JK Rowling on Failure

kevin 111A fairly old adage says that the two unavoidable things in life are death and taxes.  I actually can think of two other events that fit the parameters of being unavoidable: change and failure.  Quite a list there, eh?  Death, taxes, change and failure.  Possibly four of the greatest fears most people probably have.  I know I have had them at one time or another in my own life – well, maybe not a fear of taxes, but certainly a less-than-rosy view of them.

I’ve also had my own moments of failure, disappointment and heartbreak.  It’s never a good thing to decide as a senior in high school that all you ever want to be is a lawyer… to go to college and spend so much focus on getting into law school… and then working your ass off in law school to get that first shiny job with a big firm… only to realize you despise being a lawyer.  Or to be working at a job and be part of a 1/3 of the company lay-off, move home to live with your parents at age 29 and spend 9 months out of work, all the while doubting whether you can truly make something of yourself.  That’s all happened to me and while a lot of it brought me down to my knees, I also think I learned an enormous amount about life and myself in that time.

JK Rowling spoke 2 years ago at the commencement for Harvard University and touched on what failure (as painful and agonizing as it was), did for her.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

The point she makes that stuck me most was this:

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure?  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 where 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.

That last line is an incredibly powerful insight and mirrors my own experience.  Granted,  I was not in a place probably as difficult and dark as Ms. Rowling, but I was certainly not at the pinnacle of my powers in any sense.  And it sucked – bad.

But it shows that when difficulties come, they are very rarely terminal.  They will require an ego-check or some pride swallowing, but they are surely not the end of it all.  It’s just a another example of keeping one’s perspective when you face the inevitable difficulties of your life.

So I would love to add a fifth unavoidable to the initial list from this posting, but maybe it’s not an “unavoidable” as much as it is a near certain result when you face some ugly times:

This too shall pass.

2 thoughts on “JK Rowling on Failure”

  1. Great post. As a mother of a teenage son, “this too shall pass” is my mantra! I believe that we are all aware of the “arena” where we truly belong but we are somewhat imprisoned by the “job” that is paying the bills and providing the health benefits. By no means does this mean I want someone to strip me of my duties (I really do like my job) but I can’t help but think my arena is waiting patiently for me to arrive….the clock is ticking……

  2. Thanks Heidi! i love that analogy of your arena patiently waiting. It’s hard because we may like our jobs just fine, but there can always be that nagging notion that we are missing out on what we love. Now if there was only a way to improve that search. THAT is what Google needs to get crackin’ on.

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