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9 Quotes on Success and Failure from J.K. Rowling

'Your conception of failure might not be too far removed from the average person's idea of success.'
9 Quotes on Success and Failure from J.K. Rowling
Image credit: Samir Hussein | Getty Images
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

J.K. Rowling is well-acquainted with failure. She felt its familiar weight while unemployed and struggling to make ends meet on welfare. She knew it as she sat in cafes and restaurants around Edinburgh, Scotland, furiously writing the seven-book series that would become the worldwide phenomenon of Harry Potter. For all the hardship that failure represented at the time, Rowling has said the sheer breadth of it -- all of her fears coming to pass -- was, in a way, liberating.

After finishing her first novel, Rowling received rejection letter after rejection letter. Even after she procured an agent, the story was turned down by 12 publishers before Harry Potter finally made its bookstore debut on July 26, 1997. Almost 22 years later, the magical world Rowling imagined has raked in more than $25 billion in the form of movies, books, toys and more. On top of that, Rowling’s international children’s nonprofit, Lumos, claims to have protected over 31,500 children from institutions and orphanages since 2009.

In less than a decade, Rowling found worldwide success after realizing her passion. Here’s some of her most enduring advice on success, failure and everything in between.

On failure:

“By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew. Now, I’m 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 fairytale resolution. I had no idea then 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 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 where I felt I truly belonged.” (From her Harvard University commencement address, 2008)

On naysayers:

“Don't you dare let their laughter extinguish your ambition. Turn it into fuel!” (From Twitter)

On rock bottom:

“I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, 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.” (From her Harvard University commencement address, 2008)

On risk-taking:

“I had nothing to lose, and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try.” (From Twitter)

On perfection:

“Never wait in expectation of perfection or you'll wait forever. Do the best you can with what you've got, and be one of those who dared rather than those who merely dream.” (From Twitter)

On imagination:

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” (From her Harvard University commencement address, 2008)

On happiness:

“Personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.” (From her Harvard University commencement address, 2008)

On follow-through:

“The discipline involved in finishing a piece of creative work is something on which you can truly pride yourself. You'll have turned yourself from somebody who's 'thinking of,' who 'might,' who's 'trying,' to someone who did. And once you've done it, you'll know you can do it again. That is an extraordinarily empowering piece of knowledge. So do not ever quit out of fear of rejection. Maybe your third, fourth, fiftieth song/novel/painting will be the one that 'makes it,' that wins the plaudits, but you'd never have got there without finishing the others (all of which will now be of more interest to your audience).” (From Twitter)

On perception:

“Your conception of failure might not be too far removed from the average person’s idea of success.” (From her Harvard University commencement address, 2008)

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