famous failures throughout history.
In 1990, a young, 25-year old introverted woman named Joanne sat impatiently on a delayed train heading to London from Manchester. She gazed out the window at the gray overcast skies and sighed. Life had been far from perfect for her.
Yet, there was something about trains she was so fond of. She adored them. Years ago, her parents met on a train. And her childhood was filled with memories of them. Yet, on that fateful day, as she sat there gazing out the window, something different happened.
It was like a bolt of lightning–a flash. And, suddenly, she could see this scrawny boy wizard. She could see every last detail about him, and his entire life story somehow implanted itself into her mind. Her heart raced as epic tales unfolded in a projector behind her eyes.
What is this? Where did this come from? She rummaged and rifled through her old, beat-up purse, scouring for something, anything, to write with. But she came up emptyhanded. Not even a single eyeliner was anywhere to be found.
Joanne sat there helplessly on the delayed train. She was too afraid to ask any of the patrons for something to write with and petrified she would forget the story that was somehow transmuted straight into her mind. It was exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time.
As the train departed the station, she could see a magical and mystical world in full color play out in her mind. It was so bright and vivid that it filled her with an emotional response like none other. Never before had something like this happened to her.
Joanne was an avid reader. But not a writer. She hadn’t dared ever put anything out there publicly for fear of being judged. How could she? But a voice inside of her compelled her to tell the story of Harry, this scrawny boy wizard.
There was so much detail in her mind. And as soon as the train pulled into the station in London, she raced to her apartment, where she started writing furiously. She wrote so fast, and for so long that her hand burned. Shaking it off, she paused briefly. She was too afraid to stop for fear of forgetting the most important details. No. She had to keep writing as much as she could.
A dozen pages in, she set her pen down and took a deep breath. What is this? Where did this come from? She kept asking herself the same questions repeatedly. How could an idea like this come fully formed into someone’s mind? The question is, where did it come from?
In an interview much later in on life, Joanne Kathleen Rowling had this to say:
“The idea came out of nowhere, and I could see Harry very clearly; this scrawny little boy, and it was the most physical rush of excitement. I’ve never felt that excited about anything to do with writing. I’ve never had an idea that gave me such a physical response. So I’m rummaging through this bag to try and find a pen or a pencil or anything. I didn’t even have eyeliner on me. So I just had to sit and think. And for four hours, because the train was delayed, I had all these ideas bubbling up through my head.”
Surprisingly, she kept Harry’s story a secret. She didn’t even tell her mother about it. An opportunity she will forever regret. Because, just a few months later, in December of that same year, Rowling’s mother, Anne, lost her battle to M.S.
Shortly after her mother’s untimely death, Rowling was distraught. When she saw an advertisement in a British daily newspaper called The Guardian, to teach English abroad, she seized the opportunity. Devastated and emotionally drained, she picked up and moved to a town in Portugal named Porto.
After all, she couldn’t stay in London, where painful memories were around every corner and bend. So she left everything behind for a fresh start—a clean slate. In Porto, she taught English at night. And during the days, she spent every waking hour telling the story of that scrawny boy wizard named Harry.
After 18 months of living in Porto, she met a man. The two married and had a child named Jessica Isabela shortly after that. However, the relationship quickly soured, and by most accounts, Rowling struggled with domestic abuse.
Just three brief months after giving birth, the couple separated, and Rowling fled to Scotland, where her sister was living at the time. It was the lowest point of her life. In her eyes, she was a failure in every way. She was jobless and nearly penniless, with the added responsibility of a new baby daughter.
But in Joanne’s suitcase, her dream of a boy wizard was still alive. She carted three chapters with her from Portugal to Scotland, ultimately becoming the fabled first book of the Harry Potter series called Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone.
After a brief stay with her sister, Rowling headed back home to London. Desperate but determined, she lived on government assistance and wrote in cafes, bringing her daughter along with her while sleeping.
Those days were long, hard, and dreary. Barely scraping by, Rowling struggled to care for her young baby while working on her book. With no returns and an endless amount of writing and editing, her hopes dwindled.
Tired, hungry, and poor, Rowling kept at it. Even when she felt mentally exhausted, physically drained, and emotionally devastated, she kept writing. It was the only thing that kept her going—the only flame of hope that flickered alive inside of her.
After a long struggle to complete the book, Rowling sent it to all 12 major publishing houses in the UK. She was elated until the responses came back one after another. No. Sorry. Not for us. And it decimated her. Destroyed, the desperation and fear gripped her and wouldn’t let go.
What would she do now? How would she survive? Determined to live a better life, Rowling didn’t give up. She kept going. Finally, she submitted her book to a small publishing house called Bloomsbury. Had it not been for the daughter of Nigel Newton, the chairman of Bloomsbury, they also would have rejected it.
Alice, his 8-year old daughter, read a chapter and demanded to read more. That was the only convincing he needed. They would publish Rowling’s book. However, they’d only agree to a very limited run of just 1,000 copies.
Thus, in the Summer of 1997, roughly seven years after the idea of a boy wizard came fully formed into her mind on that four-hour-delayed train from Manchester to London, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone became a reality.
Just five short months after that, Rowling won her first award—the Nestle Smarties Book Prize. And shortly after that, the award for Children’s Book of the Year. Ultimately, the awards kept piling up. So did demand and record sales worldwide for the magical boy wizard.
Today, the character Harry Potter has many incarnations that live on in children’s hearts and minds from around the world. It has permeated media of all kinds and has generated countless billions of dollars in sales, making it one of the most successful franchises ever.
