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The fringe benefits of failure… learning (more) from JK Rowling

June 10th, 2008 · 3 Comments

If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know that I – and my whole family – are Potter fans. We’ve devoured the books, we’ve worn out the movies… and we keep going back for more.

Over the weekend, I was thrilled to find the clip and the transcript of JK Rowling giving the commencement address at Havard “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imaginationhere.

We all know that JK Rowling is phenomenally successful… but it wasn’t always so. I have heard the story of sitting in a cafe, with her baby daughter in a pram beside her, writing the first draft of Harry Potter #1 by hand. What I guess I didn’t think about was why.

“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 I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, 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.

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.”

It made me think about success, and how many of us settle for a moderate success because, well, because we don’t fail at it. And in so doing, we compromise ourselves, our dreams and often, our life, for a ‘settled for’ existence.

We get the car loan, the mortgage, the spouse, the kids, the school fees, the holidays and we feel tied to whatever it is that brings in the money to pay for our lifestyle. Even if it is slowly killing us.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

To do what matters most is all there is. We can learn from JK and others like her, without having necessarily to hit rock bottom ourselves.

Now is the time to do what you are meant to be doing. Don’t wait until you hit rock bottom. Don’t settle for.

There is a step or two you can take today. Then another step tomorrow. Maybe a little jump the day after that. Before you know it, you’ll be leaping and soaring and flying towards your dream.

Go listen to, or read, her speech – it’s magical.

Tags: Noticing Miracles · Wonder Woman

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Caylie // Jun 10, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for this wonderful post and for sharing JK Rowling’s wise words.

    I’m currently going through a rough patch and the concept of being stripped back to the essentials resonates. Yes, there are some challenges ahead but I am surviving and the people and things I value most are still with me.

    I hope anyone who is currently at or near rock bottom can also find reassurance in these words. I am certain you will all be back flying soon.

  • 2 Steve Sherlock // Jun 13, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Karen, we are on a similar track here. I too was moved by JK Rowling’s talk and posted about it as well.

    It has been enlightening to see the various quotes that each of us turned on by the speech have picked out as the “key”.

    Thanks for sharing yours!

  • 3 karen // Jun 20, 2008 at 11:24 am

    @Caylie – thank you so much for visiting! I am sorry to hear you are going through a rough patch, but it sounds to me like you’re handling it well. Your generosity to others is really touching.

    @Steve – I just found your comment in my spam folder!! Have rescued it, as anything from you is definitely precious, and NOT spam :) It is interesting that we’ve all resonated with different parts of JK Rowling’s speech – she is a remarkable woman, able to speak directly to us all in different ways.

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