Lessons on Work-Life Balance from the Harry Potter Series

I’ve jokingly said that all of life’s most important lessons can be found in the pages of the Harry Potter series. Since the series is a children’s series, examining the handling of full-time employment isn’t really what most fans spend time thinking about. However, one quote from my favorite character, Molly Weasley, frames a philosophy of work-life balance that is a great guidepost for anyone looking for that elusive “sway” between office and home life:

“Is Mr. Weasley still at work?” Harry asked.

“Yes, he is. As a matter of fact, he’s a tiny bit late. . . he said he’d be back around midnight. . .”

She turned to look at a large clock that was perched awkwardly on top of a pile of sheets in the washing basket at the end of the table. Harry recognized it at once: it had nine hands, each inscribed with the name of a family member, and usually hing on the Weasley’s sitting room wall, though it’s current position suggested that Mrs. Weasley had taken to carrying it around the house with her. Every single one of its nine hands was now pointing at “mortal peril”. 

“It’s been like that for a while now, ” said Mrs. Weasley, in an unconvincingly casual voice, ever since You-Know-Who came back in the open. I suppose everybody is in mortal danger now. . . I don’t think it can be just our family. . . but I don’t know anyone who’s got a clock like this, so I can’t check. Oh!”

With a sudden exclamation, she pointed at the clock’s face. Mr. Weasley’s hand had switched to “traveling”.*

It’s pretty straight forward: the only reason to work such late hours is if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is back. It’s is an oversimplification: teachers grade on the weekends, catching up on email on a Sunday while the family is still sleeping helps keep the rest of the week running smoothly, and journalists report the news 24/7. And, of course, I was incredibly happy my doctor stayed past the end of his shift to deliver my son (Thanks, Doctor M!).

Yet it raises the question of how serious and important your work is that it should take you away from home more than a “typical” full-time job? Are you saving lives? Maybe. Do we all have situations that would be full-stop, all-in, work around the clock challenges? Of course. What I appreciate most in how Molly presents her husband working long hours and weekends is that: yes, it’s happened before and no, it’s not typical. This event in the Harry Potter series magically gave me permission to think about the times I was pulling long hours: did the reason why I was in the office on nights and weekends make sense? Was it because of a singular event like the Dark Lord returning? Or was it a habit and expectation that could be revised?

In my career journey, I’ve experienced both. Working in event management in the early 2000s meant I was on call all the time. Calls about menu decisions at 7:15 AM on a Saturday didn’t seem as critical once it became a typical issue that could be solved during normal work hours but somehow only was a priority on the weekends. Working in financial services in 2007 – 2008 meant all hands on deck: to the point where I knew where the motion sensors were to make sure the lights stayed on past 8 PM. Being able to recognize when something was creeping into “how I work all the time” to “rise to the challenge for a short time” helps me keep perspective on my mindset about work.

Another way the wisdom of Harry Potter helps me frame challenges in my profession life is how J.K. Rowling presented villains and challenges. Lord Voldemort is the ultimate baddie, the problem to end all problems, the one that cannot be ignore and must be challenged. Delores Umbridge is a henchman, a dangerous person that must be managed yet will rise or fall in not on her own, but with the real problem of Voldy. Bellatrix Lestrange is flat-out crazy, and Draco Malfoy is a victim of his circumstances. Peeves is just that – an annoyance. The Dursleys can be escaped and overcome, eventually. And so on. When a situation or person pops up in my life as a challenge, it helps me to try to figure out if what I’m dealing with is on the order of magnitude of Lord Voldemort or perhaps Argus Filch, and adjust my reactions and energy accordingly. So far, I’ve definitely met an Umbridge or two, but have personally avoided a Dark Lord scenario.

And, in the interest of sharing lessons learned based on Harry Potter, here’s a pro-tip: If you do decide to draft your own casting list of all the major Harry Potter characters and who holds their equivalence in your real life, don’t do it on stationary with your name on it. And don’t lose the list. At least, not until you’ve figured out how to enchant that parchment a la Messrs Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs.

Note: June 26, 2017 was the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. Now would be a good time to reread the series: I recommend the illustrated versions now available or the amazing audiobooks read by Jim Dale.


*From Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Chapter: An Excess of Phelgm, page 85.

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