Turning Failure Into Unimaginable Success

By Doug Armey

(A repost of one of my most viewed posts as I take a brief hiatus)

J.K. Rowling, the author of the best selling Harry Potter series, gave the commencement address at Harvard University in 2008.  She spoke about how hitting rock-bottom failure led to her phenomenal success.

She dreamed of writing fantasy when she was young.  Yet, her parents felt it was a waste of time.  So they prodded her to pursue something more practical.  But she secretly continued to write, study literature and dream.

She got married, gave birth to a daughter.  Then went through a divorce leaving her out of work and financially destitute.

She said she was, “As poor as you can be in England and not be homeless.”

No one to help.  And her daughter to take care of.

So in the midst of that struggle, with no other choice, she decided to follow her dream.  She began to write what resided inside.  She struggled.  She was ridiculed by other writers.  She was disdained by religious leaders.  But she kept on.

And through the years her Harry Potter series took off.  It became a raving success in books and subsequent movies.  One of the most popular series in history.

She said in her commencement address:

“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 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.”

When you can, I encourage you to watch the video on a link at Jonathon Fields’ blog.  It’s one of the most encouraging and heart-warming speeches I’ve seen in a long time.

I love her words about failure stripping away the inessential. And rock bottom becoming the foundation for her new life.

So often we fear failure so much we won’t venture out. 

We start out with our own dreams of greatness.  Our dreams of life as we would like to live it.

Yet, along the way we hit the inevitable setbacks.  We hit the failures that knock us down.  We often give up.  Find a safe career.  Settle into a sensible lifestyle

Yet, that can lead to lives of boredom and mediocrity.  No wonder reality television is so popular.  We can watch others living out the excitement of their lives from the safety ours.

Yet, Jesus offers us something radically different.  He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25, NIV)

He’s talking about real life.  Amazing life.  A life lived in unimaginable success.  And he says we will find it when we give up the easy way and walk with him in the passion he has given us.

So when you stumble.  When you’ve failed.  When you’ve encountered set backs. What do you do?

Some things that help me.

In those times, I purposely get apart from all the distractions. I get away from the noise.  It may be out in the sunroom listening to some quiet music on a Sunday morning.  Or walking in our garden on a pleasant evening.  It may be riding a ski lift in winter or sailing our boat in the summer.  It may be driving the Healey in the foothills or walking by the ocean watching the waves lap up on the rocks.  It doesn’t matter as long as I can listen to my heart and sense God’s leading.

I often write down questions and the answers.

“If I could do anything I wanted what would it be?  What am I passionate about?  What excites me to get up in morning?  Where do I find fulfillment and purpose?  What are the gifts I have and where can I use them most effectively?”

Then I determine how I can make it work.  Take the first steps. It’s never clear at this point and there will be a lot of detours and changes along the way.  That’s ok.  It gets me moving in the right direction.

Determine who I know who can help me and talk to them.  Study what I need to learn.  Decide on the first step and take it?

This is life changing and challenging.  That’s why J.K. Rowling said when she had nothing to lose it set her free to pursue her dream.

It comes down to trusting God is leading me. He’ll guide me into the dreams he has implanted in me.  He’ll show me the steps.  He wants my life to be full and rich.  He wants me to discover the greatness he created me for.

And that underlying confidence sets me free to pursue those dreams.  It releases me to live life beyond the ordinary.

There’s a wonderful promise in Psalms that encourages me.

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24, NLT)

He is delighted to guide the details of my life if I will only listen to him and pursue it.

And I rest in the promise that as his child, even when I do stumble, I won’t fall because he’s there holding me up in his love. That assurance gives me the confidence to press on into greater things.

We can truly live in greatness.  The choice is ours.  Out of failure can come unimaginable success.

Where have you had setbacks?  What are your dreams of unimaginable success?

If this post has encouraged you please let me know.  And share it.  And if you haven’t already I encourage you to subscribe to receive regular updates.  Thanks.

Categories : Happiness, Success


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alex Blackwell, Douglas Armey. Douglas Armey said: RT @thebridgemaker: "So often we fear failure so much we won’t venture out." A must-read today -> http://t.co/t8X8B2E @DougArmey [...]

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  14. yacht crew says:

    I see J K Rowling has finally split with her (very) long term literary agent, Chris Little. Can this have something to do with her bypassing the traditional publishing industry and releasing books in electronic format direct from her new Harry Potter web site, Pottermore? It seems the magical relationship couldn’t survive the harsh daylight of commercialism… landing us back in the real world with a bump.