When my boyfriend came to visit me, and I was busy in class or at a club meeting, my roommate was kind enough to distract him from working to show him the beginning episodes of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" ("A:TLA"). When I joined them for a series of marathons, I found something in Prince Zuko that I had never truly appreciated before.
While we don't live in a world where people can control any of the four elements, part of what makes "A:TLA" appealing is its basis in reality. Despite being a children's show, "A:TLA" possessed many qualities that made it well received despite a viewer's age. One such quality was the characters' ability to develop. With few exceptions, from when we first see a character to the very end, they manage to become a changed person over the course of the series. Prince Zuko, banished prince of the Fire Nation, is the character who goes through the most recognizable metamorphosis.
Seemingly one-dimensional at first with his brashness and obsession of capturing the Avatar, we slowly learn his story and experience his new objectives with him after he is marked a fugitive of the Fire Nation. Of the many tense relationships in the show, the sibling rivalry between Zuko and Princess Azula marks a point of interest in the series and is reflective of real-life competition.
What Zuko constantly struggles with, beginning in his childhood, is his lack of natural talent with firebending. Overshadowed by his prodigy sister and line of powerful ancestors, he constantly feels that he has to prove himself to be of any worth. When his mother, the only source of encouragement in his household, runs away, Zuko has to fend for himself, including watching himself sink in comparison to Azula.
While being a prodigy is nevertheless spectacular, not being one while having to work or compete with them is something I haven't had to face. To me, prodigies have been other people. In the fields I have chosen for myself, I don't have to face or work with noticeable prodigies. My boyfriend, on the other hand, can easily compare himself to the math prodigies who are years younger, and are just as or more experienced than he is.
Even though Azula has powerful firebending, and even though she practiced, she didn't have to work as hard as her brother. Zuko did more than physically train; he embarked on a life-changing journey with his Uncle Iroh and learned more about his character than any of the characters would have by relying solely on their talent.
From bad guy to good guy, Zuko remained hard headed. Many of his decisions were foolish, and he spent years pursuing what he thought would restore his honor. However, while on the run from the Fire Nation, he witnessed the struggles faced by the people who were affected by the war. When Fire Lord Ozai accepted him back as his son and his heir, he discovered that what he thought he wanted was at odds with his changed personhood.
With that realization, he joined the Avatar in bringing down his father, eventually becoming Fire Lord, while Azula lost her friends and suffered a great meltdown. No matter how great a firebender she was, she failed to have a similar self-exploration, depending on the approval or fear of others. Unlike Aang, another bending prodigy (and the Avatar), Azula waited too late to face her demons.
We all make shortsighted mistakes, fall off the path we chose, and feel unsure of our skills or talents. Some of us don't see ourselves as being worthy, and very few of us are considered prodigies, but these reasons alone should not be enough to hold us back. Let's take a hint from Fire Lord Zuko and work hard to find our true selves.