J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, delivers her Commencement Address (via), â€œThe Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,â€ at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association.
The fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure….
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.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
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….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….