In this episode of MarieTV we do have some adult language. So if you have little ones around, grab your headphones now.
Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. If you have something inside of you that you want to bring to life, whether you want to write it, you want to bake it, you want to draw it, dance it, or paint it, you are in for a real treat. Today we’re talking about what it takes to live a truly creative life and my guest is really the person to show us how.
Elizabeth Gilbert is the number one New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and several other internationally bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction. Gilbert began her career writing for Harper’s Bazaar, Spin, The New York Times Magazine, and GQ, and was a 3 time finalist for the National Magazine Award. The follow up memoir, Committed, became an instant number one New York Times bestseller. Her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, was named a best book of 2013 by The New York Times, O Magazine, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The New Yorker. Elizabeth’s latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which tackles the elusive mystery of creativity, is now available wherever books are sold.
Liz, thank you so much for taking the time to be here.
My pleasure, I love being here.
So Big Magic is your new book and, I have to tell you, it’s so genius. When I got this… this little copy below here that I actually have all flagged up and it’s kind of ratty…
Oh, I love seeing flags coming out of books.
Flags. So, I have to tell you that I didn’t want this book to be over so I slowed myself down and I would savor it just like you would savor a good meal and I was so excited to have you on today because it’s brilliant and I feel like it’s one of these books that I will keep going back to again and again and again. So I wanna start by asking you what was the big magic that inspired Big Magic? What inspired you to write this?
Wow. You know what it is? It’s a response to years of being out in public talking to people who tell me about the projects they want to be making and are not making, the things they want to be doing and are not doing. You know what I mean? And often times when I’m in public I meet people who are making and doing really cool things and they wanna tell me about it, but mostly it’s people who aren’t. And when they come to me with their problems about creativity or their struggles with creativity because they know I love to talk about creativity, I find that they always have some sort of very rational, reasonable kind of material real… real world reason why they’re not doing it that they can lay out as an explanation. But when you start to scratch away at that, what’s underneath it is always and only fear.
Always and only fear. I don’t care what the excuses or the rationalization or the justification for why they’re not doing the thing that’s calling to them, at the bottom of it they’re afraid. They’re afraid they don’t have the talent, they’re afraid they don’t have the right, they’re afraid it’s already been done better, they’re afraid they’ll be rejected or insulted or criticized or, worse, ignored. They’re afraid there’s no point, they’re afraid… you know, they just have these, like, tumbling piles of fear. And I see it so much and I hear the same questions again and again that I finally just thought, “Well, let’s officially talk about this.”
You know? Like, let’s actually really break this down and try to figure out how people can live more creative lives without being so scared.
One of the things you say about fear in the book is that fear is like a necessary companion.
And I loved that because I feel like in the world of personal development and sometimes in spirituality in certain circles, you know, you wanna push through your fear, get over your fear.
Punch it in the face!
Punch it in the face, dude!
Or kick it or whatever.
Or we, you know, just demonize it…
…in this way and I was wondering if you could speak to this idea of fear as a companion.
Yeah, I mean, the thing is, I have no desire to become a fearless person because the only genuinely fearless human beings I’ve ever met were psychopaths or toddlers. You know? Like… and neither one of those things is interesting for me to model my life after because there’s something missing from that person…
…that’s very essential and you see it in the kind of, like, weird eyes. You’re like, “Wow, you are a dangerous human being to yourself and others and I don’t wanna be anywhere near you.” And so I’m not interested in fearlessness. Somebody said to me the other day, “Tell us how you conquered fear,” and I was like, “I… it’s adorable that you think I conquered…”
Did you read the book?
