The One about J.K. Rowling and the Necessity of Failure

When I feel at my lowest points and look for guidance from outside sources, I often research successful people who have undergone similar experiences to read their advice on how they overcame them. For me, one of these people happens to be J.K. Rowling. It doesn’t entirely have to do with my love for Harry Potter (although it certainly plays a part).

J.K. Rowling openly shares her success story of how she beat depression through writing. Specifically, she believes that failure is not only inevitable, but necessary. I’ve included this inspiring speech if you’re interested:

In the case you have a limited attention span as I do, I’ll summarize some personal takeaways from J.K. Rowling about this topic.

1. Talking about the “Benefits of Failure”

“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 relate to this on a personal level. In elementary through high school, academics came naturally for me. I earned straight A’s every year and knew how to work the system and not retain a single bit of information. It came back to bite me in college.

My first semester of freshman year, I survived with a 2.6 GPA. It was a huge wakeup call after adjusting to the 4.0 without having to work hard for grades. I failed to meet the GPA requirement for the Honors program, and to this day, I still haven’t pulled my GPA high enough to be readmitted. As an academically successful high school student who used to pin her entire identity on grades, awards, and honors, I had never felt more like a failure.

From that experience, I discovered more good parts about myself I would have never found if I continued to depend on my success in school. My workaholic self also discovered that there’s a life outside of academics. It was almost the best thing that ever happened to me. But the arena in which I belong? That’s something I’m still working on.

2. There’s only one way up from rock bottom.

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

(Such a great quote, right? Damn.)

In my opinion, this is what makes successful people stand out from the rest. How many biographies have you read or watched that contained a sad story? The greatest successes often blossom from the worst occurrences, almost as if they’re used as fuel.

Sometimes I pretend I’m in a movie when bad events happen. I’ll play sad music and even cry for dramatic effect.

Life happens to everyone, but when people confuse difficult times as a permanent failure, especially if they become used to success, they’ll stay there and accept it as their fate. “Life sucks, people suck, everything sucks.” I’ve been there.

With the right mindset, you can use “rock bottom” to your best advantage. In J.K. Rowling’s peace of mind, she had nothing to lose, so what was the worst that could happen? Maybe someone will direct a movie about it.

3. “Failure in life is inevitable.”

“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.”

A popular interview question I have received in the past goes something like this –

“Talk about a time in which you failed and how you responded.”

As a note, if someone intimates that they can’t possibly think of a time in which they failed, a recruiter knows immediately that it’s B.S. He or she wants to know that you realize this important step in success. It’s not the fact that you failed, it’s how you learned from it. It seems cliche, but it’s harder to implement than it is to hear.

The more you step out and plant yourself in challenging projects or uncomfortable situations, the more chances you’re going to fail – or experience “life lessons,” I should say. It’s basic statistics. But that’s also the only way you’re going to succeed.

4. Our ideas of failure are relative.

“However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown.”

I can’t count how many times I’ve dismissed my failures because I deemed them “not important enough.”

I was blessed with a homeschooled education. I’ve been interning at NASA since I was 18. I attend a university with a great reputation and an esteemed engineering program. What right do I have to talk about failure? How could I possibly know the struggles and hardships of life problems when I have most of my life left to face worse experiences? What right do I have to go into detail about hard times, when there are war, famine, and more imminent issues going on in the world?

I’ll say this now to other people my age going through the same thing and asking yourselves the same questions, the questions that lead me to stay quiet and often suffer alone.

Your opinions matter. Your emotions matter. Your thoughts matter. And your story matters.

Don’t allow anyone to tell you differently. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t apologize for yourself. Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior for expressing your emotions.

Got it? Believe it? Read it again? Good. I’ll continue to the next and final point.

5. When it comes to failure, there’s no place for comparison.

“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.”

Everyone has a different story. Everyone is on a different path, and everyone experiences their own failures. What you consider failure might be beyond someone else’s idea of success, and that is okay.

Whatever the world dictates in its definition of failure, sometimes you have to tune it out in order to chase your own happiness. If you’re in a place where you feel like a failure or are stuck with negative thoughts, find people who will listen. Seek counseling. Don’t seek guidance from those who don’t support you, or try to “one-up” your story with theirs. Leave room in your life for those who do care, even if it means being alone for a while. Everything’s temporary.