What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.
[…] 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.
I snagged this text from a post at Boing Boing. As far as commencement speeches go, JK Rowling’s is one that resonates with me the most: failure is something that once prevented me from pursuing the thing I wanted to. It’s hard to be courageous, especially when you feel the weight of expectation upon you. And while I didn’t need to hit rock bottom, as Rowling did, to pull up my boots, I’ve had my share of pitfalls in this short lifetime. Everyone does.
Rowling also speaks of the power of imagination, and not just of the kind that conjure best-seller fiction novels. She talks of her experiences working with Amnesty International, and how it helped to shape her:
If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
Read the whole speech here.