Failure and imagination …
Yesterday, Aimee Salter posted a link to JK Rowling’s speech at Harvard in 2008. Both my husband and I watched it on the computer. It’s a compelling speech on so many levels, and I urge anyone who is interested in ‘LIFE’ to watch it.
JKR spoke winningly about failure and about imagination. These two things could justifiably be considered a necessary part of the writer’s life and so it was with curiosity and admiration that I listened as she turned them away from ‘the writer’s life’ and showed how they are a part of life generally.
After she had concluded, I thought back to my own graduation and wondered what I had felt on the cusp of a post-academic existence.
To be truthful, relief. Even though I was going into postgraduate study, it would be on a different and smaller campus, with a brand-new course and with an end visibly in sight as at that time I knew I had a position in the Reference Library of our State Library system.
Was I afraid of failing? Not at life, no. At my graduation two things caused me angst. One was that I had left it too late to hire a proper fitting hood and had one that was way too big and it kept slipping and pinioning my arms and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to lift them to receive my piece of paper and shake the Chancellor’s hand and do all those other ceremonial things that are required. The other was that really I was too sick to care one way or the other. I had a serious dose of glandular fever (mono) and would end up in bed for 3 months, missing the first half of my diploma year. In fact, my fear was that my legs wouldn’t carry me across the stage and that I’d fall into the Chancellor’s arms. My fear of failure came later. After the first year of work, I found working in libraries was not for me and without discussing anything with my parents, I handed in my resignation, walked straight round to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and begged for a job. Got one immediately and in trepidation, caught the bus home and presented my life as a Fait Accompli to my father. That was when I felt I might be a failure. But my decision to act as I did subsequently introduced me to my husband and the rest is history!
JK Rowling talked about failure’s and imagination’s impacts further on in life and I can only say that each had its own impact on me. At this point, and against the monumental detail of JK’s experience, it doesn’t bear relating. But it did change my life in so many ways and gave me the desire and strength to push onward and upward against what I perceived as huge obstacles.
Imagination sustained me through my own personal hard times. It’s why I write fantasy, it’s enabled me to place myself in other’s shoes, to feel their emotions, to aim as high as I can. Which is exactly what JK has said it should do. And I hope it’ll continue to do so until I am too old to care.
Have a look at the speech and see if you are as inspired as myself. I’d be interested to hear how failure and imagination impact on your own lives.
What a stellar speech! I heard similar themed speech at my college graduation, “The Fear of Failure” and I realized that was also my “theme”. All through my life, fear of failure had somewhat ruled my life…in so many things and ways.
The road to obtaining my college degree was twisted at best. I married my Sr. year, husband graduated, went to Army basic training (Vietnam War years), was medically discharged, came home in the middle of the school year (he was to teach history), got a job in Jan. (which was a miracle in itself) and we moved; which meant, my school days were over because I was also PG with our first son. And deathly sick with morning sickness…24/7 all 9 mos. About a year and half later, I decided to enroll in the closest college and finish up those last 2 courses. Guess again. PG and sick again. Then we moved to the Midwest. Maybe now? Nope, PG once more and sick as badly as the first two times. When the youngest was 6 I checked with my home college and my degree requirements had changed but they would accept courses from the closest 4 yr. university which was 40 miles away. Off I went…17 yrs late, but I FINISHED!!! I fulfilled my goals and my husband’s promise to my dad that I’d get my degree. Was I afraid to go back to school? Heck yes! My knees were shaking so badly on registration day that I had to stop and regain my composure in parking lot. Did I fail? No, in spite of taking THE most difficult class in the curriculum, Stats and Research. (Our professor announced the first day that when we finished his class, we would have the equivalent of a Masters. Oh great. And it included math, my weakest area. Oh no.) I earned an A. What a relief! Just goes to show that all those old ladies that you hated seeing come into your class would one day return to haunt you…in form of your own self!!! LOL!!!
OK, dissertation done. Thanks loads for posting this. I’m not a Potter fan, but I admire this woman for her perseverance and high standards! And thanks for sharing your story!
Thanks so much NovemberBride for telling your story as well. There must be something in the babyboomers’ water I think, for such perserverance. Although JKR, at 42, doesn’t actually qualify as a babyboomer, does she?
I felt so inspired by her grit and hard-won wisdom when I listened to the speech. Am so glad you enjoyed it as much as I!
I think this fear for failure it’s something that comes with us when we are born and never leave us. The point is if it overcomes you or you learn to live and deal with it.
For many years, since I got my graduation, I believed myself a sort of a failure because of what I thought my life would be at that point. I spent about ten years without a proper job in what it was supposed I was qualified. Those years were not wasted, I mean, I taught English and other subjects as a door-to-door teacher, or a amauter interpreter for friends or parents’ friends in their jobs, did other courses and stuff that could improve my CV… It was not the best of times but I had a way to support myself.
Through that period, imagination played an important part. Other’s imagination as in books or stories most of times and my own, as in writing as a way to evade myself.
Now that my life is kind of settled in the proffesional side, imagination is still a help when it comes to personal side. Waiting for the right one is much more fun with the help of your Sheriff Collector or even Mrs. Rowling’s Potter. (Right now I’m still dealing with the wrong ones and the Mr. Maybes) LOL!
Anyway, the thing is there will be no success without some share of failure, as we can’t truly aprecciate happiness with a little of sorrow (not much, please) in our lives and we must hope we’ll find the strength to go through it.
There’s a saying in Spanish: What does not kill you, it makes you stronger.
Oh! What a speech, sorry!!! LOL
Btw, I’m off comms for a while. Laptop having problems LOL so I don’t know when it will be my next time here 😉
Firstly I am devastated you’ll be off comms for awhile as I love your chat and I shall also be uploading the new chapters of Gisborne (TSC) tomorrow, so I hope you won’t be gone for long.
I too am having laptop problems and hope to invest in a new Macbook Pro in the foresee-able future.
You’re so right about failure, and fear of failure is the greatest leveler in our lives I suppose. But fear comes in many forms and sometimes it’s the fear of fear that can cause the failure . . . if that makes sense.
The Spanish saying is also an English saying and I have a feeling JK Rowling may have used it as a mantra in the hardest parts of her life. I know I have.
Take care and hurry back!
Thanks for posting–awesome points, certainly. I work for a university program, and two kinds of students disappoint me–the students who don’t try at all, and the students who could do so much more but don’t because they’re afraid of failing. “Oh, you could definitely try for this program…” “Yes, but I heard they grade hard and I don’t want to lower my GPA.” ‘Why not take this course at the Honors level?” “Well, I might get a lower grade…how much extra work is there again?” “You could apply for study abroad…” ” Yes, but I might not get the program I want.” You never get anywhere if you don’t try! And my frustration with them reveals frustration with myself–there is so much more I could try to do, but don’t because I perceive the chances as slim or the difficulty as too great. Weak excuses at best. Must use the imagination to envision where we can go…not envision how we can fail.
I didn’t know where else to contact you but just wanted to check on you. If I understand right, you live in Australia? Are you experiencing any of the flooding we’re hearing about on TV? Hope all is well!