Famous Failures: J.K. Rowling, Her Struggles and Her Triumphs (Part 2)

Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Depression

This week, I am diving into part two of the series I started on April 21, 2018, entitled, “famous failures”, a term coined by Sid Sivara, who wrote an article with that title. The personality I want to highlight this week is the author of the celebrated Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling. As I researched her life, I discovered that she has some striking similarities to the personality which I described a few weeks ago. For example, both she and Lincoln struggled with depression and poverty.

Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865), was the sixteenth president of the United States and he grew up on a farmstead in Kentucky. (Source: James M. McPherson, “Lincoln, Abraham, (1809-1865), Sixteenth president of the United States”, American National Biography,, retrieved on 05/08/2018.)  During his childhood, he carved out a life which was marked by hard physical labor and a lack of consistent education in a one-room schoolhouse. (Source: ibid) He also suffered from melancholy and depressive episodes for much of his life, as well as “brooding” which his friends termed, “the hypo,” short for hypochondria. (Source: ibid, and Shenk, Joshua, “Lincoln’s Great Depression”, The Atlantic). “Hypo,” was the term medical practitioners used in the 19th century to describe what we now recognize as clinical depression. (Source: McPherson)

Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Professional Failures

Lincoln also tried and failed at much life professional pursuits, including “store clerk, mill hand, a partner in a general store that failed, postmaster, and surveyor.”  (Source: ibid). He also experienced failure in his political career from time to time, and in 1832, when he ran for the legislature, he was defeated. (Source: ibid, and Sid Sivara, “Famous Failures: Michael Jordan, AbrahamJK Rowling portrait_edited-1Abraham Lincoln portrait_edited-1 Lincoln and J.K. Rowling”,, retrieved on 03/29/18) However, when he re-entered the political race for the legislature in the New Salem district of Illinois, he made a decisive victory in 1834. (Source: McPherson). Despite many setbacks, Lincoln developed a new direction and ambition during his years living in the town of New Salem, Illinois. (Source: ibid) In fact, he started making decisive moves towards self-improvement by joining a debating society, received mentoring from the local teacher in New Salem, Illinois, Mentor Graham, in both mathematics and literature, and he developed a strong interest in politics. (Source: ibid)   In addition, he developed a lifelong interest and appreciation for William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. (Source: ibid)

Likewise, J.K. Rowling also faced extremely challenging life challenges such as poverty and depression. For example, she faced countless rejection letters for her Harry Potter books, initially at least. (Source: Elle Kaplan, “How J.K. Rowling Turned Failure into Massive Success, (And You Can Too),” https://, accessed April 17, 2018).    Also, like Lincoln, she seems to be a deep thinker and one who had a specific dream and ambition. (Source: ibid) Rowling’s dream was to provide a good life for her daughter, and she did not give up, no matter how many times she failed. (Source: ibid)   Like Lincoln, she was successful, though it was far from easy. (Source: ibid).

J.K. Rowling’s Unlikely Success: What Motivated Her

While many of you may recognize J.K. Rowling as a bestselling author of the Harry Potter book series, did you know that she was once jobless, living on welfare and raising a daughter all by herself as a single mother? (Source: ibid) In her own words, she states: “By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.” (Source: ibid).  In addition, she states that her failures helped to shed light on many aspects of her life, including her relationships with others, and that it gave her tenacity to “face adversity head-on to turn unfortunate circumstances into success.” (Source: ibid.)

One aspect of her experience that gave her the will to succeed and rise above her struggles was her wish to give her daughter a better life. (Source: ibid) During this pursuit, she held onto this truth she knew about herself and that was that she believed she knew how to tell a story. (Source: ibid) Understanding her “why” for wanting to succeed in life was crucial to her achievements. (Source: ibid) Learning about J.K. Rowling’s life before she was famous, makes her seem more human and relatable, and it gives us hope that if she can be successful against significant life struggles, so can we. But how do we do this? To investigate this question further, I referred back to the Kaplan article to see what suggestions the author made about being successful.


What to Do When Failure Occurs: A Few Suggestions

The author, Kaplan, provides some insights into what we can do to mitigate the sting of failure. For example, she states, when a failure occurs and it inevitably will, rather than letting it defeat you, get some perspective and ask yourself some questions, such as: Do I try again, or do I give up? What do I hope to achieve and why? Is there another way to reach my goal or a strategy I haven’t tried yet? (Source: ibid)

Another strategy you can use to rise above failure is to envision that you are actually being successful in your endeavors and to detach yourself from feelings of failure so that it doesn’t define you. (Source: ibid) According to Kaplan, “Visualization is a powerful tool for building confidence and changing your mindset toward success.” In fact, Kaplan states that: “A recent study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that parts of the brain activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were also activated when they only imagined lifting.”  In conclusion, I don’t suppose that I will ever be as famous as J.K. Rowling or Abe Lincoln, and I am OK with that. In fact, I’m not sure that I would want the kind of pressure that they experienced, such as the ever-present imperative to achieve because of their phenomenal successes and contributions to society. I just want to stop letting past failures stop getting the better of me. If I focus too much on these types of things, it can be paralyzing and keep me from moving on toward my next goal. What about you? Do you have a dream that just won’t die, no matter how many times you fail in the pursuit of its fruition? What is your reason for living? I’d love to hear all about your dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Send me a note in the comments section of this blog.