“Very Good Lives” Book Summary + Lessons + Inspiring Quotes

“Very Good Lives” by J.K. Rowling is the on-paper form of her famous commencement speech at Harvard in 2008.

The famous author talks about some of the most important questions one has when they are at a turning point in their life. 

“Very Good Lives” Book Summary

“Very Good Lives” is a commencement address delivered by J.K. Rowling at Harvard University in 2008. The address is a brief yet powerful reflection on the lessons she has learned throughout her life and the importance of resilience and imagination in achieving success and happiness.

In the address, Rowling shares her personal experiences with failure, including the rejection of her early writing and the challenges she faced before finding success with the Harry Potter series. She emphasizes the value of imagination and the ability to empathize with others, encouraging graduates to use their education to make positive changes in the world.

Rowling’s message in “Very Good Lives” revolves around the idea that failure and adversity can be valuable teachers, shaping individuals into stronger, more compassionate, and more determined people. She urges the audience to pursue their dreams and make a positive impact on society.

This short but impactful address serves as an inspirational reminder that the path to success is often filled with setbacks and challenges but that these experiences can lead to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

Lessons from “Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination” by J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard University, “Very Good Lives,” offers powerful life lessons about resilience, failure, and the importance of imagination. Here are some key takeaways:

  • The Value of Failure: Rowling emphasizes that failure is an inevitable part of life and that it can teach valuable lessons. She encourages graduates to embrace failure as a stepping stone to success.
  • Imagination: The book highlights the significance of imagination and creativity in solving problems, finding inspiration, and making the world a better place. Rowling attributes her success to her vivid imagination.
  • Empathy and Kindness: Rowling underscores the importance of empathy and kindness toward others, especially those less fortunate. She encourages graduates to consider the perspectives of others and to act with compassion.
  • Resilience: The author’s own life experiences, including financial hardship and rejection, serve as examples of resilience. She encourages graduates to persevere in the face of adversity and to maintain their determination.
  • Choosing a Meaningful Path: Rowling advises graduates to pursue careers and goals that align with their passions and values, rather than simply seeking success for its own sake.
  • The Power of Choice: The book emphasizes that individuals have the power to choose their own paths and to make a positive impact on the world. It encourages graduates to take responsibility for their choices.
  • Overcoming Fear: Rowling speaks about overcoming the fear of failure and the fear of poverty, highlighting that these fears can limit one’s potential. She encourages graduates to face their fears head-on.
  • Learning from Setbacks: Rowling shares her own experiences of rejection and setbacks as a writer and emphasizes the importance of learning from these experiences and continuing to pursue one’s goals.
  • The Importance of Imagination in Social Change: The book suggests that imagination plays a crucial role in addressing social issues and bringing about positive change in the world.
  • Finding Purpose: Rowling encourages graduates to seek a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their lives, emphasizing that true success is not measured solely by external achievements.
  • Embracing Diversity: The book advocates for inclusivity and the celebration of diversity in all its forms. It underscores the importance of understanding and respecting different perspectives and backgrounds.
  • Giving Back: Rowling talks about the responsibility to give back to society and make a positive impact, especially when one has achieved success.

“Very Good Lives” offers timeless wisdom that extends beyond the context of a commencement address. It inspires readers to embrace failure, nurture their imaginations, and approach life with empathy, kindness, and resilience. These lessons are applicable to individuals of all ages and backgrounds as they navigate the complexities of life and strive for personal and societal betterment.

some quotes from “Very Good Lives”:

– The world we live in is not the same as in the books; we do not require magic to change it. All the power that is required to transform it is already within us.

– Life, in general, is similar to a story- it doesn’t matter how long it is; what truly matters is how good it is.

– The stage in which I reached rock bottom became the strong foundation on which I re-erected my life.

– When my greatest fear was behind me, and I was still alive, it was as if I was given freedom. I still had a beautiful daughter, a good old typewriter, and a great idea.

– Some degree of failure in life is unavoidable.

– It is absolutely impossible to have lived life and not to have failed at something unless you lived with such caution that you didn’t really live at all, and in that case, you would have failed at truly lining by default.

– You will never realize your true potential and the real strength of your relations until both have been tested by trying times.

– You cannot always put the blame on your parents for setting you on the wrong path. Once you are old enough to be able to think for yourself, you become responsible for yourself.

– When I was your age, about to graduate, my greatest was not poverty but failure.

– A life of poverty is a life of fear, stress, and hardship; it comes with a thousand meaningless humiliations.

– Poverty is romanticized only by the fools.

– One’s intelligence and skill cannot fully shield them from the whimsy moods of fate.

– When I failed continuously, it was like letting go of the inessential illusions. I stopped pretending that I was anyone than what I truly was,

– In a way, humans are unique because unlike the other creatures we share the planet with, human beings can understand and learn from other’s experiences; they don’t need to go through it themselves.

– The things we achieve within our inner selves have the power to change reality on the outside.

– You can touch many people’s lives by simply being yourself and existing.

– There are some people who don’t put their imagination to use at all. They sit comfortably with they have experienced and lived and never wonder what it would have been like if they had been in different circumstances.

– The truth of life is that it is complicated, difficult, and beyond the complete control of an individual. The one who accepts this with humility will be able to survive its changing waves.

– The knowledge you gain by overcoming adversity is painfully won and is worth much more than any degree or qualification you can earn.

– If you come out of your setbacks wiser and stronger in mind, then you be assured that you have learned the very important art of surviving.

– I believe that the people who choose not to use their imagination are more likely to be haunted by monsters. Often, they are the ones who are more afraid.

– In the end, it comes upon us to decide what we put into the category of failure. But more often the world is quite eager to thrust its criteria upon us.

– Imagination, in its most transformative capacity, enables us to envision us in the shoes of others whose lives we have not experienced and empathise with them.

– Imagination is the foundation of all human innovation and invention; it is the unique ability of the mind to conjure things that do not exist already.

– Even if one has never committed an evil act themselves, they inevitably attach themselves with evil through their apathy and ignorance to the plight of others.

– People who consciously choose not to be affected by the hardships of others are the ones who enable true monsters.

– Choosing to restrict your mind and living within narrow galleries is a type of agoraphobia of the mind and it brings with it its own kind of terrors.

– Your power to vote, to protest, to question the government on its inconsistencies, all these have huge impacts beyond your own homeland. This power is both your privilege and your burden. Exercise it wisely.       

– The very first step towards self improvement is to set yourself achievable goals; sky high expectations will only bring you misery.

– All of us have the power to imagine better, to make the world a better place with our imagination.

– Some people simply refuse to see inside cages and close their ears to screams, they shut their heart towards any pain and suffering that is not theirs. They very easily refuse to know and acknowledge.

– I will defend the value of bedtime stories till the end of my life. 

– If I had become successful early in life and chosen a different path, I might never found the courage and determination to succeed in the one area I actually believed I belonged to.

– When I failed, I realized what I truly was and this enabled me to put all my energy into the work that mattered to me and I was passionate about.

– Don’t assume that if you are young, well educated and gifted, that you will never experience hardships, heartbreak or adversity. These are inevitable parts of life and cannot be avoided.

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