Writer Elizabeth Gilbert holds a prime spot on my list of inspiring people. It’s not just because her memoir has sold over 12 million copies but for the down-to-earth approach to creativity and living that shone through her TED talks.
So when I saw Liz was speaking in Sydney recently, I had to go. I wasn’t disappointed. She came on stage shoe-less (due to a broken toe) and delivered a seamless oration, with humour and humility.
While her talk was about how to be creative, her advice rings true for all aspects of an authentic life whether it’s fully exploring your career, parenting, adventures or being truly healthy and happy. Here are some highlights of the inspiring talk.
“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world.”
Jack Gilbert taught creative writing at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville a year before Liz took over the chair. Although they never met, this illusive poet left a mark on the student’s that Liz inherited from him. Through them, he also inspired her.
Jack Gilbert hadn’t taught them much about the business of poetry, or how to get published. Instead, he just tried to inspire them to have brave, full lives.
One of the graduate students told me he grabbed her arm one day, as she was leaving class.
“Do you have the courage to be a poet?” he said. “The jewels that are hiding inside you are begging you to say yes!”
Do you have the courage to bring forth your hidden jewels? This is the crux of Liz Gilbert’s advice to people wanting to live a creative life. But what gets in our way of sharing these jewels?
Creativity unleashes our demons. We have many fears including these common ones:
- We have no talent.
- Everyone else has already done it and better.
- We don’t have the right education.
- We’ll be rejected or ignored.
- There is no market for your own creative talents.
- We’re too fat. (It seems every woman thinks this.)
The list is endless. Do these fears resonate with you? Have you ever stopped yourself from trying something new, applying for a job, asking for what you want – let alone writing or creating?
Fear is nothing to be ashamed of, but needs to be dealt with. There’s no way you can live an authentic or creative life without churning up your fear.
According to Liz, fear is boring. It always says the same thing – “stop!” If you give into fear it stops you. Denying the presence of fear is equally as obstructive. The best you can do is to deal with your fear.
Liz’s approach to fear mirrors my own, with a technique borrowed from Gestalt. She talks to her fear, gives it a personality (she sees it as the conjoined twin of creativity) and accepts that it will accompany her on every new project and adventure. So her rules for fear are that it:
- can come along
- has a voice but doesn’t have a vote
- doesn’t get to make decisions.
Acknowledging our fear (or any strong emotions that are keeping us from moving forward such as depression or anxiety), welcoming it in to sit beside us and seeing it for what it is can be an effective technique to disempower it.
Liz has a further trick for keeping her fear in its place. When fear tries to take control she talks to it “like a hostage negotiator responds to a psychopath”. Give this a go next time you feel stuck. What have you got to loose?
Perfectionism is a curse. It’s time to get moving and aim for “good enough” rather than perfect.
Liz’s mantra is “done is better than good”. A completed creative project will always be better than the one that remains unfinished. The “good enough” novel published this year is better than the perfect one that’s never written.
Take creativity off the pedestal and just do it. You don’t need the best pen or computer to write, the perfect studio to create in (or perhaps the perfect partner to have a fulfilling intimate relationship). It’s doing it that counts.
While the desire for perfection is apparently gender-neutral, women seem to fall foul of this impediment more than men. The Confidence Gap – the tendency for men to greatly over-estimate their ability while women do the opposite – is a well-documented phenomenon. Whether it’s applying for a better job, sending an article to a publisher or creating art – just do it!
Reclaim entitlement. This means you have the right to exist (not the narcissistic belief that you’re the greatest). You’re entitled to your opinions, express yourself and create.
Poet David Whyte terms it “the arrogance of belonging”. For a creative person this is about finding your tribe and understanding that you are part of something bigger. This is the reclamation of entitlement.
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
Like Liz Gilbert, I urge you to take ownership of your creativity. But more than that, consider these common blocks and take ownership of your happiness, health, career and life.