One of my favorite writers, J. K. Rowling, gave the above commencement speech at Harvard, and I felt called to post it here because it is so beautiful and poignant and speaks about a topic that all of us can learn from: failure. Rowling is an inspiration to me in both her work as a writer, and in her tenacity to for living life and following her dreams at all costs. When I studied abroad in Scotland during the summer of 2005 I visited the Elephant Cafe in Edinburgh, where Rowling wrote the first parts of Harry Potter on napkins…when Harry Potter was still just a dream. And as I sat sipping my tea in that cafe, I remember thinking how wonderfully odd it would be to one day sit in a similar cafe and look back at my writing career with the same awe and sense of accomplishment; to know that I never gave up my dream.
Of course now Harry Potter is beloved in homes all over the world, but to get to that point, Rowling walked a long, hard road fraught with failure. In listening to this speech, it was those points that allowed her to learn the most about herself; where she discovered her ability to persevere. I find it utterly fascinating and heartening to be reminded that even my writing heroes have had their off-days, but their passion for the craft drove them through it.
Currently one of my favorite quotes is something that Henry David Thoreau said: “I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.” A helpful reminder that the only person whose happiness you have complete control over is your own. Simple? Sometimes more so than not, but for me it’s a much-needed reminder to strip away the inessential, to realize who I am and what I’m capable of doing. To truly live life, to love the people I meet, and to share my dream and empathy, with all those around me.
“What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality”. As Rowling says, we touch other peoples’ lives simply by existing, and each of us have the power within to change the world…and to imagine better.