The Formula That Leads to Wild Success- Part 6: J.K. Rowling
People who back their ideas and opportunities with hard work, a positive attitude and faith are very successful. They’re the individuals we look up to and admire in society. They follow the unofficial winning formula of humanity, which they put into practice each day.
They have maximized their talent by believing in themselves, having the audacity to put themselves in the spotlight and outworking everyone while never, ever giving up. We choose people like these as role models to look up to and to inspire us. They serve as a baseline- a standard of greatness- for us to study and measure ourselves against.
Today is the sixth profile in my series on individuals, who in their own unique way, followed this formula to overwhelming success. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will showcase four more individuals who have shattered the limits of what many thought was possible- to re-define greatness.
Today, I discuss author J.K. Rowling’s inspiring story. You can read Part 1 on Michael Jordan here, Part 2 on Oprah Winfrey here, Part 3 on Elon Musk here, Part 4 on Martin Luther King Jr. here and Part 5 on Misty Copeland here. Enjoy!
The Writer’s Life
What makes a great writer? Is it the the number of books sold? His imagination? The way her words move you? The generation(s) of people influenced? The objective quality of the prose? However you choose to define a great writer, J.K. Rowling meets all of the above criteria- and more.
Rowling is best known for the Harry Potter book series, which has sold more than 400 million copies to date.
400 million copies!
This feat means that she has produced the best-selling book series in history. The Harry Potter book series spawned the films, which also became a series. Rowling had a hand in the creative control and production of the movies. The movies have become the second highest-grossing film series in history.
Most writers would be ecstatic reaching 10,000 books sold for one of their novels. Rowling completely changed the game with her riveting series. Once the runner-up for Time Magazine’s person of the year, Rowling was named, “The Most Influential Woman in Britain” in 2010.
Though, once you know more about Rowling’s personal story, it seems hard to believe that a woman once down on her luck and with little hope, could become one of the most successful authors in history.
Trials, Tribulations and a Dazzling Idea
“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 fail by default.” — J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling didn’t have a top-notch Oxford educational background. In fact, she was a good student but she didn’t have a clear path for her life upon graduation from university. She bounced around from job-to-job for a few years.
At age 25, in the summer of 1990, Rowling was hunting for apartments in Manchester, England with her then-boyfriend. She was still living in London at the time and working as a bilingual secretary.
After the weekend spent trying to find a place to live, she then traveled back to London. During a delayed train trip, a dynamic, life-changing idea came to her. Suddenly like magic, the idea for Harry Potter, “came fully formed into her mind.”
“All of a sudden the idea for Harry just appeared in my mind’s eye. I can’t tell you why or what triggered it. But I saw the idea of Harry and the wizard school very plainly. I suddenly had this basic idea of a boy who didn’t know who he was, who didn’t know he was a wizard until he got his invitation to wizard school. I have never been so excited by an idea.” — J.K. Rowling
Not long after the incredible idea for Harry Potter appeared in her mind, Rowling’s mother died. Her death would have an enormous impact on the formation of her goals. Rowling knew that she needed to press on with her idea, to give it life and let it transform her world. Rowling ended her relationship, and later moved to Porto, Portugal to teach English.
It was there that she would meet her future husband and have a child, though her marriage would only last 13 months. Rowling lived with tremendous stress, often questioning herself. She endured terrible physical and emotional abuse. Her move to southern Europe ended in misery.
Starting Over, Encountering Adversity
Rowling later relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland, hoping to begin anew and raise her young daughter. By this time, she was a single-mother, living off state-benefits in the United Kingdom, equivalent to welfare here in the United States. She pinched pennies, buying only cheap food and clothes for herself and her daughter.
She viewed herself as a failure. Both personally and professionally, it was a bitter fall for a woman who had high expectations of herself. She knew she loved to write- and certainly had a talent for writing- but she was struggling with some internal demons.
How dire did her situation get? She was clinically-diagnosed with depression and even thought about taking the gravest action possible- committing suicide.
Yet incredibly, her drastic circumstances led her to write more and more. During this time, Rowling continued to believe in her idea and her ability to turn it into something special. Over the next few years, she penned the first Harry Potter story, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Though, success did not come right away. First, Rowling’s manuscript was rejected by several literary agents. It was finally accepted by Christopher Little Literary Agents. The agency then sent out her manuscript to 12 different publishers.
All of them rejected the manuscript.
Finally, the publisher, Bloomsbury, agreed to accept Rowling’s manuscript. After 18 months, and tons of rejection, Rowling’s persistence and resolve won the day. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in June of 1997.
“In every adversity,’ Robert Collier once wrote, there lies the seed of an equivalent advantage. In every defeat is a lesson showing you how to win the victory next time.”
Arriving at Our Place of Self-Satisfaction
“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.” — J.K. Rowling
Of all the successful people I have profiled, Rowling’s story hits closest to home for me. Like Ms. Rowling, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into becoming a published author- hopefully one whose message will reach and touch many of you. I live on ideas, imagination and passionate thought, that I hope to convert into words that will bring joy and value to your life.
The writer’s life is not always easy. As writers, we all crave attention and positive feedback; we want our voices to be heard. Everyone dreams of the type of success J.K. Rowling has enjoyed, but only a select few people get to experience the fruits of their labor quite like Rowling has.
“It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” — J.K. Rowling
Rowling’s Harry Potter series proved that many of us secretly want to get away to a special, fantastical space where we can let our imaginations run wild- where all of us can think and dream with a child’s mind. Rowling has captivated her audience with fun, well constructed writing that perhaps most importantly, tells a story.
The mark of a great writer is someone who can craft stories that engage and inspire their audience, taking the reader’s imagination to wondrous places.
Rowling’s inspiration came from the writing of JRR Tolkien- in particular The Lord of the Rings- as well as Jane Austen, whose novel Emma had a seminal influence on her life. She kept reading, kept learning and had the courage to build herself back up when she had every excuse to fold her hand.
The Wizardry of J.K. Rowling
JUST like that, ideas can take flight in our minds, lifting our spiritual selves to heights even the most creative of us never could have imagined. J.K. Rowling’s magnificent imagination produced some truly sensational wizardry. I truly believe we all have this amazing power- we just need to find it through the process of discovery.
Rowling is a philanthropist, having established the Volant Charitable Trust which combats poverty and social inequality. She has donated money for multiple sclerosis research, the disease her mother battled before succumbing to her death. She has also donated profits from one of her books to the Army Benevolent Fund in Great Britain.
It took courage to overcome an abusive relationship. It took perseverance and endurance to write novels of such beauty and wisdom. To never, ever give up.
Rowling is still writing the most important story of all- her own. For all of her remarkable accomplishments, she’s only 50 years old, with a beautiful horizon ahead of her. Maybe there’s another enchanted book series inside of her creative mind. There are endless possibilities. I’ll let her have the final word:
“You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”
Please stay tuned for Part 7 in my series later this week. In the meantime, if you enjoyed reading this, please be so kind as to hit the green heart, and let me know what you have to say! And if you’re really feeling lucky, please consider following me here on Medium! Thank you so very kindly for reading.