When you are recovering from a surgery that leaves you without permission to drive, unable to live in your own house, and unable to walk without the assistance of crutches, guess what happens? You spend a lot of time trying to combat the boredom that seeps into every bit of your being. Which means, aside from the friend here and there who is willing to pick you up and drive you where you need or want to go, you are left to your own devices for entertainment. TV, the internet, books and magazines.
How that has translated for me is the discovery of new things, new ideas, new thoughts. And that's what I want to share with you today.
Surely a name we are all familiar with is J.K. Rowling. She of the enormous imagination that produced the world of Harry Potter. I admit, I haven't read one book of hers. I tried once, but the world of magical wizards has no hold on my attention span, no matter how hard I wanted to join the team. But I have read stories about her, about her struggles, about her tenacity, and I hold her in very high esteem. As a single mother, as a provider to her family, as posessor of an awesome imagination, as a writer.
In 2008, Ms. Rowling gave the commencement address to the graduation class of Harvard University. While cruising around the internet the other day, I stumbled upon that speech and listened to it in its entirety. Who knew she was such a great speaker as well? More importantly though, I was moved by her wit and her knowledge, her insight and compassion. The title of her speech? The Fringe Benefits of Failure. Can you imagine the Chancellor's thoughts on reading that title? The commencement speech at gradution will address failure as a benefit?
The first words of hers that really grabbed me were those in this nugget of advice: There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. Without stringing the words together in the same glorious manner, to my core and ever since I was old enough to take the wheel, I have believed this to be true. Me not being J.K. Rowling, I would have simply said, Don't blame your parents for the decisions you make.
On failure, Ms. Rowling said that we all must decide for ourselves what failure is but to beware the world's set of criteria, and not fall for it. She explains that by any measure, after only seven years from her own graduation day, she had failed in marriage, had no job, was a single parent and was as poor as it is possible to be without being homeless. By her own definition, she was the biggest failure she knew.
But... BUT! She then introduced the benefits of failure. She says of the time that failing allowed her to stop pretending to herself that she was anything other than what she was, and failing at other things allowed her to redirect her energy into the only work that mattered to her. Says she, 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 been realised, and I was still alive... And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
Isn't that fantastic? The liberation, the benefits of her failure? Her telling of her experience gives proof to the cliches. We can emerge stronger and wiser from our setbacks; if anything they tell us that we are able to survive. The truth is, we only get to know the strength of our lives, of our relationships, through being tested. Not every test comes with a grade; some come with lessons that launch us forward to a better way, a better life.
Whie I'm still not going to read the Harry Potter books, a J.K. Rowling fan I am!