Through The Static

June 22, 2008

JK Rowling to Harvard grads: ‘Some failure in life is inevitable’

Filed under: Culture,Higher Education — ausaydong @ 5:27 pm

I’m a fan of college commencement speeches. My all-time favorite has to be Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford University in 2005. But this one by J.K. Rowling (one of my favorite writers) definitely falls in the top three. Go ahead, be inspired:

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 was set free, because my greatest fear had already 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.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.



  1. interesting.

    Comment by krissnp — June 22, 2008 @ 5:40 pm | Reply

  2. Those are wise words. I also strongly believe that you can learn a lot from failure and hard times in general, things you can never learn when life is all smooth sailing. Speaking of commencement speeches, I live pretty close to Stanford and Oprah was just here giving the commencement speech. I was hella considering going, I should have (I was hoping she would give everyone who showed up a new car).

    Comment by disciplepete — June 22, 2008 @ 7:05 pm | Reply

  3. you missed oprah?! i don’t watch her show very often, or at all really, but would have made the effort for the slightest of chances for a new car. she’s at a graduation, she had to have been feeling pretty generous.

    here’s the link to her speech:

    and i agree with rowling’s speech on not being afraid to fail. probably more so to justify the reckless decisions i have made (or will make).

    Comment by ausaydong — June 22, 2008 @ 7:29 pm | Reply

  4. Yeah, I really should have gone to see Oprah, but by the time I woke up that day and decided to go, I found out it was already over. It’s funny that she mentioned giving people new cars at the end of her speech. =)

    Yeah, if you really want something, you can’t let fear of failure stop you, for sure.

    Comment by disciplepete — June 22, 2008 @ 10:56 pm | Reply

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