Elizabeth Gilbert on Fear, Paradox, and Being a Grown Up

I listened to every heart-grabbing minute of this interview. It hits the bullseye of what I believe about creativity and fear and taking smart, measured risks with your creativity.

If you don't want to watch all 47 minutes, 57 seconds of this interview and you'd rather read my notes, this is for you.

Why You Aren't Moving Ahead on Your Creative Project

  • People come up with all sorts of rationalizations
  • These reasons for not doing it all sound so logical and reasonable
  • The underlying reason you aren't moving ahead with your book/painting/etc., according to Elizabeth Gilbert's vast experience of deep conversations with creatives, is fear.
  • Some people are afraid that it's all been done before and they want to be original.
  • It HAS all been done before. But it's never been done by you.
  • Marie Forleo: "Everything is a Remix," I think it's a book to check out.
  • There is nothing truly original because we are creative creatures, there are billions of us, and we've been creating for millenia.
  • Do it anyway because, paradoxically, since you are unique, you can make something original. It will, however, always be a twist on, or at least contain references to something else.

How to Conquer Fear

  • Don't try.
  • Treat fear as a respected friend whose job it is to keep you safe.
  • Bring fear along for the ride but don't let fear make any decisions about what you create.
  • Fear thinks uncertainty will be the death of you, and it's job is to prevent your death.
  • Creativity is all about uncertainty, so that's why fear speaks. Say, "thank you for protecting me but I'm just writing a poem. It's not going to kill me."

On Creativity

What it Takes to Live an Enduringly Creative Life

  • Even your dream career comes with "shit sandwiches," (i.e., rejection letters and mean comments on social media) so get ready to eat some. If you're unwilling to eat the shit sandwiches that come with your dream, then you probably haven't picked the right dream because you will happily eat the shit sandwiches if you really love the creative work.
  • Following our creative bliss promises joy and fun, not financial gain
  • We're all grownups here, so let's talk about this:
  • Take big risks (sell the farm, quit your job) for your creativity only to the point where if you fail totally and lose it all, you won't be embittered or so broken you won't be able to try again in the near future. Throw yourself into your creativity without risking so much (time, money, relationships) that failure breaks your spirit.
  • This conversation about going for it - within limits specific to your life -  doesn't happen enough.
  • Failure is part of it and shouldn't be shameful.
  • Most life coaches, etc, just say "go for it!"  But inspiration never promises to pay our bills. Inspiration promises us the wild ride of our lives. The results MIGHT pay the bills sometimes but don't quit if it doesn't.
  • Elizabeth wants to change the bumper sticker from "Leap and the net will catch you, to "Leap and the net MIGHT catch you."
  • Leap any way. Just be happy to pick yourself back up and dust yourself off.
  • Marie Forleo worked "day jobs" (bartending, etc.) for seven years before her creativity-based business could support her. Now it brings in millions annually. She kept taking the right kind of risk, which is the one that lets you keep risking even if (when) you fail and fail.
  • I'm good at doing this and love coaching creatives to walk this line.

How to Beat Perfectionism

As my mother always taught me, done is better than good.

Elizabeth Gilbert

  • Yet again it all comes down to fear.
  • Often perfectionists don't finish things. Worse, they often don't start them for fear of making crap.
  • Self-forgiveness is what will get you to finish your creative project, not rigor. (SO TRUE!)
  • We all think that first day of writing, that first novel, whatever, is crap, something to be ashamed of when we look back from the perspective of writing on day two or the second novel.
  • "You forgive yourself for disappointing yourself... and you go and you do more. And that's it." - Elizabeth Gilbert

Play with Paradox

  • The paradox of creating is that you love your work and think it's precious, but simultaneously you must be able to be cavalier toward it. Trash a beautiful sentence you wrote if it's not working for the whole paragraph.
  • Once a book is published, let it go. It is not you. It's not your baby. It's out there in the world. Move on. Paradox: it totally is your baby, of course.
  • Another paradox is around helping people. Do your work if it brings you joy. It's great if it ends up helping people, but don't set out to serve.  (Note from me: serve by teaching if you have students, but when you create, just do it for fun.)
  • Eat, Pray, Love, was written for fun at a time when her life was a "hot mess." It ended up helping people but she certainly didn't write it from a desire to serve.

I have paid hundreds -- probably thousands -- of dollars for seminars on writing and creativity that don't do as good a job dealing with the voices of fear and inspiration in your head, so if this interview seems up your alley, you'll love watching the full video. There was also a section around minute 25 on the interview where they go fairly deep about preparing to for a public speaking gig (with Oprah). That's worth a listen if you are a speaker or performer.

This interview was centered around Elizabeth Gilbert's latest book: