Princesses Kill Their Own Dragons

Lindsey Stratte

© Copyright 2023 by Lindsey Stratte

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

One girl’s journey through the mental battles we all face.

To this day, my father can’t believe he did it–he left me in a back alleyway. In a foreign country. By myself.

Of course, I’m the one who persuaded him it was a good idea. I waved goodbye and shouldered my pack, turned around and found the first arrow on the Camino de Santiago.

The arrow was emblazoned on the side of a metal utility box: bold, yellow, and pointing right. I studied it for a moment, wondering if this journey was going to be enough–enough to kill my dragon and get my life back.

I turned right, and took my first steps up the trail.

It was the summer after my first year of college. Already, I had changed my major and my confidence had floundered. I had thought college would finally send my self-doubt to the grave, but mounting considerations of career, friendship, and purpose overwhelmed any sense of self-assurance my subconscious could scrounge up. Longing for a Prince Charming or something to claim me and give me value, I inadvertently created the perfect conditions to hatch the dragon egg.

I debuted as an Engineering major, inspired by my older brother. Unfortunately, inspiration only takes you so far. My transcript, a place where I was accustomed to seeing A’s, suddenly filled with other letters of the alphabet. One measly A squirmed among the B’s and C’s on the page, incubating my self-doubt. My dragon hatched. Deep in my subconscious, the wails of the dragon cracked the cornerstone of my confidence.

Everywhere I went, I carried my dragon inside, swaddled with self-pity and nursed with self-loathing. My dragon reminded me of my failure to reach my ideals: I wasn’t doing well enough in school, I wasn’t taking good enough care of myself, I wasn’t making real friends, I wasn’t good enough for a boyfriend. With each lie I believed, my dragon grew stronger. Soon it no longer needed swaddling and began to prowl my mind on its own, demanding my attention. Why didn’t I do more, better, faster? Why couldn’t I just be more like this person or that person?

As I breathed in my dragon’s sulfuric fumes, my self-doubt thought patterns tunneled under my confidence, carving a lair where my dragon’s claws clinked on a hoard of gold, a hoard of my perceived failures. Aware that my dragon intended to trap me with that gold, I looked for a way out of the twisting labyrinth. How was I going to get free? Perhaps, well…

Dear Prince Charming, 

Are you coming? 

Sincerely, Your dragon-trapped, lair-confined, needing-rescued Princess

I waited for an answer, a rescue, a secret sign that help was imminent. In the meantime, I attempted to escape the dragon’s clutches through late-night study sessions and midnight jogs. The self-improvement effort only elicited cackles from my dragon, lounging on its pile of gold. I changed strategy, overcommitting my time to distract my dragon. I joined music, drama, and university club events. I picked up another job. I became a strategic communication major, then a film major, then a double major. The dragon only smiled villainously down at me, mocking my attempts as it sipped wine on its new balcony.

The dragon would let me get a glimpse of freedom every once in a while. I would have an amazing night out with friends, but I always returned stressed out of my mind, guilty for the time I had taken away from my studies, job, and family. By the time my dragon would drag me back toward its golden hoard, I wouldn’t even resist. I deserved to be lost in that labyrinth. In my defeat, the dragon grew stronger, meaner, and more effective. The lair transformed into a palatial prison, with a golden throne cut into the mental stone of what had once been my self-assurance.

Genuine joy became an endangered species, hunted by a depression-paid poacher. When invited to coffee with friends, I left feeling dissatisfied, wondering what they thought of me, if they liked me, if I had said something wrong. The moment I began to enjoy myself, the dragon would snag me by the foot and re-route me toward that golden hoard. My dragon’s speed and ease of adapting to new scenarios surprised me. The dragon’s criticism scalded me, blaming me for everything, turning even good things into incompetence.

As the school year dwindled, so too did my fighting resolve. My dragon sat enthroned in my mind, a gaudy crown of my failures glittering from its brow. It was clear by now, Prince Charming wasn’t coming in time.

