Failure & J.K. Rowling

I know it’s been a while since my last post. Please forgive me, I’ve had a lot going on this week!

Lots of good stuff going on- hanging out and partying with old friends, hanging out with the new boy, good conversations, good wine, lots of yoga and beautiful weather…But also lots of introspection, a small panic attack, a fight with my parents, an ex coming back disguised as a friend to only be the same old asshole he always was, old insecurities coming to the surface, almost quitting my job….

It all started when Monday night I had a very vivid dream, almost too vivid for it to have NOT been real. I was in my office, 20 floors up in one of the highest buildings in San Francisco, with a view of the city landscape. There was a storm- lightning and thunder, then snow and hail. If you have ever been to San Francisco, you know that none of these forces of nature happen in the city. Yes, the weather is weird here, but we never see lightning or snow. Only when hell freezes over, they say. Well, in my dream, it appeared as if this was the case. And yet, I was the only one who seemed to care… In my dream my boss was yelling at me for missing a meeting and everyone was down to business, while the world was seemingly coming to an end right outside our windows. They kept working as I kept repeating “What the hell am I doing HERE when the world is ending”, “I should be with so and so” and things to that effect…

I’m not sure, but I think there was a message here. 

Definitely shook up my world this week, to say the least. I left my house that morning ready to get myself out of there, quit my job, going through my bills and loans in my head, ready to hit craigslist to find a new place to live, and begin researching holistic programs to enroll in. You know me- I get an idea and I jump right in. It’s how I got to San Francisco in the first place.

I did not quit my job. But I was oh so tempted. I held back, thankfully. But the reality of my overhwelming feeling of late that I am ‘on the edge’ of a big change really hit me, hard. What is this change going to be? What steps do I need to take to make this a reality, how am I going to do it, and where do I begin? I already took one step by signing up for the yoga teacher training. But I know there is more I need to consider. Will teaching be my only job? Will I keep living where I am living, will I stay working here while teaching, do I want to get certified as a nutritionist now or hold off a while? how, when, where, by what means….??

I think the past few weeks of being off balance were leading me here, to this place where the rubber meets the road. It’s show time, and I need to be prepared for what is about to happen. I need to make MY LIFE happen. I’ve been surrendering to find what it is that makes me happy, and it’s time to make that happiness a reality now that the picture is becoming more clear. It’s been bogging me down while at the same time uplifting me. I’ve been such a girly girl with my emotions this week, haha.

So when I stumbled this morning upon JK Rowlings commencement speech that she gave at Harvard this past weekend, I was blown away with the words that she put out there- and how relevant they seem to be given all of this. I’m not going to recount all of the things she said in the speech, you can read it yourself and be inspired like I was. (My coworkers must walk by my office sometimes and wonder what the hell is wrong with me- yet again I was sitting at my computer intently reading something with tears in my eyes).

The speech is about Failure and Imagination, the two things that she thinks are essential in our lives. It was the Failure part that hit home for me. Let me just start with I have never read a Harry Potter book. Not even one. I’ve seen pieces of the movies while at home for the holidays when my mom watches whatever latest one we bought her. But I’ve never been interested, never had the time to commit to 7 books (is it even 7, see I don’t even know that) about magic that I see 10 year olds reading. Thought it wasn’t for me. In fact, until I read this speech, I didn’t know how much I had in common with the author JK Rowling. A fellow Classics lover, a student of ancient Greece and Rome, as she says she studied "in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom”, much like myself my college. Maybe I will pick up one of these books, or 7, and take the time now.

But what got me in the speech is her talk of Failure and it’s benefits. She speaks of the pressure of our parents, our friends, of society to have the business major, the big career, make lots of money, have the ‘executive bathroom’ as she calls it. And how often, this just doesn’t jive with what our soul is telling us to do, which often leads to heartbreaking ‘failure’ and disappointment….

She says “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 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 already been realised”

While I know that losing my job last year did not leave me out cold on the streets like it did to JK Rowling, I think I’m now starting to realize that the past 5, 10 years of my life have been a failure to some extent- because instead of following my heart, I have been following what I thought I SHOULD be doing- namely the college degree, big title career in finance, big paycheck, nice apartment, car, trips…. It’s not failure in the traditional sense, but it’s a failure to myself, and this is what I have been grappling with these past few weeks is the realization of this.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m unhappy with what I am doing. I actually do like the company that I work for now and the people that I work with, a lot. I just know that I could be so much happier and more authentic to myself if I was doing something else. Not just happier in my career, but happier in my relationships, with myself, with the universe.

At the end of her speech she quotes Seneca, a Roman who we both studied in college on the Classics track:

“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”

We don’t know how long our lives are going to be. Hell freezing over could happen tomorrow, and I would be sitting in that office yelling the things that I was in my dream.

So then, this, NOW, is where my rubber is hitting the road, to finding the ”good” that matters– by MY definition, not anyone else’s.

Exhilarating, scary, and delicious all at the same time.

Jennifer Blackstock