Yeah, that’s also… I’m afraid right this minute. I’m afraid, like, almost every minute of my life. So I haven’t conquered it and I’m not interested in conquering it. Actually, what my relationship with fear begins with is a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation because fear is the reason I am still alive today. It’s the reason you’re still alive today. Every single one of us can point to a moment in our lives that we survived because we were afraid. Because they said… the thing, the voices said, “Get out of that ocean, the waves are too big.” You know, “This car is going too fast.” “Don’t get into the apartment with that guy.” “This street is not safe to walk down.” All of us are here because our fear is constantly protecting us, that’s its job and it does its job beautifully. It’s just that it’s all jacked up on Red Bull and it’s really trigger happy and it doesn’t know the difference between a genuinely dangerous situation and just a little bit of a nervy situation. You know? So whenever I feel fear arise, which is constantly because I’m always trying to do creative things and creativity will always provoke your fear because it asks you to enter into a realm with an uncertain outcome, and fear hates that. It thinks you’re gonna die. So any time I start a new creative project the fear rises and the first thing I do is say to it, “Thank you so much for how much you care about me and how much you don’t want anything bad to happen to me, and I really appreciate that. Your services are probably not needed here because I’m just writing a poem. Like, no one’s gonna die. No one’s gonna die, it’s ok.” You know, and I just talk to it but in this really friendly way and I don’t go to war against it, I acknowledge its importance, and then I invite it along. I’m like, “You can come with me, but I’m doing this thing.”
I loved the metaphor that you shared.
It’s like fear is gonna be in the car…
…but it’s gonna be in the backseat…
…and it’s not gonna drive.
Or choose the snacks or hold the map or touch the radio. Like, fear doesn’t get to make any decisions in creative ventures because frankly, with all due respect to Grandfather Fear, it simply doesn’t understand what creativity even is because that’s a newer part of our brain, so it doesn’t even know what’s going on. So you can’t let it have any control over your creative choices or else it will shut them down one idea after another. It’ll just be like, “Nope, don’t do that. Nope, too risky. Nope.” And it’ll just be one no after another and your life will be so much smaller than you want your life to be.
One of the things I love that you shared, which I feel is a big subset of fear, is this idea it’s all been done before. I think it’s the thing that I hear the most both in my own brain…
…and when I talk to everyone out in the world…
…about their ideas or their businesses or their projects, there’s this recurring narrative everything’s been done before. And I was wondering if you can speak to originality vs. authenticity.
Ok, cool. I’m glad you brought this up. So whenever I talk to somebody who has an idea that they’re tremulously excited about, generally speaking within the next 2 minutes they will say, “But, you know, it’s not very original. It’s already been done.” And I always say, “But it has not yet been done by you.” It has not yet been done by you. And the answer is, yeah, guaranteed it’s already been done because humans are really inventive and inquisitive and creative and we’ve had 40 thousand years of the arts and pretty much everything has been done. You know? And that’s fine. Like, even Shakespeare, half of his stories he totally stole from older stories because there aren’t that many new stories to tell. But he told them in a way that had never been told before and then 500 years later we’re still borrowing them from him. We’re all just borrowing from each other. And even the most original piece of creativity that you ever saw in your life where you were like, “That’s groundbreaking, I’ve never seen anything like that before,” guaranteed I could bring in, like, 10 professors and academics who could look at it and say, “Well, obviously this is somebody who had read this book or they had heard this symphony or they had… they were playing off of this or they were rejecting that. They’re responding.” All we do as humans is respond to stuff that’s already come before us. But you’re allowed to add to the pile. You’re allowed to add to the pile and what I always say is whenever I look at art that’s really original, I feel like I can admire it but it doesn’t move me. What moves me is the humanity in an authentic piece of creation where somebody was doing something, whatever it was, because they had to, because they wanted to, because it brought them to life, because it ignited their soul. That’s what gives the shimmer of gold to something and makes me feel like my heart’s been changed, my mind’s been changed, the world looks different than it did before. So I don’t care if it’s been done. I don’t care if it’s been done 10 thousand times. If you need to do it, do it.
You know, there’s 2 things I want to comment on. One, have you checked out Everything is a Remix?
Oh, I can’t… ok, so I’m gonna email you on this. You’re gonna love it. It speaks to this idea and it traces back…
Oh, that is a great shorthand for everything I just said.
