In 1994, a young woman asked for a restraining order against her husband and filed for divorce.
With no job and little money to live on, she signed up for welfare benefits, so she could afford to care for her baby daughter.
The woman’s mother had died a few years prior. She had a rocky relationship with her father, and they hadn’t spoken in years. As a single parent with a failed marriage and no job, she was battling depression and was on the verge of suicide.
Years later, she would refer to herself as “the biggest failure I knew.”
However, in the five years that followed her divorce, this woman would battle through fear and depression. She would go from living on welfare to becoming a multi-millionaire.
She was just getting started.
The woman’s name is Joanne, but the world would come to know her as JK Rowling.
The rise of JK Rowling:
The story was later turned into a series of films, which quickly became the highest-grossing film series of all time. According to Forbes, Rowling is the first author in history to earn more than $1 billion from writing books.
Rowling’s success is even more astounding when you consider her backstory. She was still living on welfare when she submitted the manuscript for her first book.
How did she climb out of poverty and reach the top of the literary world?
There are many pieces of the puzzle, of course, but here is one factor I believe made a huge impact on her success: When bad things happened in her life, Rowling saw it as her responsibility to do something about them.
It’s not your fault, it's your responsibility.
I doubt JK Rowling wanted her marriage to end in divorce. I’m sure she didn’t dream of raising her daughter in poverty.
While it wasn’t necessarily her fault those things happened, she chose to make it her responsibility to do something about them.
When her marriage went south, she took her daughter and moved to a new country.
When she didn’t have a job, she started writing her book.
When the first 12 publishers rejected "Harry Potter," she went to the 13th.
When life got rough, she gave herself permission to make it better.
Here’s how JK Rowling describes this process of dealing with the hardships of her life:
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 to 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 area where 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 a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. -- JK Rowling, 2008 Harvard Commencement Address
I haven’t dealt with a fraction of the hardships Rowling has. But even in my limited battles, I’ve noticed the power of personal responsibility.
You might not control the circumstances life hands you, but you can control the energy and enthusiasm you bring to those situations.
The “chosen ones” choose themselves.
We often assume successful people got to where they are because they went to the right school, knew the right person, had the right genetics or stumbled into the right job at the right time.
It’s easier to think about success this way because then, you can say these people were lucky to have certain advantages. You weren’t, and that’s what made the difference.
The truth is, yes. Luck does play a role in life.
But luck is just an opportunity.
It’s just an open door. You have to decide to walk through it and make something of it.
Looking back now, you can probably point to hundreds of situations in which luck played a role in Rowling’s success. But all those open doors would have been worthless had she not chosen to walk through them.
Before the world could bet on her, she had to bet on herself.
The people who end up looking like the “chosen ones” -- the best-selling authors, the successful business owners, the elite athletes, the talented artists -- are successful first and foremost because they chose themselves before they had any measure of success.
That’s the piece of success that isn’t as easy to accept because it often means betting on yourself when you feel like a failure.
Where to go from here:
We love to tell stories of success and fame.
We love to talk about money and riches and praise the winners, the champions and the best-sellers. This is especially true when it involves a rags-to-riches story like JK Rowling's.
But there’s nothing glamorous about battling through failure and uncertainty. There’s nothing easy about choosing yourself when each day feels like a struggle to keep your head above water.
I can remember my first six months as an entrepreneur. They were brutal.
I made a ton of mistakes and zero money.
But looking back now, I’m grateful I continued to bet on myself, even when each day felt like a failure.
I think there are many goals in life that require this type of struggle.
For JK Rowling, it meant choosing to be a writer when she was a poor, single mother without a job. For you, it might mean choosing yourself when:
- You have no connections.
- You are inexperienced and unproven.
- You are poor and lack resources.
- You are out of shape and overweight.
Successful people don’t wait to be tapped, chosen, appointed or nominated.
They tell themselves, “It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s my fault I’m here. This is who I am, and it’s my responsibility to do something about it.”
The chosen ones choose themselves.
H/T to James Altucher for sparking the idea of “choosing yourself.”
James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance, join his free newsletter.
This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.