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From Welfare to Wealthy – What Can You Learn from the J.K. Rowling Story?

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Rowling changed the world with her books about magic and heroism. But her own life story is even more inspiring. If you feel stuck or disheartened, reading about Rowling’s success can lift you up.

The Harry Potter books broke new grounds in more ways than one.

Children and adults alike fell in love with J. K. Rowling’s whimsical world and made her one of the best-known contemporary authors. She’s still writing under her current pen name of Robert Galbraith.

Her books are available in over 200 languages, and they sparked a successful movie franchise as well. The ongoing Fantastic Beasts film series has earned over US$1 billion across the world.

That kind of success had no precedent in the Young Adult category. The genre grew and developed in the wake of Harry Potter’s success. Publishers suddenly developed an interest in fantasy stories.

Many writers and prospective writers received an unexpected career boost. World-famous authors like Stephen King expressed their admiration for Rowling. She had managed to write something new, and it changed the literary world.

But the impact of Rowling’s work went beyond that. She’s inspired countless people from all walks of life. More children and teenagers started reading for fun, and adults rediscovered their sense of wonder.

For some, the real inspiration is Rowling’s life story. She worked her way out of an extremely difficult position to become a self-made billionaire.

Rowling’s Story – Finding a Spark of Hope in Adversity

Parts of Rowling’s story sound like a magical adventure. But before she found success, she had to get through a bleak period.

From Childhood to the First Chapters of Harry Potter

Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born in 1965 near Bristol. She was a dedicated reader as a child, and her dream was to become an author. She wrote her first story at the age of six, and she never stopped writing.

At university, she studied French and Classics, during which she got to spend some time in Paris. This gave her a desire to see more of the world.

She joined Amnesty International where part of her job was to read letters written by people under totalitarian regimes. The job shook Rowling but it also inspired her to write. In 1990, she wrote down her first idea relating to Harry Potter. She didn’t know yet what the story would be, all she had was the image of a boy sitting on a train.

In the early nineties, Rowling moved to Portugal to teach English as a foreign language. She got married and had a daughter.

Unfortunately, the marriage was an unhappy one. It soon ended in divorce, and Rowling moved back to Britain in 1993 with her child. She was still struggling with the memory of her mother, who died a few years prior.

The Fraught Beginnings of Her Writing Career

As a single mother with a very young child, Rowling struggled to find work. While she occasionally found employment as a French teacher, she mainly relied on government assistance. To this day, she supports government programs that help people in bad situations.

She was never homeless, but money was scarce. There were days when she had to go hungry and she worried about the future a great deal.

Although she was struggling both financially and emotionally, Rowling kept on writing. Her idea about a boy on a train kept growing. While writing was a pleasure, it was also time-consuming and exhausting. But she didn’t stop and eventually completed her manuscript.

Many publishers rejected it, including one which advised her to “get a day job”. But she managed to find a publisher after all and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came out in 1997.

Interestingly, Rowling’s publisher advised her to choose a gender-neutral pen name. At the time, the expectation was that boys wouldn’t read a book written by a female author. It’s safe to say that the publishing world might have reconsidered this idea after Rowling.

A Graceful Approach to Success

Rowling’s first book sold unexpectedly well. This improved her life circumstances enough that she could write at a faster pace.

With every new book, Rowling shocked and delighted her readers. Readers of all ages became fans and the books soon gained international attention, and with that J. K. Rowling became a household name.

As the series progressed, Rowling’s personal wealth grew beyond her wildest dreams. The film series was especially lucrative, cementing Harry Potter’s status as a timeless classic.

Rowling has always donated a great deal of her wealth to charity. In part, this was her way of paying back the help she received at the beginning of her journey.

In her personal life, she found fulfilment in a happy second marriage and she now has three children.

J. K. Rowling’s passion for writing keeps on unabated after the last Harry Potter book. She contributed to a popular Harry Potter play a few years later. But her ambition didn’t end there.

In 2012, she finished her first adult novel, a black comedy. Writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, she has released four crime novels so far.

What Can Rowling Teach Us About Becoming Successful?

Whatever your position in life, you can find inspiration in Rowling’s journey. Let’s look at some of the takeaway messages.

Lesson #1 – Be Relentless in Pursuit of Your Goals

At every step of her journey, Rowling could have given up writing. When she was struggling to make ends meet, finding the time to write felt like a luxury. At times, she wondered whether she had any hope at all of succeeding. The initial rejections felt like a massive roadblock.

But Rowling knew that writing was her true passion and her greatest strength. Her other jobs were useful stepping stones to her vision. Even though the odds seemed stacked against her, Rowling kept going.

Lesson #2 - Don’t Hesitate to Break the Mould

People often wonder why the Harry Potter books became so popular. Nothing has yet to explain the reasons behind their meteoric rise.

But one thing is certain. These books didn’t entirely fit the rules of any particular genre. In many ways, they challenged the preconceptions about children’s literature.

Rowling was willing to compromise on some details, such as her pen name. However, she never gave up on her vision about the books.

She had stumbled across a concept that would resonate with half a billion people. Because she dared to go against genre conventions, her readers stood to enjoy something new.

Lesson #3 – Make Use of the Obstacles Life Throws at You

J. K. Rowling didn’t let her difficult circumstances ruin her chances of becoming an author. In fact, she says that some of those difficulties helped to make her a better writer.

Her occasional teaching stints helped her get a feel for writing about a school. She also found inspiration as she dealt with the bureaucracy that came with receiving assistance.

But most of all, writing helped her manage her own grief about her mother. Death and its aftermath are a major theme in her stories.

If you feel that your hardships are keeping you down, try to see them from a new perspective. Do you gain strength from facing down the problems in your life? Can you help others by speaking about your circumstances? Answering these questions is a good first step towards success.

Lesson #4 – Give Back to the Community

At the moment, Rowling is a billionaire. But in 2012, she famously fell off the Forbes list of billionaires after giving $160 million to charity and taxes. She’s always been vocal about the importance of philanthropy and social responsibility.

She founded Lumos, an international children’s charity. Additionally, she set up a grant-making trust that aids Scottish charities. As a public figure, she occasionally uses her influence to support vulnerable and disadvantaged people. For example, she has spoken out about the obstacles that single parents face in life.

Lesson #5 – Your Journey Isn't Over Until You Say It Is

Many people expected Rowling to rest on her laurels.

It wasn’t easy for her to deal with becoming a celebrity. In addition to writing, she had to do a lot of work to keep the series going according to her plan. When the last Harry Potter book came out, some thought that she would retreat from public life.

But now that she has built a life of wealth, Rowling has no constraints to worry about. She can follow her dreams and do exactly as she likes. It’s inspiring that she chooses to do the same thing as always – keep writing.

So if you feel that your path is unconventional, you don’t have to stray or give up. Other people’s ideas about success may not have to be yours.


I believe it’s important to pay attention to the women and men who shape our society. Rowling has done a great deal of good in the world. She is an excellent role model to follow, and her life work can inspire anyone.

Through my work, I hope to give people the tools they need to become successful. I can help them find their own voice and make the best use of their strengths. When my clients feel discouraged, I can help them find a way out.

Does that sound like it could be of use to you and your organization? If so, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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