Yeah. But it’s brilliant and I think you’re gonna love it. But it… it really is true and I think there’s so much relief that we can feel in that.
I know in my own creative life…
…the pressure, you know, to keep creating and to keep pushing those edges and those boundaries and growth and doing something innovative and new and you can start to make yourself crazy.
There’s so many ways to make yourself crazy.
And that’s number nine on the list. But, yeah, exactly.
And… but the second thing that you tipped off for me was something else in the book that I absolutely loved and it was a real lightbulb moment. I want to thank you for writing it. It was about really examining your motivations.
And, you know, if you want to help people… and this was interesting for me. And it’s like, you know, you want to write a book to help me. Please, don’t.
Please don’t help me.
Please don’t help me. But this idea of creating because it brings you joy.
Right, right. Exactly. I mean, I think when you’re a good person and you’re a giving person and you’re a person of humanity, then of course when you set out to do something you think, “Well, I probably shouldn’t do this unless it will serve.” Right? Because that’s… because we’re good people.
And we’re raised to believe that. I love this quote by this British newspaper editor who said, “You can always tell people who live for others by the anguished expressions on the faces of the others.” You know? You’re just like, “Oh, God. Here she comes with her really good intentions. Like, I just feel like… like please don’t.” You know?
And… and also it’s a heavy mandate for something that should be the lightest thing in your life, which is how you express your own creativity. I love helping people. I think there are much more efficient ways for me to do it. Like, I give money to good organizations and I vote and I volunteer and I do all of that kind of stuff. My art though is mine. And even the art that I make that ends up helping people like, you know, Eat, Pray, Love, for instance. People will say, “Thank you so much for your book. It really helped me, it changed me.” I didn’t sit down to write that book saying, “It’s high time I changed people’s lives.” You know? Like, I was such a hot mess at that point in my life, like, I could barely tie my own shoes at that moment. Like, the last thing I had any business doing was being like, “And now, people, let me give you the answers.” You know, it… that book was about me just looking for grace and looking for resurrection in my own life. And then accidentally, because I followed my own curiosity, trusted my creativity, made the work I wanted to make, I accidentally ended up helping people. That’s a side effect that can… that can happen in the end. And I have a quote in the book from this wonderful German theologian who said, “All love eventually becomes help.” All love eventually becomes help. So if you wanna help, just love. Just love what you’re doing, love who you’re with, make sure that you love where you’re living, love… whatever the thing is that you love, you’ll start to sort of radiate this thing that people will want to be near and it’ll make them better and that’s the very kindest thing that you could possibly do for your community.
It is not Sunday, but we are preaching right now.
It’s Sunday every day.
Amen to all of that. So I remember reading this particular part of Big Magic out loud and I cheered and I laughed and I did my Jersey fist pump, right, all the way.
Jersey in the house doubled up here today.
Jersey, seriously. And so when I read shit sandwiches and day jobs. Ok, so I need to say this, I believe that those two… first of all, I think the book is required reading for every human, but… but those two in particular.
You’re so welcome. Is… they’re so vital for anyone trying to do anything, but especially if they have entrepreneurial aspirations.
You know, they wanna be a writer, they wanna be a dancer. Anything.
Wanna start a business, wanna…
Yes. So if we could start with the fact, and I loved this because this is my mentality and how I… I was like, “She gave words to it. I love it.” That finding your true purpose is really about deciding which flavor of shit sandwich you’re really in for. Love that.
Well, this is… I wish it were my idea. It’s not my idea. I borrowed it but I will lay it out here anyway.
The idea is that every pursuit, no matter how glamorous it may seem, no matter how exciting you are… it feels to you, no matter how much you feel like you were born to do it, comes with a shit sandwich. And so the question is not, “What do I love?” The question is, “What do I love so much that I don’t mind eating the shit sandwich that comes along with that thing?” So for me in my life writing is the thing that I love and the shit sandwich was the 7 years that I was not getting published and that I was coming home from my job as a diner waitress, as a bartender, as an au pair, as a… somebody who worked in flea markets, as a cook, and I was coming home tired and smelling like other people’s french fries, and sitting down and doing my real job, which was to write. And then to go to the mailbox the next day and get another rejection letter. And then say, “Do I still wanna do this? Because this shit sandwich sucks.”
