One of the books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this past summer is the Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling. Alright, it’s more of a speech than a novel. Because J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Commencement Speech was so popular, publishers decided to print it out into a book.
Although I’ve been a post-graduate for over a year now, I still feel as if I just walked across the stage to receive my degree. Then, of course, I realize that this didn’t just happen yesterday, I am a post-graduate with plans that didn’t pan out. So, reading a book or even a speech like this really helped provide insight into adulthood and knowing that I am not alone.
In this speech, Rowling addresses two topics: the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination. She shares with the audience of her experiences twenty years ago by using humor and profound wisdom.
Being able to accept your failures, it allows you take out what is unnecessary in your life. It also acts a motivator, giving you the opportunity to decide whether or not you are going to get back up or to let it run you down into the ground. A topic that I’ve continuously discussed in the past few weeks here and here. With failure, it allows you to grow and evolve as an individual. Rowling also talks about imagination — not in the “Harry Potter” sense, but being a human being. Being able to imagine ourselves in other people’s situations is one of the fundamental character attributes that Rowling emphasizes on. In other words, we must have empathy. A lot of us, especially youngsters like ourselves, don’t realize the capacity of influence we have on others or even the power to make this world a better place.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Rowling’s speech:
– “Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself and what those closest to me expected of me.”
– “There is an expiration 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.”
– “What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty but failure.”
– “So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.”
– “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”
– “You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.”
– “So given a Time-Turner, I would tell my twenty-one-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievement.”
– “I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.”
– “We do not need magic to transform our wold’ we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
Before she ends her speech, she leaves a final word of wisdom — friendship. Having friends to help you along the way is very important to keeping your sanity. If it wasn’t for my friends, I think I would be in a very dark place right now so thank you to them for always being there for me!
You can find the text and delivery of the speech here. If you would like to see J.K. Rowling make the speech, check below:
P.S. A big shout out to all the Ravenclaws out there!