"With Harry Potter being one of the most successful franchises in history, J.K. Rowling is changing the world. One book, one speech, and one charity at a time."
The success of J.K. Rowling is not just deemed by the fact that she is the first author in the world to hit the $1 billion mark, or by the awards she has accrued; but more importantly by the positive impact she has made in billions of lives. She is considered one of the most engaged and philanthropic celebrities in today’s world and her series of books and associated movies has touched the hearts of millions. She has also had a profound influence on a whole generation of children by encouraging them to read and transforming reading habits through her Harry Potter series.
The life of Joanne Rowling is a story that many can draw inspiration from. She has had a lot of personal struggles in her life and showed a lot of resilience by pulling through and succeeding. As Rowling said in her commencement address at Harvard: “I think it's fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless . . . I was the biggest failure I knew. She also said “I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized. I still had a daughter who I adored, an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
One big tragedy Rowling had to go through during the time of developing Harry Potter was that her mother passed away from Multiple Sclerosis. After this event, she moved to Portugal in 1991 to teach English as a second language. She married her first husband the following year and had her daughter, Jessica, with him. They were divorced shortly after and she found herself a single parent, suffering from clinical depression, jobless and living on state benefits in the United Kingdom. It was an extremely hard time of her life as she was barely making ends meet. And yet, for Rowling, failure was the turning point that made her strive for a better life.
The idea of Harry Potter began on a trip from Manchester to London in 1990. Her train was delayed and an idea burst into her imagination about the adventures of a young boy with a brave heart who didn’t know he was a wizard until he got to Hogwarts, the wizard school. By the time she got off the train, Harry Potter was conceived along with many of the other characters in the books.
By 1995, she had outlined the plots for seven books, and published her first novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; and was one of the richest women in the world.
Her challenging life experiences have greatly influenced both the causes she has chosen to get involved with, as well as her writing. In her books, there are many signs of the struggles the author went through during her life, the best example takes the form of a dementors, a creature that sucks happiness out of a person leaving only sorrow and loneliness. Nevertheless, the hopeful-spirited Rowling would create a counter measure: the patronus spell, the materialization of a happy memory that would immediately repel the creature.
During her university studies she worked at Amnesty International (AI), where she was in constant exposure to terrible situations happening around the world – especially in Africa. She would later reveal in an interview that one of the most shocking moments during her time working for AI was when a politician was informed of his mother being assassinated by government officials as a response to his cooperation with the NGO, in her own words the scream was of such “pain and horror ... as I have never heard since.” She said. She would later describe the experience as one that helped her become aware of everything happening in the world and feeling incredibly grateful for being born in the First World.
Perhaps the most inspiring of all she has done so far has been what she’s done with her newfound wealth. She is a passionate philantropher and has never forgotten where she came from. She has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charities as a result, actively supporting over a dozen organizations, and establishing her own children’s foundation, Lumos, in 2005, which helps institutionalize children to find a family. The name Lumos is a direct reference to her books and alludes to a spell that creates light. One of the most famous quotes from Harry Potter notes: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Modeling Inspiration, Resilient Leadership
The qualities of J.K. Rowling’s leadership qualities could likely be in the pages of one of her novels. How she got to where she is today is a story filled with resilience and inspiration. You don’t have to be a wizard to follow in J.K. Rowling’s footsteps, but you do have to believe in the magical qualities you contain within yourself. Her ideas and values inspire her readers on a daily basis.
She sets a great example that leadership is about being able to use failure as a catalyst for success and her vision, perseverance, blind faith and resilience is second to none. Given the massive success her hard work has produced, we can all learn some important lessons from this extraordinary lady:
1. Don’t Listen To The Doubts Of Critics
“For some to love you, some must loathe you.”
When 12 publishers rejected her book, a small house called Bloomsbury Press eventually agreed to publish it. But even then, the author was told “you’ll never make any money on children’s books.”
Many successful people first meet with rejection, resistance and yes, sometimes-outright hatred. Criticism truly is the price of greatness. And you really need to be so invested so that absolutely nothing will deter you from your end goal.
2. Take The Risk
“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.”
Rowling is the first to admit that taking a risk on something meaningful is scary but rewarding. Harry Potter’s success today is vastly different from its beginnings when publishing houses rejected the manuscript. Rejection was a reality that Rowling knew well when pursuing the publication of her story, but she still took the risk.
3. Learn To Accept Criticism And Failure
“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 what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”
Be prepared to invest in what matters to you and don’t be afraid to fail. Take chances and pursue your dreams. No matter what you do, someone will always have something negative to say about it. Don’t let that stop you or deter you. Treat criticism as an opportunity to learn and grow.
4. Do What You Love
“I am an extraordinarily lucky person, doing what I love best in the world. I’m sure that I will always be a writer.”
The takeaway here is, if you do something you love, it will spark your passion and then you’ll be able to work harder at it because you care so deeply. The end result will be happiness.
5. Don’t Give Up
“You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity”.
Once you have a great idea, don’t give up on it or second-guess it, that’s how you talk yourself out of something. If you have an idea you feel passionate about, go for it and follow it through.
Life and work are full of challenges. Don’t let them derail you. Find a way to make it work and persevere.
6. Stay Focused
“Anything’s possible if you have got enough nerve and focus.”
It took Rowling five years to outline the plots for all the books. Bloomsbury, the small publisher that published Rowling’s first book, suggested she get a day job “since she had little chance of making money in children’s books.” Rowling did her first reading of Harry Potter to four people. But she still moved forward and did another reading and then another. Very few people are immediate successes. Most people, like Rowling, don’t let early setbacks get them down or defeat them. They stay focused and keep their eye on the prize.
7. Embrace Opportunity
“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”
When Rowling was unemployed and struggling as a single parent, she chose to embrace the time as an opportunity to write, instead of dwelling on the hard hand that life had dealt her. No matter what situation you’re in, look at it and think, is there anything I can do to improve my job, business, life, etc.
8. Look For Your Uniqueness
“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.”
Each one of us has something unique we can offer the world. Find out what that is and share it.
Rowling wasn’t looking for fame and fortune when she set out to write the Harry Potter series. She just wrote what she liked reading as a child. She never expected millions of people to like them. All she set out to do was get the books published.
9. When a Great Idea Grabs You, Grab Back
“You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve."
Great ideas are unmistakably powerful in their announcement and come when least expected. Rowling says: “We know when a great idea is upon us. The problem is, we often question it, second-guess it and rationalize it away”. Not Rowling. She recognized the mark of a powerful idea, seized upon it and went with it. It was all about persevere, persevere and persevere.
10. Everyone Has a Unique Contribution To Make To The World
“I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It’s totally for myself.”
J. K. Rowling never went searching for the kind of success she’s received. “I just wrote the sort of thing I liked reading when I was younger (and still enjoy now!). I didn’t expect lots of people to like them, in fact, I never really thought much past getting them published.” It wasn’t fame or wealth that she sought. She simply wanted to contribute to the world in general, and to children specifically.
Focus on the unique something you have to offer to the world. The rest will surely come, in ways you may not even be able to imagine. In fact, Rowling has explained in interviews that she didn’t even expect to make a living off of the books. However, her purpose for writing the books wasn’t about making a lot of money, it was about doing what mattered to her.
The quote of hers that speaks volumes of resilience and is befitting to end with states:
“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”