When J.K. Rowling was writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, she was a single-mother, unemployed, on welfare, depressed, and even considered suicide. And she, like many first-time authors, struggled to get Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone published. It was rejected by almost every major publisher in the United Kingdom, until Bloomsbury, a small publisher, reluctantly agreed to publish it after the 8-year-old daugher of the chairman demanded the rest of the book after reading the first chapter.
Now, J.K. Rowling is household name and one of the highest paid authors in the world.
She writes about her experience and about the benefits of failure in her 2008 Harvard University Commencement Address:
“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So 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 that 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.
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 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.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
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 the price of rubies.
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Failogue is a series that brings you stories of failure. Failure from those who showed up. Failure from those who took risks. Failure from those who persevered.
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- Biography: “5 Little-Known Facts About How J.K. Rowling Brought Harry Potter to Life”
- Business Insider: The Rags to Riches Story of J.K. Rowling
- Business Insider: J.K. Rowling’s Rejection Letters
Feature Image Source: J.K. Rowling’s Official Website