Born in 1965 in Yate, United Kingdom, Joanne Rowling grew up to become one of the world’s wealthiest authors and one of the wealthiest women in the world, thanks to her wildly successful Harry Potter book series. It is easy to look at her and say “Wow, I wish I were that lucky”, but sometimes we have to make our own luck, and J. K. Rowling’s success story is one that reminds us to persevere through the storms of our lives.
Joanne had a relatively happy childhood filled with books and garden adventures; however when she was fifteen, her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For ten years, Joanne witnessed her mother’s slow demise from an enthusiastic lab technician, to a woman who had to crawl up the stairs, use a walking frame and eventually be confined to a wheelchair. At the dawn of 1991, Joanne received the call that her mother had lost her battle with the disease. She was twenty-five at the time and described her mother’s death as the most traumatizing moment of her life. It was a turning point that tested Joanne’s strength and vulnerability. Soon after, her life took a turn for the worse. Her relationship with her boyfriend ended, she moved into a hotel, then packed her bags and moved to Portugal, seeking to start afresh.
There, she met Jorge Arantes and became pregnant after a few months. Sadly, the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. The two eventually got married in 1992, much to the disapproval of Joanne’s friends, who thought he was possessive, rough and untrustworthy. As expected, the marriage was an unhappy one. Joanne lived with his mother and was visibly stressed during her pregnancy due to her constant arguments with Jorge. Joanne’s daughter, Jessica was a product of this short-lived union. The last straw was in 1993 when Jorge had hit Joanne and expelled her from the house, without Jessica. The following day, she returned with a friend and the police to retrieve Jessica. After weeks in hiding, Joanne boarded a train back to Britain with her daughter and three chapters of Harry Potter in her suitcase. She was about to enter the lowest point in her life.
Back in Britain, Joanne stayed with her sister for a few weeks until she secured a cramped, mouse-infested government-assisted flat. After endless paperwork, she was given an allowance of just £70 per week – barely enough to cover food and bills. Joanne was so unhappy with her situation that she shamefully accepted financial assistance from her friends. At this point, she was so completely overcome with despair and hopelessness that she contemplated suicide. However, her daughter kept her grounded and she sought professional help for her clinical depression. Only then was she able to regain her self-worth and begin writing again. The following months were spent in cafés bringing Harry Potter’s story to life, with baby Jessica always at her side. By 1995, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was complete.
After taking on part-time jobs and enrolling in a teaching program, Joanne’s life was beginning to improve. She spent the next two years submitting Harry Potter to several publishers and received twelve rejections. However, she persisted. Finally, Bloomsbury, a London-based publishing house, agreed to publish Harry Potter in 1997, but warned that children’s books have little financial returns. Under the publisher’s request, she used the pen name J. K. Rowling because female names were less appealing to young boys. Just three days after Harry Potter’s publication in the UK, the American publisher, Scholastic bid a whopping $100,000 for publishing rights to the Harry Potter series.
Seven Harry Potter books later, J. K. Rowling has received countless awards, directed several movies, and amassed incredible wealth from the Harry Potter franchise. Despite this, she never forgets her journey. One thing that she says she wished she knew is how to deal with failure. She constantly reminds her audiences that one measure of success is that you will inevitably fail, but it’s what you do with the failure that makes all the difference.