Breaking Into the Chocolate Factory (or Hogwarts, if You Prefer)

This article is now a podcast episode!

The moment Charlie pulls that golden ticket from the chocolate bar in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is incredible, isn’t it? We know he’s going to find one, but still that scene strikes deep. Somewhere in all of us is that little kid waiting for our golden ticket. Waiting to be chosen.

“Why did Charlie get a ticket?” I asked my father. Even as a kid I understood the chances of winning the lottery like that were pretty much nonexistent. Something else was going on here, something magical, for Charlie to actually find one. What made him special? “It’s because he has a pure heart,” my father answered.

A pure heart. I was convinced there was wisdom there. If I had a pure heart, I would be chosen, too. I’d get to enter a magical world: the chocolate factory, Narnia, Hogwarts. I waited and waited. You can guess what happened.

I didn’t get chosen. And I grew up and stopped believing in magic. But still, some part of me was always waiting for someone to tell me I was special, and confer on me the rewards due to the purehearted.

I was chatting with one of my podcast listeners about how many of us, even as adults, are waiting for others to approve us, single us out, choose us. Especially for those of us, like myself, who struggle to feel that we have anything worthwhile to offer the world, how wonderful would it be to have someone tell us, once and for all, that we are indeed special — we’re magical children, and Hogwarts awaits! It’s no accident that Harry Potter seems as ordinary as can be, even down to his name. He gives us hope that we, too, might possess a singular destiny.

We do. Except no one is going to tell us what that is, or make it happen for us. In a chaotic world of one-upmanship, us ordinary folks have to choose ourselves. We have to be the ones who believe in our own specialness and singular destiny.

Does that make you uncomfortable? Yeah, me too. Who am I to say I’m special? What kind of power do I have to confer on myself the rewards due to the purehearted? Look at it this way. It’s not about being more special than anyone else. This isn’t a competition or zero-sum game. Deciding you’re worth it doesn’t take away from anyone else’s worth. It just means that you’ve decided to advocate for yourself. Because — and this is really important to understand — no one else is going to do that for you.

No one is going to pick you. No one is going to recognize your brilliance and give you rewards. Why? Because the people who have the personal authority and power to actually do that are picking themselves! They’re advocating out in the world for their own brand of brilliance. We all have to step up and do this for ourselves. Because if we don’t do it, who will? No one.

This can feel impossible for self-effacing types. Self-promotion feels wrong, and many of us suffer from deep insecurities that tell us we don’t have anything special to offer, as much as we want to believe we do. Well, believe it! We do. Everyone does. It’s just a matter of finding what it is. And here’s the thing about specialness. Once we find it, we realize that it isn’t special — it’s just us. Ordinary us, giving to the world the thing we’re meant to give. So don’t worry. You’re not being egotistical or snobbish or arrogant or anything else you’ve been socialized to believe about being a tall poppy. You’re simply offering up your gifts to the world, putting yourself in service. Once you understand it that way, you’ll see that other people who try to cut you down are just feeling insecure because they haven’t yet learned how to choose themselves.

So have I learned to do it? Kind of. I’m getting better at it, at least! It feels so uncomfortable at first. I often feel exposed and vulnerable, and anticipate attacks. Will people think I’m full of myself? Will they tell me I’m wrong, stupid, basic?

Let me ask you this. Does it matter if they do?

If you’ve already chosen yourself, none of that stuff need have the power to push you off course. Because you realize this one important thing: the power to decide what your value is resides in you. If you don’t rely on other people to choose you, that automatically means you do not vest in them the power to judge you. You see how that works? Choosing you is a form of judging you. When you decide it’s your responsibility to choose yourself, you also decide that you are the sovereign of your own worth.

So pick up your magic wand, hold it over your own head, and say: I vest in you the power to choose yourself. Now, off to Hogwarts!

Kendra Patterson is an writer, podcaster, creativity coach, and ex-academic living in swampy north-central Florida. She blogs at kendrapatterson.com about the links between creativity, being a highly sensitive person, mental health, and more. She is the host of the podcast Stepping Off Now, where she discusses topics informed by her struggle with severe burnout and recovery, her experience as creative misfit in a conventional world, and her background in social science research. Available at wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Kendra Patterson

Former academic turned writer, podcaster, and creativity researcher. Writing & creativity coach. Listen at steppingoffnow.com. Blogging at kendrapatterson.com.