Imagine this scenario:

Your mother just passed away, you’re in the midst of a nasty divorce, the relationship with your father is practically non-existent, and to top it all off … you’ve lost your job.

You’re heartbroken. And scrambling to figure out how to feed your 6-month-old baby, supported only by biweekly welfare checks.

How would you feel?

Chances are you’d slip into a deep depression, your heart heavy with devastation, loss, and loneliness. 

But at 27 years old, that’s exactly what happened to J.K. Rowling:

Everything was gone. Her mother. Her marriage. Her job. She was clinically depressed, traumatized by her struggles, driven to the point of contemplating suicide.

She hit rock bottom, hanging onto the only two things she had left — her daughter and her typewriter. The rest, as many of us know, is history:

She created the Harry Potter franchise, crowning her the only author in history to become a billionaire.

Yet there’s a deeper lesson inside than a heartfelt rags-to-riches story.

A lesson that can reverse self-doubt, encourage risk-taking, and something I’ve personally applied to my life. The lesson, explained by J.K. Rowling, is simple — it’s okay to fail:

“For me, 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. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.

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.”

My entire life I’ve been afraid of failure. Presently, I’m afraid of writing an article people hate. Or that I won’t hit my goals at work. Or that I’m not being a good friend. At other points in life, I was afraid of failing an exam. Or losing a basketball game.

Yes, a fear of failure is what creates driven and competitive people, essential for pushing our capitalist economy forward. It has it’s place.

But at the same time … fear of failure makes us risk averse.

It’s what makes us afraid of stepping outside of our comfort zone. Or afraid of feeling vulnerable. So we dodge scary challenges, or setting lofty goals, since we’re afraid of failure.

So I encourage you to ask yourself … what are you afraid of?

  • Afraid of abandoning your job to start the business you’ve always dreamed of?
  • Afraid of pitching your new marketing campaign idea, fearful people in the office will think it’s stupid?
  • Afraid of reaching out to someone successful, believing “they’re out of my league” and you’ll never get a response?

Now take those fears … and put yourself in J.K. Rowling’s shoes.

She had a baby to feed, with no job, living off welfare checks. Instead of taking the safe route, finding a “secure” job that would just pay the bills, she took a huge risk — spending months creating the one thing she was passionate about.

As a result, her failure was the spark that ignited her success.

Now whenever I’m doubting myself, fearful of a risky new idea or venture, I think of J.K. Rowling’s timeless advice:


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 have failed by default.

J.K. Rowling    

I am not afraid of failure. I am afraid of not living.

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Originally published Aug 3, 2015 5:49:43 PM, updated July 28 2017