Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Meaning of Failure

The recession is not looking good - under statement of the year. Aside from NPR, Yahoo is laying off 10% of their employees. They follow many other suffering industries. My heart also goes out to those who got or are getting the pink slip due to this economic crisis. Not that it will make things easier, but here is my attempt at offering solace through words. It comes from J. K. Rowling's (of "Harry Potter" fame) 2008 Harvard Commencement speech, "The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination." Her words are below.

...What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure...

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

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...

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