J. K. Rowling - Harvard Commencement Speech 2008
The benefits of Failure & Imagination
The benefits of Failure & Imagination
Whether it's traveling to a foreign country, quitting your stable, cubicle job to pursue an uncertain future, deciding you're going to get that houseboat you always wanted or even deciding to deviate slightly from the path of Highschool, University, job, marriage - you're living a life people don't expect you to. This idea, that you don't have to live the way people expect you to, has been reiterated by many people - Chris from The Art of Non-Conformity and in J. K. Rowling's insightful speech above. It also, as of late, has become my little self-affirmation. Mostly because I've been beginning to do things that other people don't understand, and that I wouldn't have considering doing had I been in their position as well.
In October, I did over 500 push ups in 24 hours for Cancer Council Relay for Life, this November past I wrote my first nano-wrimo novel of 50,000 words in a month (more on that in an upcoming post). This month's challenge is far scarier and more difficult than both of these combined. Along with a friend I will be spending a month in Darwin getting to know the inside of a detention center, the refugees and asylum seekers that are detained within and the everyday runnings of a place of mandatory detention. It's not a place that typically springs to mind or an ideal place to spend my last Christmas and New Years before I go to Spain, but it's something I want to do. I've found in J. K. Rowling's speech some common threads of deviating from expectations and charging ahead, into the great unknown. And of course, I've had trouble explaining to people my reasoning and I guess a blog is a good a place as any to say what I need to say.
The plight of refugees and asylum seekers is one that is close my heart, it hits home. Having worked with refugee children from Sudanese and Burmese backgrounds through a program with St Vincent De Paul, I've seen first hand how lovely these children are and also learned of how heart-breaking their stories can be. Still, they don't complain. They laugh and play, as children do, and are so resilient and happy you would never have guessed many of them had spent years in a refugee camp without proper schooling and social structures. You would never have guessed how fearfully their parents packed up their lives and did all they could to make sure their children were safe. Before I go to live in Spain for a year, before I get to travel all over Europe and experience other cultures, other people, other languages - in short before I see more of the world that's out there; I want to see what's going on in my own backyard, in my world, here in Australia.
As somebody that is traveling to another country by choice, I want to learn firsthand about people who risked their lives fleeing from their home country because they had no choice. It's not going to be easy and I'm scared. I'm scared of what I am going to see and how I'm going to feel, I'm scared of the things I'll experience and the way it will change me. I don't have any expectations of what is going to happen, but all I know for sure is that it will change the way I think. I find it difficult, to say the least, the way Refugees and Asylum seekers are portrayed by the media in Australia as 'Boat People' 'Queue Jumpers' and 'Illegal Immigrants'. I'm not going there for a holiday, I'm not going on some trivial missionary notion that I can save them. I just want to experience first hand, what they have experienced for months, if not years. As Rowling said, ' Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.'
These days I take it as a good sign when people's eyes widen, their mouths drop open as if to say, heads tilted at a weird angle in an attempt to understand, 'What are you doing?' or 'Why would you do that?' I've come to realise that when people question what I'm doing, it's a sign that my life is going in a direction I wanted it to go; away from what I already know is expected, tried and tested - and towards something unknown, scary and life-changing. Everybody that's ever achieved anything has had to face criticism, which is by no means bad. The criticism is needed, it's more of a precursor to showing people why you don't have to live your life the way people expect you to. My month in Darwin isn't something I'm telling everybody to do, everybody has something different they are interested in and passionate about. Be it starting your own business, changing degrees, joining a group or starting something completely new that you've always thought about but never done. 'You don't have to live your life the way people expect you to' is something that applies to all fields and areas of life. You will face questioning, criticism and quizzical looks but in the end you don't live life to please others. Your life is your life, you are the one that will have to live with the decisions you make and the person you decide to be. I find that marching to the beat of your own drum is a cliche I can live with, and something I'm more than happy to strive towards.