The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination
In J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech, the Harry Potter author explored how two phenomena — failure and imagination — can be crucial to success.
While failure can help you understand where your true passion lies, and where you should focus your energy moving forward, imagination is what will allow you to empathize with other people so you can use your influence to do good.
She said we do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
Here is the summary what she said (If you failed in any online marketing effort, you should try this one):
1. Benefits of Failure
Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.
I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.
.. But the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships.
Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.
What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.
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.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one …
But 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.
So given a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two.
Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.
2. The Importance of Imagination
Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense.
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 empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.
One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
What is life? As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
I hope this article helps you think about something in your life or obstacles you are facing now.
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