In Rowling’s own words, Harry Potter and his magical world came fully formed into her mind. How does something like that happen? How does a thought enter like that and permeate the mind? And how do sudden flashes of inspiration occur that lead to the creation of vast empires?
At their very core, thoughts are merely energy. That energy moves through the synapses of the 100 billion neurons in our brains. They light up large neural networks that create emotions, spur actions, and compel the creation of intricate and highly imaginative mental constructs.
However, thoughts can spur progress and imagination, but they can also create destruction and devastation in your life. So watch your thoughts like a hawk. Protect your mind from negative thoughts. They can drain your spirit and enthusiasm for life, leaving you feeling devoid of energy to conquer your dreams.
Imagine Joanne for a moment. A single thought transformed her life. It drastically altered her circumstances in every way. Not overnight. But over time. She went from living on government assistance, barely getting by, to becoming one of the U.K.’s wealthiest women. All because of a single inspirational thought.
Of course, thoughts aren’t everything. Thoughts without action and execution are useless. However, in the wake of failure, we’re often too afraid to act on new thoughts. Even when they inspire us at the moment, we let the thought pass. And with it, the opportunity and the chance for something monumental to occur in our lives.
The truth is this. Everything that you are today—who you’ve become and the state and quality of your life—comes from your thoughts. But not just a single idea or notion. We’re talking about years, even decades, worth of thinking. Both positive and negative.
Your thoughts have shaped you. They’ve molded and crafted you into the human being that you are today. They’ve laid a foundation for all that you are, right down to the very fiber of your being. And they’ve helped to create a framework of values and beliefs that guides your life today.
The problem? The state and quality of our past experiences condition our thoughts. Meaning this—it’s hard to envision a bigger and brighter future when we’ve continuously been met with failure or grown up in a state of lack and scarcity.
However, this isn’t some new revelation. It’s not something that we’ve only recently discovered. Our ancestors have known about our power of thoughts for thousands of years, dating back to the very beginnings of modern recorded history.
Countless men and women have acknowledged the pure power of our thoughts. Napoleon Hill, in his iconic book, Think and Grow Rich, writes, “Truly, ‘thoughts are things’, and powerful things at that, when they are mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence, and a burning desire for their translation into riches, or other material objects.”
Buddha once said, “The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” In the Book of Proverbs from the Bible, an iconic passage states that “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And Bruce Lee once said that “As you think, so you shall become.”
Throughout our history, you see remnants of this philosophy of thought. Today, it appears everywhere you turn. Countless books, millions of articles, speeches, keynotes, and videos recognize the real power of thinking as the leading tool in our mind’s arsenal.
Because it’s through our very same thoughts that ideas are born. Mental pictures are created and erected well before any goal or dream is ever actualized. Think about it yourself. Just imagine what we’ve accomplished in our civilization through space travel, communication, technology, and automation.
Today, you get to enjoy the modern conveniences of instant on-demand everything thanks to the thoughts of many men and women who came before you. You can access the world’s information from a pocket computer the size of your hand and communicate with anyone, anywhere, instantaneously.
Imagine trying to go back in time and tell people two hundred years ago about the state of modern civilization. They would have laughed you out of the room. Just imagine explaining self-driving cars or space travel to people living back then. Could you even imagine their response?
We’ve only scratched the surface of the boundless realm of what’s possible and what humanity can achieve. The human imagination has formed the basis for everything that we are, both individually and collectively. However, not everyone recognizes the immense force and weight that our thoughts carry.
How many of us leverage the power of our thoughts to propel us forward? How many of us acknowledge the mighty strength that exists when we can individually control our minds, let alone collectively? We’ve seen what it’s done for humanity. Why is it so difficult for us to understand what it can do for us as individuals?
The truth is that most of the time, we allow our thoughts to get away from us. They run off on tangents, hurtling us towards a realm of negativity and self-doubt. And once we plant those seeds, they fester, grow, and overrun the garden of our minds with weeds and infestations that hinder our growth.
Rather than allowing them to propel us forward, our thoughts limit us in this way. These infestations of negative thinking and self-doubt hold us back from living the life of our dreams. As a result, we stagnate and procrastinate, coming up with hundreds of excuses why right now is not the right time to take action towards our dreams.
The bullets of failure and inaction riddle us, poking holes in our dreams and deflating our goals, turning them into mere hopes and wishes. So we put off for tomorrow what we should do today because the alternative is too painful. We’re so worried about what others will think about us and the potential of total failure that we never act in the first place.
And when we do fail, it’s those critics who surround us that say things like, “You see, I told you that it wouldn’t work out for you. I told you that you should never have put yourself on the line like that.” And we shrink down in fear and embarrassment, never actually realizing our full potential. We come up with excuses for why we don’t have enough resources to get things done, idling us into a never-ending state of procrastination.
However, think about Rowling. Her life was far from comfortable. She was in a battle to keep a roof over her head, often coming very close to living in her car. But she persisted. She kept the dream alive in her mind that she could one day create something extraordinary. I can guarantee you that she never once dreamt she would attain that level of success.
But she cultivated the right thoughts. And that’s what kept her going. Pushing, striving, it moved her slowly but surely towards her dreams. That’s why I challenge you to ask yourself the following questions. What are your thoughts moving you towards? And what are they keeping you from attaining in life?
We don’t realize that the most powerful tool that we have at hand is the mind. And whatever thoughts we choose to focus on, we manifest into our lives. Focus on fear, and you will move towards fear. Focus on growth and contribution, and your life will be remarkably different. That decision is yours. What thoughts will you choose to focus on today and well into the future? Make sure they empower you rather than hold you back in life.