Chapter 16: When Your Castle is a Prison

“Don’t think that because your prison is a castle, it’s any less of a prison.”

I read this writing prompt the other day and I loved it! As a theme, it shows up in many stories, movies, fairy tales and poems. In modern stories, it often shows up as the trappings of power—like when Spiderman says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” You might think it would be cool to have super-powers, but think of the expectations placed upon you! For many of us, this responsibility looks scary, so we avoid it.

For some, however, avoiding responsibility isn’t in the cards. Take Meylyne, for example. In this chapter, she reveals the secret she has taken pains to hide her entire life. She has always believed that she is a freak for this secret (and for her alchemical powers) but to her surprise, those around her are impressed by them, not disgusted! Still, she doesn’t believe them. Not only because she can’t accept the piece of her that makes her feel so different from the others, but also because she’s afraid of the responsibility that comes with these powers. She has spent her whole life hiding in her brilliant mother’s shadow. I suspect she’s quite comfortable there! Now she’s the one to whom others are looking to defeat the Thorn Queen and save Glendoch from falling into shadow, and she’s terrified that she’s not up to it.

How about you? Have you ever shied away from something because of the effort it would involve? Or fear of failure? It’s understandable if you have! These days, I hear a lot about the unrealistic pressures that children face in middle and high school. Why would anyone want to add to that?!

When I was younger, I was quite artful at dodging pressure. I used to daydream. A lot. It drove my teachers crazy. When they weren’t scolding me, they ignored me. This was great! I was not a prize student and I loved being left alone in my own little world.

Then I turned ten and my family moved to a new house, which forced me to change schools. In my new school, I became best friends with the smartest girl in the class. She was always at the top and, in my desire to do whatever she did, I soon found myself there too. It was an interesting change, being the “smart one” all of a sudden. No more being left alone. Now I had a bar to maintain. While a part of me enjoyed doing my best, another part struggled with the pressure.

Thing is, responsibility doesn’t have to be scary. The trick lies in communication—telling others how you feel and allowing them to help. This will help you understand your fear. Most people are strongly driven by “loss aversion.” This means that we will choose (or not choose) actions based more on fear of what we stand to lose than excitement at what we stand to gain.

For example, if you fear giving up freedom more than you value getting an “A,” you might set the bar low for yourself so that no one starts expecting As from you. Or, if you fear losing your parents’ approval more than you value your own peace of mind, you might heap more onto your plate than you should.

How about you? Do you feel you generally take on too much responsibility or too little? Don’t worry if you’re not entirely sure. It can take a while to develop that sort of self-awareness. Tell me about it—I’d love to hear from you!

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