Before I go anywhere, you owe this one once again to Oprah. I took a break over Christmas and she seemed like a good company for morning a coffee. So there you go, judge if you like. But I’m digressing… One pretty neat interview I caught up with was J.K. Rowling. You know, the writer of the Harry Potter books.Definitely interesting to watch. For one, she did a commencement speech at Harvard in 2008 and what did she talk about in this elite and overpriviliged place of learning? The benefits of failure! One way to recognize a great mind their ability to inspire you with rather simple, yet unexpected things.Like for example, failure.
But before we go anywhere in terms of the point she was making, it is important to share a bit of her bio. You see, J.K Rowling has a classical rags to riches story. At the time her first book was published she was a single mom surviving on public assistance, as poor as you can get in Britain. Five years later, she is a multimillionaire. A good deal for a woman whose book was declined by 12 publishing houses and who was advised by her own publisher not to quit her day job, because she would never make money out of children books.
But she did. Millions of them. A funny confession she made during the interview is that she still is not use to the money and feels like it could be taken away. I guess that makes sense, when you came from nothing.
Another fact relevant to the writing of the book, is that within the span of three years(all while writing the book) she lost her mom to MS, married only to have a short lived marriage and ultimately became a single mom living on welfare assistance. She became clinically depressed and even contemplated suicide. She felt like a failure. Or in her own words:
“I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew”
She then goes on in her speech to say:
“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default. Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.”
Who knew that failure has benefits? Well, honestly, I wouldn’t be nodding in agreement while reading her speech, if I did not feel similarly about it. But even so, I would never be able to describe them in such a beautiful way. So once again, J.K. Rowling, tell us why talk about the benefits of failure, cause you do it better.
” Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Well, my hat is off to you! Who knows, I may read those Harry Potter books after all. But even if not, I know of few people that said this so right and to the point!