How J.K. Rowling Turned Failure Into Massive Success (and You Can Too)
by Elle Kaplan
J.K. Rowling went from being on welfare to a household name — see her tips on overcoming setbacks in your life.
When many of us hear the name J.K. Rowling, our thoughts immediately turn to her multi-million dollar literary empire, her extraordinary international success, and of course, a boy wizard.
Yet few people have failed as hard as J.K. Rowling has. Before that boy wizard was just an idea of a paper napkin in an Edinburgh cafe, she was living off welfare, divorced, and jobless.
“By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew,” said Rowling.
But in a 2008 Harvard commencement speech, she notes that her early failure a “gift” that was “painfully won.” Through her failure, she gained valuable knowledge about herself and her relationships, as well as the courage to face adversity head-on to turn unfortunate circumstances into success.
Few of us are in situations as destitute as Rowling’s. Still fewer of us will achieve her level of fame and wealth that now eclipses the Queen of England’s. But all of us have — and will — fail.
We will also have the opportunity to turn our failures into experiences that shape and prime us for success. Read on for tips from J.K. Rowling and other mega-moguls that have transformed their failures from negatives to positives:
Find a compelling reason why you must succeed, and use it as your North Star.
Maybe a project you’re working on fell flat, you received some discouraging feedback at your job, or your relationship is a mess. Until you realize you have no other choice but to try again and succeed, you’ll keep procrastinating and will be too terrified to begin again.
For Rowling, the reason was providing a good life for her daughter. She knew that she couldn’t just sit back and wait for success to happen to her — so, despite the setbacks she’d already encountered in her career, she started submitting the Harry Potter manuscript to publishers, where she received dozens of rejection letters before finally finding the right fit.
If failure has you in a slump, take a step back and consider your choices: do you stop trying? Or do you move forward? What is propelling you? Once you find that compelling reason, you’ll see that your only choice is to forge ahead.
Gain back your confidence through visualization.
Failing at one project, task, or job may make us feel like failures. But instead of letting your past shortcomings project onto yourself, separate what has happened from who you are. Don’t let your failure define you.
Because of mistakes he made, Steve Jobs was fired from the company he co-founded. That’s a pretty big way to fail — but instead of losing his confidence, he went on to transform the entire consumer tech industry.
Even in the lowest point of her life, J.K. Rowling says that “I was not the world’s most secure person… and yet in this one thing in my life, I believed… I felt ‘I can tell a story.’”
Even if she was feeling insecure in other areas, she found a part of her skillset that she could feel proud of — and as we all know, the stories she told brought her unimaginable success.
If your confidence has taken a blow because of a recent failure, commit to trying to build it back up. Visualization is a powerful tool to building confidence and changing your mindset toward success. A recent study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the parts of the brain activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were also activated when they only imagined lifting.
These results highlight the strength of the mind-body connection, showing that thoughts and behaviors are deeply linked. If you take time to visualize your success, you’ll find that it feels more attainable.
Share what you’ve learned from your failure with others.
This may seem counterintuitive — most of us would rather run away from our failures than share them with everyone we know. But recent studies from the Academy of Management Learning and Education show that talking about situations where the desired outcome wasn’t reached can be impactful and inspiring to others, and can also help you work through your own failures.
J.K. Rowling has spoken to dozens of media outlets and huge crowds about the benefits of her failure, candidly sharing mistakes she’s made and what she learned from them. This helped her better understand these failures, and gave her an ability to see her journey in a new light. When you share your failures and lessons with others — whether that’s with a close personal friend or even on a stage in front of a crowd of strangers — this empowers you and allows you to craft your own path.
After you’ve experienced a failure, it can be hard to see your defeats as a “gift,” as J.K. Rowling does. But once you’ve found your reason why you must move forward and succeed, asserted your confidence through visualizing success, and shared your lessons with others, you’ll find that you’re closer to achieving your dreams than ever.
When it comes to being exceptionally successful, being told “no” is a very common theme. In fact, if you’re on the path to greatness, you’ll see more rejections than ever before.
Rowling, like countless others, realized that the smart risk of getting her story published would probably come with some difficulties along the way. But books write themselves, so she kept surging forward like a star Quidditch player, and today it’s hard to believe she ever fell on hard times.
I firmly believe that when it comes to your career, “No” is just someone’s opinion, nothing more. No one can advocate for you or make it happen like you can. You have to be your own best cheerleader. You must believe in your own success, and this means that if the right opportunity doesn’t present itself, create your own opportunity.
By persisting when everything seems “impossible,” you can do the same thing. You don’t even need a magical broom.
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