The Fringe Benefits of Flunking Out of College

“Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.”—J.K. Rowling, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” Harvard Commencement Address (2008)

I flunked out of Dawson College when I was in my late teens. I keep that pathetic transcript in my desk at work. Whenever a student comes into my office in tears, quite sure that their life is over because they’ve just been kicked out of John Abbott College, I take that transcript out of my desk and show it to them. It calms them, I think. Truth be told, flunking out of Dawson College wasn’t my first experience with academic failure. I failed Grade 8 at Rosemount High School (but was advanced, regardless, via “social promotion”), and I failed and repeated Grade 10 at Argyle Academy. What’s more, I was kicked out of numerous schools, and, in general, did terribly wherever I went. The reasons for my lack of academic success were rather prosaic, so I won’t bore you with them. What’s far more interesting is the fringe benefits of all of this failure. What I learned from all of these failures was, quite simply, how to fail. I learned how to detach my ego from the success or failure of my various endeavors. This, as it turns out, is a surprisingly useful skill. Lifelong valedictorians learn this skill far too late in life. And, as a consequence, they’re often crushed by their first real experience with failure.

–John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015)

p.s. I really can’t recommend Rowling’s speech enough: 

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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