J. K. Rowling on the Power of Failure and Imagination

As adventure divas we may be faced with similar fears: we’re too old, we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough courage. These old scripts that we read from don’t serve us well. They become self-limiting beliefs, blocking the way to living our fullest lives. How can we possibly have great adventures when we are faced with such daunting challenges?

The power of two simple words — “what if?” — become wonderfully apparent when we look at the incredible journeys of other women who are just like us, and who have shaped inspiring adventures in spite of those challenges.

When I say “women just like us” we might not think of those who have eclipsed any sense of what our own “normal” might be. We might assume that people in positions of power, or lifestyles of privilege or status, are people to whom we could not possibly relate; and in doing so miss the lessons of kindred spirits whose paths started out very much like our own. One of those souls is author J.K. Rowling, one of the richest women in the world, and certainly one of the most renowned in our time.

Would you be surprised to learn that she came from a place of great poverty and suffering, endured domestic violence, and experienced spectacular failure? In spite of this, or perhaps fueled by it, she reinvented her life in inspiring ways, and it’s these experiences that shape the very moving commencement address that she gave to Harvard graduates on June 5th, 2008.

We don’t have to be 20-something to relate to Jo’s chat.

Commencement is a wonderful world. It means “to begin”, and for many of us, entering this part of our journey feels like exactly that.

In a way, when we enter “act two” in our lives — when our children have grown, when some of us might be retiring from lifelong careers, when we enter that sacred space that is finally “all about us” — we are graduating. And while we are graduating, really, from a lifetime of lessons, some of us may feel woefully ill-equipped to embrace this rich new time in our life.

We might be doing it after the death of a partner, or of a relationship ending in divorce. We may be doing it in a place of scant resources. The first part of Rowling’s chat embraces all of these things, and the fact that, in her own words, rock bottom became the solid foundation on which she rebuilt her life. The two building blocks on which she crafted this love letter to Harvard’s graduates were these: the importance of failure, and imagination.

She shared this:

“Some failure in life inevitable. It is impossible to live life without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you’ve failed by default.”

That fear of failing may prevent many of us from ever imagining we might have great adventures. Jo Rowling’s intimate chat with these students is one that shines wonderful light through the cracks to show the way. Grab a mugga joe, and settle in for 20 minutes of rocket fuel, sister diva! I’ll bet you can relate …




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