Very Good Lives

“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.” ­– Seneca

Often, when I can find free time, I like to venture to my local library. There is something about retreating to this quiet space, surrounded by books, wisdom, and the smell of ink on paper that makes me genuinely content, happy even. I look forward to those rare weekends when there is nothing to do but follow this intrinsic, inner pull and spend a morning or afternoon lost amidst the dusty shelves and weathered spines.
On a recent trip, I stumbled upon a tiny tome by J.K. Rowling called Very Good Lives. I love books that are short enough they can be absorbed in one sitting, and this book is one of them. Very Good Lives is actually the published book-form of the commencement speech Rowling gave to Harvard’s 2008 graduating class. In it, she speaks of two themes: how to embrace failure and the importance of imagination.

Sometimes failure can be an unforeseen catalyst for positive change. Through failure, we are driven to strip away the inessential and embrace what we want most, while creating a foundation upon which to rebuild our lives. For Rowling, this point proved true. “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged,” she said.

Then she speaks of imagination, urging us to think of this word in a broader sense while using it to help ourselves and the greater good. “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not,” she said adding, “in its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we’ve never shared.”

Very Good Lives is a study in self-discovery and the human experience. At one point, Rowling recognizes that some people never fully exercise their imaginations or embrace other ways of knowing, choosing instead to stay in the comfort of their own world. As I sat perched in the sun-lit windowsill of my local library and turned the final page, I felt compelled to be more empathetic in my own life, to use my imagination in a way that makes me a more understanding human being, and to stay close to the dreams that spark hot in my soul. For all you dreamers looking for a shot of inspiration, this is a satisfying choice.

Posted In: Books