Am I ready to take another bite?
You know? And I did still wanna do it and now even as somebody who makes their living as a writer, there’s no end to the shit sandwiches. It’s like, “Um, oh, hello horrible review in prominent newspaper. That’s your shit sandwich today, Liz. You still wanna do this work?”
Yeah, I still do. Still worth it. Like, hello awful comment on social media from somebody who thinks you’re a pile of dog shit. You know? And just has, like, chosen every possible way that they can just cannot get it out of their system fast enough how much disregard they have for your entire life.
Still wanna do this thing? Yeah, I still wanna do it. You know, so that’s the question. Because if the first time you encounter the shit sandwich you’re like, “Well, this… this isn’t worth it,” then that’s not the thing you’re supposed to be doing.
And there are plenty of things in life that… that I have run into the shit sandwich and I’ve been like, “So not worth it. So not worth it. Like, this is not… I don’t wanna do this. Like, whatever the ben… alleged benefits of this thing might be, no.”
I’m not down…
Soulcycle. No. You know? Like, I know it’s probably really good for me but I feel like throwing up right now because this is too hard.
I’m… you’ll not be seeing me here again. You know? Like… and I love my sisters at Soulcycle, I just don’t like feeling like I’m gonna throw up when I exercise. So it’s not for me.
You know? And… and so that’s the question. So if you go into this thing thinking, “If I follow my bliss and I live my dream and I stand in my truth, then everything will be great,” it doesn’t mean everything will be great. It just means at the end of the day when you check in with yourself and you go, “In the end, on the balance, is this still better than not doing it?” And the answer is still yeah, this thing is still better than not doing it, then you’re on the right path.
I can’t tell you how many people will think that, you know, what we’re shooting here, and there’s lights and I have a blowout and, you know…
It’s like I don’t do this every day. Like, so much work goes into what those little blips of…
And the rest of the time there’s a lot of shit sandwiches on the table.
There’s a lot of shit…
There’s a lot, they’re lined up like Jersey subs.
Yeah. I had a friend that I speak about in the book when I was in my 20s who was, I still believe, a far better writer than I was. Far better and far more naturally talented than me. And just got so enraged that the same thing was happening to him as was happening to me, which was nothing. You know? It’s like you’re doing this work and you’re getting absolutely nothing out of it. And I just remember the day where he was like, “I’m done.” And my sense, honestly, that day was like I was looking at his half eaten shit sandwich and I was like, “Are you gonna finish that, dude? Because I’ll eat it. Because I, like, I’ll finish your half eaten…” like, to stay in this game, that’s how much I love this.
And… and so that’s a really important, fundamental question and I think a really realistic one.
I think it’s genius. And, you know, the other portion about day jobs. This is something, so when I…
…first started, I started a life coaching business when I was 23. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I bartended and waited tables and taught fitness and did everything I could to not be desperate during the day so I could figure out my craft.
So I could write content, so I could not be desperate as a life coach, because what other more depressing thing in life is there?
You have to pay me! I’m your life coach and I’m losing my house!
It’s not working!
It’s not… nothing’s working! But…
Yeah, that’s not very… that doesn’t instill confidence in your clients.
No, right? It’s really not like living your best life. And so anyway, I love this because, you know, I had day jobs for 7 years before my creative life could support me and sustain me financially. And frankly, I wasn’t sure at the beginning it ever would.
You know, I didn’t know if that was going to happen.
And so I’d love to hear you talk about your take on this because it’s one of the things where people have these ideas. And there are some people, there are unicorns that say, “I’m going to do this and I’m burning the bridge behind me,” and they put… and I honor those people.
But what I’ve seen over time is they’re usually more the exception than the rule.
