J.K. Rowling: Benefiting from Failure.

We end Women’s History Month with a speech by author J.K. Rowling about “failure.”

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. –J.K. Rowling

Courtesy of Harvard Magazine

In this 2008 commencement address, she delivers sage advice to graduates–and to the rest of us as well.

She introduces the subject of her talk in a very conversational manner–as if she’s confiding in a trusted friend with what she is about to say. It’s a very effective way both to set up her discussion, and to establish a connection with her audience:

Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that have expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

Rowling admits her powerful truth with the audience: that failure was her biggest fear.  She also refuses to sugarcoat the challenge of living through it. The storyteller shares her own personal stories:

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.

She then pivots to the importance of imagination, and the life-changing power it holds:

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

This is a great speech. Read, listen–and “fail”!

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