Elizabeth Gilbert is quite simply an inspiring individual.
I’ve been willing to read any article or listen to any podcast with her name on it since reading her bestselling book, Eat, Pray, Love, years ago. Her latest book, Big Magic, was simultaneously an easy read and a punch in the gut. While I chose to ignore many of the “spiritual” elements Gilbert added in, the points I took away about what it means to live a creative life are lessons that will stick with me as I regularly work to convince myself that writing is worth it, even though writing is worth zero dollars and literally nothing but my sanity through having a creative outlet.
The book was a creative pep talk for the ages, but not the type that coddles you and strokes your hair when you’re upset that your creative work isn’t working out. It’s more like a creative pep talk that pushes you off of a cliff of uncertainty and exploration or into the fire of criticism, laughs at you, and says, “Who cares? Get back to work.”
1. Fear is boring.
I didn’t realize how much bravery is required to lead a creative life, and that living a creative life doesn’t mean exactly what I thought it did. Leading a creative life, I now realize, is choosing curiosity over fear even when fear presents a convincing case that it should drive. Gilbert described her fear as boring, unoriginal, “a song with one note”—which I’ll remember when I’m tempted to restrain myself or choke the life out of my work because fear says it’s too risky. “As the saying goes,” she wrote, “Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.”
2. I can write my own permission slip.
Sometimes we take ourselves out of the running for creative living because we think we’re not “enough” of something. We believe that if what we’re doing has been done before or we’re not the best one in the world to have some monumental, earth-shattering idea, then we shouldn’t dare step foot into the creative sphere.
But Big Magic helped me see that entitlement isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, creative entitlement means I’m allowed to be here. Something may have been said or done already, but it hasn’t been said or done by me. Original isn’t anywhere near as important a trait as authentic. Gilbert mentioned the “arrogance of belonging” where we give ourselves permission to exist, to explore, to express, to have a voice and a vision. It’s okay if your work is for you and doesn’t start a revolution: “Your reasons to create are reason enough.”
3. I have to remember what creativity means to me and for me.
Gilbert promised her writing that, as her source of curiosity and contentment, she would always take care of it instead of expecting it to take care of her (financially or otherwise). I can relate to this fully, as making extra sacrifices to write seems to get harder as the years go on and it takes sacrifices of more time and energy to be bold, creative, and passionate. I now understand why I feel strangely incomplete when I’m not writing. I didn’t choose this, really, it’s always been what I do to fully be who I am. “That’s kind of the definition of a passion, after all,” Gilbert wrote in Big Magic, “an interest that you chase obsessively, almost because you have no choice.”
4. Perfectionism is an evil trick.
I’m shamefully familiar with perfectionism and its ways. We’re old pals. We go way, way back. Perfectionism is deceitful and says to me, “If you can’t do it perfectly yet, don’t do it at all.” Or here’s a few more of perfectionism’s favorite lines: “People won’t understand that and they’ll twist your words, so even if it might be useful for those who will understand, it’s best not to do anything with that idea. You know, to be safe.”
Gilbert called perfectionism a “high-end, haute couture version of fear” and ripped it to shreds in Big Magic. “The most evil trick about perfectionism, though, is that it disguises itself as a virtue,” she wrote. I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t done something or written something because I couldn’t do it perfectly—there are too many times to count. And this is not to be confused with doing things with integrity and in excellence, as perfectionism would like me to think. There’s a stark difference between doing your creative work well and delaying your creative work until you can do it without flaw or potential to fail.
Here’s the reality that I’m shaping up after I finished this book: what I work on must be both meaningless and meaningful at once, both serious and fun. It must matter to me enough to incite the bravery it takes to jump and not matter enough in this world to withhold it because it’s not what I deem in my mind as perfect.
I need to “do it whether people get it or don’t get it” as Gilbert wrote, because depending on the work, it may not be for people and it especially won’t be for everyone. It may even be just for me. I can’t control what other people think, and it’d be an exhausting, counter-productive part-time job to try.
Either way, I’m seeking to live a creative life that’s making God and curiosity and bravery and spunk and spontaneity the driver, leaving fear in the backseat, doubt in the trunk, and perfectionism in the dust where it belongs.
You are worthy, dear one, regardless of the outcome. You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome. You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don’t understand the outcome.