In 2008, J. K. Rowling gave a speech at Harvard University. Very Good Lives is that speech in book form. These pages contain thoughts on success and failure, and how imagination can be the greatest gift of all. As Rowling says, there was a time in her life when it appeared she had failed at everything. No money, a failed marriage, a young daughter to support, no work, no home except what the council could provide. In a society that counts possessions, money and social status as the best ways to gauge success, Rowling was near the bottom of the pile. Skip ahead to now and she is a bestselling author known to millions whose story has been held up as a fairytale of rags to riches. Has her change of fortunes erased her memories of the bleak times she had? No. It has given her a healthy respect for failure and for the rewards it can bring.
The speech given to the graduating class of 2008 refers to the expectations of parents; explains that there is 'an expiry date for blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction'; takes in her experiences of working for Amnesty International. She goes through her highs and her lows, her appreciation of her friends and her satisfaction at having finally set aside the directions of others in order to pursue her desire to write.
One thing that came through to me while reading this was Rowling's sense of gratitude. Gratitude is getting more attention these days as a means of improving your life and mental health and I think it must be something Rowling practises. She is thankful for friends who stood by her in the dark times, and for the opportunities life has given her and continues to give her is clear.
This book doesn't contain personality tests, aptitude tests, questions on how much you want to earn, how to be a better manager, how to be the best salesperson - all of which you'd find in standard career advice books. And that's why I chose it for this part of the reading challenge. There's so much material out there on how to fit into the machinery of 'success' and not enough attention paid to connecting us with life and what it means to be alive.
My favourite quote of the book?
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.
8 out of 10 graduation caps
Are you undertaking the #popsugarreadingchallenge?
Tempted by this book, but already have your book with career advice covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book could apply to:
A book with a subtitle
A book written by someone you admire (if you admire J. K. Rowling, obviously)
A book with pictures