“I was the biggest failure I knew.”
Pondering her past, this is how Jo Rowling described herself in a 2008 Harvard commencement speech. Seven years after graduating from a university where she had studied classics, her marriage was over, she was jobless, and a single mother with a young child living on welfare. She battled poverty and depression, while she fought to become the only thing she wanted to be: a writer.
And yet, Jo found that there were unexpected “fringe benefits” in failure, because it liberated her from both her own expectations and everyone else’s as well. Here’s how she described what she experienced:
“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 to 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 area where 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 a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Failure taught Jo that she was strong and had more discipline than she realized and that, no matter what happened, she could survive. It also showed her that she didn’t need a lot to write the book she envisioned: just an old typewriter, a big idea, time, and a place to create. All of this freed her to keep moving toward her dream.
I love the honesty Jo brought to her situation. She stopped wasting her time pretending about who she was and began channeling all her energy into her creative work. So often we distract ourselves from what we really want to do. But ironically, failure focused Jo Rowling. So let’s rethink our attitude toward failure and embrace the fringe benefits it offers when it comes our way. And write on.