to face the obstacles to get it.
You’ve often heard me talk about my fierce belief that we are strong and that we can do hard things. I’ll never stop believing that.
And I now have Donald Miller’s quote on an index card on my desk, to remind me that if I want to live a great story that I need to be willing to do the work it takes to make that happen. I have to confront the blank page and fight to create work that matters; I need to put my body where my politics are; I need to leave the comfort of my home, attempt the hikes I daydream about, and never shy away from sharing the messy truth about my life.
Joy costs pain, and it’s worth it in the end.
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