In 2008 JK Rowling, writer of the Harry Potter books, gave a commencement speech at Harvard. She pointed to failure and imagination as the key lessons to pass on to the new graduates, in the assumed knowledge that everyone forgets the commencement speech. her words have continued to inspire and be remembered.
Being a wall flower, sitting to the side and watching everyone else on the dance floor, wondering if you are ever going to get an invitation to get up to dance, waiting, waiting and then finding your way to the edge of the room, hoping no-one is noticing you embarrassed and alone. The opportunity to dig deeper into yourself to find another way to define the socially awkward moment, the improvisation required to adjust your dress, tie your shoe lace, collect a drink, remove yourself to the wash room to take yet another comfort stop which is needed for camouflage – all ways to go deeper into the experience of rejection and to the well of your resilience knowing more drops have been added and you are still not drowning.
We don’t easily forget those moments of whole-world humiliation – where the whole of our known world cannot see us, feel us or touch us – as if we have a cloak of invisibility thrown upon us – not one we would choose. From this place we begin lift, to reach into our strength and find our imagination there waiting for us. Imagination casts spells and lights up all the corners of the brain more dazzling than any mirror ball we become bespeckled and dots of thoughts start to dance around in our heads – more often than not turning mole hills into mountains when fear takes hold – but what happens when the gather into constellations and take us to grand halls, wizardry and magic start to happen. We literally have off the wall ideas, only possible from being still and sitting on the sidelines, unpicked.
Hardships and humiliations, experiencing failure, as opposed to having a fear of failure is real and getting a good taste of it is not the romanticism of poverty, it is knowing what the dark is finding yourself at the bottom as with all bottoms there is no where else to go. It is a solid place, a place where you are connected to the earth, it is a platform from where you can build, as you can fall no further. It is where you can only turn inwards and in the deep, in the dark and at the bottom find yourself and what you have left of yourself, your essence, your imagination and your abilities. This is when you reach out, to the world, to find help and courtesies random acts of kindness where your heart no longer hard starts to melt with the simple joys of sunshine, stars and smiles. You begin to build the bank of resilience and of love where the imagination fuels the dark and dank places and gives respite to whatever fear, horror or loss you are facing. A place where you can’t be touched and where your imagination helps you fly away and do cartwheels in the air.
Plutarch said : What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. This is the gift of the wallflower experience to achieve inwardly, to look and find within yourself what your hopes and dreams are, the things that keep you awake at night, or energise you to get out of bed in the morning. These aspirations for yourself, your family, your community and our world first find a footing in your imagination. Freedom for those in detention centres in far off islands, a future planet that has conquered climate change or adapted with amazing technologies, equal pay for women and education for all girls – these first begin in the imagination; in the dungeon of rock bottom when there seems no where else to go but up the energy rises first in you and then you join with others and magic does happen – slaves become free, women get elected as Prime Ministers and Presidents, polar caps being renewable energy sites, children are no longer abused. What began as a wallflower moment may well turn into a blooming field of promise and then harvest – go to the dark, quiet place of humiliation and use that fertile place to grow your imagination and then get onto the dance floor and change the world.