In a commencement speech she gave that has since gone viral, J.K. Rowling describes the necessity of failure:
“So 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.”
You can watch/read the whole thing here.
For me, my definition of failure was realized when my relationship ended. I had given everything to make this relationship work. I had moved back in with my parents after graduating college to save money and to be close to him. I drove 120 miles round trip twice a month to see him, while I could count on one hand the number of times he made that trip himself to see me. I spent large chunks of my day figuring out ways to make him happy and planning our lives together. I remember confiding in my friends when we broke up about just how much money I had spent on him alone in the last two years. They couldn’t believe it, but as I explained it then, it was easy to do when you believed you were going to be with that person forever.
I let myself believe that because he was the “one,” nothing else mattered.
Not my own dreams or goals or even happiness, just him. I became a shadow of myself – my friends and family blamed it on “post-graduation blues,” but all along, he was the one making me blue.
How funny that what I thought I wanted the most became the thing slowly destroying me from the inside out. He was toxic.
When our relationship ended, it was as though a fire was lit in my soul. My best friend describes the bizarre day in which he broke up with me (via text, by the way) as one of the most telling experiences: we left work, me sobbing in the passenger seat of her car, only to arrive at my house in a storm. “GOD DAMNIT” was the way I announced to my family what had happened, thundering into my room as I proceeded to throw everything that reminded me of him in a giant garbage bag. And then suddenly… I was laughing. Uncontrollably. It was as though my soul had lost ten pounds in the hours that followed our relationship’s demise. I was sad, of course. I was angry, naturally. But underneath all of that, I was relieved. My worst fears had come to pass, and here I was, alive and well and laughing. It was as though the universe had woken me up from a long slumber.
When people fall in love, they often describe noticing the beauty of the world around them like never before. When Paul broke up with me, the same thing happened.
Suddenly I was noticing the colors of flowers, and how awesome and funny my friends are, and how many good songs were on the radio and how good I looked in heels. I was giddy. How ironic that the giddiness people associate with new love came to me as my love ended. My heart was broken. I teared up any time someone mentioned Paul. I wanted to egg his house in the dead of the night, but I was still inexplicably full of joy. It was like downing a greasy, delicious cheeseburger after a long night of drinking: you still feel like ass and hurt all over, but you realize you’re headed in the right direction, and you are going to be okay.
Transformative is the only way to describe the months that followed. Even when I learned he had started a serious relationship with a girl from school – which most likely meant he had been involved with her before ending things with me – I kept plowing forward. God, it hurt. It hurt like a bitch. There were moments when I truly wondered if death by broken heart was a real possibility.
I cried, I dove deep into my grief and mourning and let it overtake me for a while, but I kept moving forward. I learned how to forgive him and more importantly, I learned how to forgive myself. I chose joy. I remember telling my best friend that what I was feeling must be how Jean Valjean felt after being freed from 19 years of slavery and tearing up his parole papers and starting completely over (“Another story must begin” and then the orchestra swells and I know you know the part I’m talking about).
I was free. My future was clear, unencumbered by thoughts of marriage and him and how are we going to make this work and does he love me and do I love him and is this even worth it. And suddenly, I was more me than I had been in two years. I went out with my friends (which I never did while in a relationship with him), laughed harder, sang louder, ran faster, and became whole again. My friends from work who hadn’t known me pre-relationship called the new me “Fun Andi.” Meanwhile, I took the money I had saved over the past year and prepared for the most transformative choice I made in this time: I moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma to New York City.
And so, somehow, my greatest failure became my greatest achievement. Whatever happens next, whether I win a Tony or star in a sitcom or simply go back to Oklahoma to teach middle school drama, somehow I won. Not against him, but against myself. Against letting who I was with him define who I was, period.
It hasn’t been rainbows and smiles the whole time. There are still moments when I feel the twinges of grief that come with any loss that will only fade with lots and lots of time.
There are times when I drink too much wine and get a little sappy while listening to Taylor Swift songs, only to text my best friend and beg her to remind me why he sucked (many reasons) or call my mom and ask her if I’m prettier than his new girlfriend (“Andrea, of course you are.” “Thanks Mom.” “Go buy yourself a nice outfit.” “Okay mom, whatever you say.”)
There are definitely moments when I see happy couples on the subway and have the urge to throw something at them (like please stop kissing in public no one wants to see that tbh). There have also been a few times his mom texted me about returning my TV that he so graciously kept for himself that made me want to die a little bit (like really dude you make your mom do your dirty work for you? Classy.) But even when I have these extreme sadness/crazy person urges/WTF- why-is-ur-mom-texting-me moments, looking back on our relationship is like remembering a dream that occurs deep in REM sleep: the general picture is there, but the details are fuzzy and nothing really makes sense. I can’t imagine how I put up with that kind of unhappiness for so long, and I can’t imagine ever going back to it.
So now, here I am. I live in New York City. I am pursuing an acting career. I’m single and I read a lot of books and I listen to the Spice Girls a lot and I drink a lot of good wine. I have rediscovered who I am alone and that I like that person a lot better than who I was in a relationship. I took a daring leap of faith, moving halfway across the country to pursue an impossible career, but somehow I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, doing what I was meant to do all along. And so, just like with my favorite author, “rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”