J.K. Rowling’s Commencement Address earlier this month at Harvard was wondrous. I just finished reading it (taking a break from reworking my course outline for The Bible as Literature). The online edition of Harvard Magazine even has the video (albeit of her rendition to the Harvard Alumni Association and not graduation day in the yahd). And to think I got stiffed with Al Gore the year I received my M.Div.
Her talk is about failure, that dread bogeyman of American culture. Being one who has failed miserably in my life, I think she’s right on. Hey, a guy’s who’s run for state-wide political office and gotten 3% of the vote knows the difference between failing and being a failure. This is my favorite part
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.