J.K. Rowling Says Success Has Nothing to Do With 'Destiny'

Dec 01, 2019 1 Min Read
questioning destiny
Choices Matter In Determining Your Destiny

The first author to earn over $1 billion says success is never fated–it only appears that way in retrospect.


At one point in her life, she was just Joanne Rowling: an unemployed single mother on welfare who, as she puts it, was as “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” She believed she was “the biggest failure I knew.”

So Rowling made a critical decision. She chose to put all her energy into the only work she truly cared about: finishing her first novel. 

Once finished, she submitted it to publishers. The first rejected it. So did the second. And the third.

Finally, the 13th publisher decided to take a chance on an unknown author.

You know the rest of the story: That book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, has sold more than 120 million copies. In total, more than 500 million copies of the Harry Potter series have been sold; it’s the top-selling book series of all time. Then there are the Harry Potter movies. And stage productions. And theme park attractions.

Add it all up, and J.K. Rowling is the first author to earn more than $1 billion. (James Patterson ranks second with nearly $600 million in lifetime earnings.)

Like many rags-to-riches stories, Rowling’s rags-to-riches success seems inevitable in hindsight.

But not to her. As Rowling says:

“Destiny is a name often given in retrospect to choices that had dramatic consequences.”

Rowling didn’t know she would succeed. She surely never imagined the level of success she achieved.

Instead, she just made a choice: that she would sit back down at her old typewriter and put everything she had into finishing what she called her “big idea.”

Selling the book? That would come later. Getting rich? Later. Becoming famous? Later. 

Finishing the book was everything. That was the choice she made.

The fact her choice resulted in dramatic consequences was largely outside her control.

Every day, great books go unnoticed, great music gets ignored, great new products and services from potentially great new businesses fail to find a market, or even a few customers.

Timing plays a part. Luck definitely plays a part; see: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, etc. 

But everything starts with making a choice. 

Destiny? Doesn’t exist. Neither does fate. Both only apply in hindsight.

If you believe something great that you accomplished was “meant to be,” that’s only because you made it “be.” The decisions you made, the actions you took, the people you teamed up with, the effort and persistence and determination you applied … Those things (and more) are the source of your success.

Only in hindsight does it appear you were destined to succeed.

READ: 5 Principles that Drive Successful People

Want your choices to have bigger consequences?

Make big choices. 

Start a business. Start a side hustle. Go back to school. Move to a place you’ve always wanted to live.

Worry less about the outcome and more about the process. Sure, you need a plan. But it doesn’t have to be comprehensive. It doesn’t have to be detailed. You don’t need to identify every target, every milestone, every due date. You don’t need to see the end before you see the beginning.

Work hard and the end will take care of itself.

Rowling knew she couldn’t control the consequences of her decision. But what she knew she could control was herself.  

People who eventually find success start by making choices. Some of those choices work. Some don’t.  Either way, those choices create opportunities to make more — and better — choices.

Only in hindsight does success seem inevitable. Only in hindsight do dramatic consequences seem destined. 

But what is inevitable is that failing to make choices — to commit to something important, to commit to something new, to bet on yourself — guarantees you will never know what you might have been capable of achieving.  

Which is also a dramatic consequence, but of the worst kind.

Reposted with permission.

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Jeff Haden is a speaker, ghostwriter, and author of The Motivation Myth: How Highly Successful People Really Set Themselves Up to Win.

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