Despairing, I journaled about my dark struggle and, miraculously, a glimmer of meaning emerged. I didn’t need to escape my dragon—I needed to kill it. I began to hunt for its weakness.

Summer meant new stamps in my passport. My family toured Spain, France, and Italy and then flew home, but I stayed. In spite of my dragon, I set off to solo hike the Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage in Spain. I chose the northern route which follows the northern coast of Spain through an autonomous community called Basque Country.

Considered one of the hardest routes, but arguably the most beautiful, the Camino Norte features ocean-plunging cliffs and steep, mountainous climbs. It resembled the upward fight in my mind, as I scrambled for footing in the tunnels of the dragon’s lair, seeking a weakness in the dragon’s grip.

By day two, I had blisters, but I had friends too—the kind born of shared experience, or, in this case, shared suffering. There was no shortage of blisters, sore muscles, or aching joints among us. My new Italian friend showed me a clever way to care for blisters: by threading them. We carefully drew cotton thread from one end of the blister through to the other and tied it off so it would drain without losing the skin covering. 

With equal deliberation in my evening journaling, I threaded through the dragon’s cavern, mapping out its lair and potential escape routes. Who was I? Why was I here on earth? What meaning could I bring to this world? Why did I want a lover in my life?

In the mornings, I rose early with other peregrinos (pilgrims) to let the dawn find me already on the trail, sweat on my brow. The miles ticked along beneath my boots and my heart lightened, my head lifted, and my soul remembered its voice. My hiking companions and I sang Italian partisan songs as the Basque countryside rose and fell around us, ever more dazzling in its beauty, ever more alive in the sincerity of its residents.

I stopped my hike early one day to simply enjoy the bliss of a gurgling mountain brook when I was greeted by two women from the nearby town who laughed and chatted with me about the weather, the hike, and their grandsons. Inside its self-appointed palace, the dragon raged. It seized me in a massive talon, intent on bringing me back under control: who did I think I was, talking to strangers and thinking they cared about me? But I slipped out of the dragon’s grip: the ladies offered me a place to stay the night and said they enjoyed chatting with me.

Traipsing through the countryside to the peaceful sound of bleating sheep, I discovered my dragon’s fatal weakness. When I let myself enjoy the present moment, and savor the “now,” the dragon lost control over me. When I let others’ words be their words, rather than cues for my emotions, the dragon had no power over me. When I remembered I did not need to be perfect, or even ideal, I simply needed to be me, I unseated the dragon from its throne.

My realigned perspective crushed the dragon’s power. I knew who I was: a girl seeking to do good with her life, to help right a wrong world. I could be satisfied living each moment to the fullest, loving where I was because it was where I was. I could choose my thoughts for myself, lend myself grace, and grow in each moment. With this final realization, the structure of the dragon’s lair cracked. I discovered moments when I was speaking negatives to myself—through the dragon’s mouth—and learned to replace the lies with truths. Just as the dragon’s malice had suffocated me, my thought-replacements strangled the dragon. Slowly, my dragon faded away, its golden hoard replaced with my positive beliefs–deliberately chosen– that filled in the tunnels of the dragon’s erstwhile prison.

The stench of the dragon’s lair evaporated behind me as I hiked into another dawn, another me. Finally, I was content to be just that: myself. I didn’t need anyone or anything–but I could choose what I wanted. I mastered my own mind. I chose my own thoughts. I decided what I was going to tell myself, and I decided those would be good things. Things that would help me stay out of my dragon-haunted lair and fully revel in the countryside of life. Things that would help me grow into a person that could make a difference, into a person who was present, into a person more certain of my worth.

Someday, I will undoubtedly hatch another dragon. In fact, this self-doubt dragon may yet have phoenix blood. I know I carry more dragon eggs with me, laying in wait for their toxic incubation, but I have learned to fight for myself, to fight for my growth. So, Prince Charming, better luck next time. This princess kills her own dragons.


An adventurer at heart, Lindsey Stratte savors life experiences, people, and the power of the human mind. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Communication and is currently traveling the world with her newlywed Prince Charming.

Contact Lindsey
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher