Beyond hyper-crisis

Beyond hyper-crisis

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.
–J.K. Rowling
The commencement speech given by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005 ending “Stay hungry, stay foolish” is legendary even here in Japan. But the commencement speech given by J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, at Harvard University in 2008 is not widely known.
It’s hard to find people who don’t know Ms. Rowling, especially her book nowadays. But in her speech, she tells a story when she had been striking an uneasy balance between her ambition to be a novelist and her parents’ expectation for her to see the reality when she was growing up.

Since both of her parents, who did not go to university and came from impoverished background, they wanted her to get a stable job. In their view, majoring in English literature led her to nowhere. So a compromise was made: she specializing in German language. But she found the lectures boring. So, without noticing her parents, she changed her major to English literature.
After graduating college, she wrote stories but did not go well. She also went through a difficult period of getting married, giving birth to a daughter, and then going through a rough divorce. In her late 20s, she was a single mother, unemployed, and was one step away to becoming homeless. The fears her parents had envisioned came true.
However, because she sank to the bottom she was forced to “throw away all the unnecessary things (including her pride) and could see what really was important to her, to which she spent all her energy into. She felt herself the biggest failure that she could ever imagine. But she realized the three most important things she had: her adorable daughter, a small typewriter and a big imagination.” At then she started writing Harry Potter.
This is when she says the opening quote:
“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 myself was on the verge of bankruptcy last year and experienced the feeling of depression when I had to fire the employee I had worked with from the beginning of this company. It was then I think I finally realized what was important for me and what I really wanted to do.
Of course I do not see a sign of success yet and no sign of cash pouring in. However, I feel now is the most enjoyable time in my 38 years of life. I am doing only what I really want to do and what I care about. Now I choose to hang out with those who I care about, instead of acting nice to everyone. I no longer care about what others think of me and refuse to live up to their expectations.
In that sense, I think I am lucky. If I’d had a choice, I would have taken the safer route, which I didn’t have because everything happened so rapidly. I do not want to become poor. I do not want to feel humiliated by failing. But when you fall down to the bottom…
I am greatly inspired every time I watch this speech. I hope you do too.

Posted by Masafumi Otsuka

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