J.K. Rowling – The benefits of failure.

I’ve been wanting to post this one for a while now, so here we go. It’s the Harvard commencement address delivered by none other than J.K. Rowling.

If you’ve read/heard about her life a bit you’ll know that she has had to endure quite a few hardships before achieving success with the Harry Potter franchise. In the 21 minute long speech  she talks a fair bit about these hardships, more importantly, what she learned from them. Hence the title, “The benefits of failure.” As mentioned, it’s quite a long speech and I wasn’t sure which parts I was going to use. I think it’s a great watch/listen in total, but I realise not everyone is willing to dissect and analyse the full 21 minutes, so I decided to take a few topics and quotes out and talk about those instead. I’ll start off with the most powerful one:

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously, that you might as well have not lived at all. In which case you fail by default.”

You have to take a few hits, no one gets ahead much by living too cautiously. You got to risk it to get the biscuit. Always be willing to take risks. Without taking risks you will stagnate, risks take you to new levels of self-understanding and growth, about yourself and others. This happens on all levels in life, from taking the risk to cook something different for a change, or deciding to take a career turn and try something completely new. With the latter you might find yourself out of your comfort zone, or you find yourself in a previously unknown perfect position. This and everything in between. What if your perfect job is just around the corner but you never realised because you did not risk it? If you take the risk and you end up disappointed, fair enough, you’ve tried. You’ve come out ahead of your former self. I see this a lot with people who want to try something new, but are afraid they might not be able to do it and fail, so they let the opportunity pass instead.

“Ultimately we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure.”

Another statement Rowling. She talks about the scale on which she ‘failed’, saying that by conventional measures – that is being successful academically, romantically and career wise – she had failed on an epic scale. That made her realise what she did have, the things she’s proud of, loves and what she still had in store. This is what drove her to do some truly inspiring things, and followed her ambitions to create the thing she did best, now known the world over. At some point you have to realise just how lucky you are to be who you are and where you are. That it should be seen as a gift, one you have to fill in and make use of as much as possible. Hence she says: “Personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievements.”

Now, that all being said, I’m not saying people have to go out and just fail at things, or give up things you do not like simply for the fact you don’t feel it’s something you particularly enjoy. Risk new things, and if you happen to fail, you’ve at least given it your best shot. In the end: dues have to be paid, some are expensive, some cheap, but they have to be paid nonetheless. Career-wise, everyone’s had a job they did not like, but simply needed the money, and that was enough. If you are ever in a position where money, or other obligations, are not necessarily a factor, take the time to find what you really love. Imagine that it might take you twice as long to find what you like, but the result will be pricelessly rewarding. I’ve picked up writing this blog, with the passion to help it grow into something greater. Romanticising it’ll ever pay the bills is most likely folly, but it is something I am passionate about, and with a bit of effort I might be able to help people out. That is my currency, and my drive.

Find yours, and if you happen to fail, do not fret. Failure is part of life and it’ll get you ahead.

Seriously though, watch the speech. 😉


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