I’ve just watched JK Rowling’s 2008 Harvard address and found it more moving and inspirational than anything I’ve seen or heard in a while.
She talks about the joint powers of failure and imagination. She peppers the talk with funny asides that lighten the very serious, underlying message she delivers, and though her nerves are plain to see, her delivery is immaculate and clear.
On the time in her life when she embarked on the Harry Potter novels that made her famous and brought her unimaginable wealth, she says,
…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.
Whilst Ms Rowling isn’t talking to encourage writers in the speech, there is much for every writer, particularly beginning writers, to learn from from her words.
But not just beginning writers; it’s also a strong message to writers who have yet to find success with their craft, those who have written plenty but suffered rejection and the accompanying sense of failure that often goes with it; those who have toiled away but never somehow got past the starting line.
Seeing rock bottom as a solid foundation is the opportunity to stop pretending and to start being true to our own unique talents, goals and desires.
It provides the strength to begin building something meaningful and unique; something that’s true to ourselves regardless of the advice or opinions of others.