Friday, February 12, 2010

JK Rowling - The fringe benefits of failure (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)

I highly recommend JK Rowling's commencement address at Harvard. She talks about the fringe benefits of failure, which I think is very, very applicable for us. Especially so, since majority of my social circle led very cloistered lives in school, and were also pretty much successful without getting a taste of bitter failures.

Let me highlight a few points that struck me from Rowling's speech:

1. There is an expiry date at blaming your parents for steering you to the wrong direction... The moment you are old enough, responsibility lies with you. - At some point in your life, you begin to take the wheels. I believe this, but this has to be clarified.

It's true that you have to take responsibility for your own direction in life, but what your parents imparted with you can make or break your desired state in life. Read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, the one on Bill Gates. Success is not just because of you, it's because of everyone and everything around you. In quick points, Bill was born in 1955, the so-called perfect date for software tycoons. Bill's parents enrolled him in a forward-looking school, one that allowed him to be exposed to computers at a young age. Because of this, he had the prerequisite 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert in the field.

But it is true that once this preparation was set in place, it was up to Bill to take Microsoft to the next level. I would think though that if Bill's parents weren't there, he probably wouldn't be where he is right now.

2. It's impossible not to fail, unless you've lived so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which you fail by default. - Many people choose to play it safe and avoid risks. This statement strikes straight at this belief.

I was talking to a friend (still a student) over the weekend, asking how his day goes. He goes: wake up in the morning, go to school, go to the tutor, go home and eat dinner, study, take a bath, then sleep. The next day is exactly the same. So what do you do during the vacation, I ask. TV, and possibly Math summer class.

Even for people who are employed, it's the same routine over and over. Settle into a routine because it's safe. Avoid risky things because they might present harm.

I have been like this for a long time, but I'm happy because I know I'm doing something out of the ordinary. Let's see how it goes.

Rowling said it best - when you don't take risks in life, you fail by default.

3. Failure meant stripping away all of the inessential/set free by failure - Rowling said that failure strips away the inessentials and allowed her to direct her energies to what truly mattered to her (which is writing). This is a new perspective to me - by failing you can narrow down your focus on that one thing that matters to you.

By failing, she knew herself better: her inner strengths, and the strength of her relationships.

4. Life is not a checklist of achievements - But there are those who confuse it. In a way she also meant that happiness in life is not obtained via achievements, or money. A sad reality in the world today, more so because it's driven by the world economy so there's virtually no escape from it.

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