Right. Look, if that’s how you have to do it…
…if you can’t feel like you’re alive unless you’re burning bridges behind you, light the match, walk away, that’s…
Fire it up.
…that’s your deal.
That’s not the contract that I’ve ever had with my creativity because for me, you know, we live in this sort of bumper sticker world where the two bumper stickers that I always want to edit are the… with, like, a Sharpie in the parking lot. There’s the one that says, “Jump and the net will catch you,” and there’s the one that said, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Right? So the edits I want to make are, “Jump and the net might catch you,” and, “What would you do even if failure wasn’t even, like, a word that you were caring about?” which is a long edit and makes for a terrible bumper sticker. But what I’m getting at is I don’t like the… the sort of… I don’t like the ethic that says if you try really hard and you… and you put everything into it, you’re gonna get everything that you want. Because we’re all grownups here, so can we just say that that may or may not happen? You may or may not get everything that you want. You might put everything into something and it doesn’t work, and that’s ok, if you didn’t mortgage your house, risk your family, like, empty out your IRA, and just put yourself in a really precarious situation such that you can never do it again.
Right? That’s the other thing. Such that you’ve been so battered by how you set up your life so that now you’re so cornered and strapped and anxious and shamed that you just say, “Well, if that’s what it feels like to give 100% to something, you can keep it. I’m gonna take nothing but safe choices for the rest of my life,” and that’s it and you just shut down. Right? I never wanna see somebody put in that situation. So the contract that I made with writing when I was 15 years old and I lit my candle and made my deal with the universe and said, “I’m gonna be a writer for the rest of my life,” one of the promises that I made to the work was I will never ask you to support me financially. I will support both of us. I’m a resourceful person, my parents raised me to be a worker. I will do whatever I have to do to pay the rent and you and I will have a love affair on the side of this that is not contingent upon monetization. And I have watched so many creative people murder their creativity by insisting that they are not truly creative unless their creativity pays the bills. And if it doesn’t pay the bills, which it might or might not, or it might for a while and then it might not. You might go out of fashion, your thing might change, people might not want that anymore and all of a sudden you’re stuck. And I see those people go into depression, bitterness, rage, resentment. You have to be child like in the pursuit of your life, but you cannot be childish. And this is a really big difference. Childlike means walking into the world with wide open wonder and being open and letting go of bitterness and ready to be amazed, ready to be taught, ready for everything to be new. That’s childlike. Childish means I want it and I should have it and I don’t… I don’t like the way this turned out, it’s not fair, I’m gonna have a temper tantrum now, nothing ever goes my way, I didn’t grow up in the right family, I don’t have the right tools, I didn’t get to go to the right school, nobody likes me, I quit. And… and just because I want it, I should have it. That’s childish.
So you have to separate those things out. I believe you can be childlike and mature at the same time. And mature means looking after yourself in the real world in a real way.
Yes. You know, I love this conversation because I feel like it’s not had enough and there’s so much, like, flag waving. “You can do it! Good job! Whatever!”
“Take the risk!”
And I’m like, you know, I grew up in a very financially conservative… my parents didn’t have a lot of money at all. My mom could, like, take a dollar bill and, you know, stretch it for so long.
I would love to put your mom and my mom in a dollar bill stretching contest and just see what they could do with it.
But I’m so thankful.
So thankful for that.
Because it’s guided and inspired and informed so many smart choices that I’ve made…
…that haven’t necessarily been easy but they’ve made all the difference over the long term.
I wanna shift gears and ask you something a little different for a moment if you’re… if you’re open to it. So I wanna talk a little bit about your process as a speaker.
Because myself, like, tens of millions of people have seen your TED talks but I also had the great pleasure to see you in I guess Newark, New Jersey?
Oh, at the Oprah thing.
Oh, man. Myself and…
Elizabeth Gilbert! That’s my fake… that’s what I do when I get up in the morning, I try to imagine Oprah introducing me.
We just need to record it.
When I get out of the shower.
Can you just record it and put it on your iPhone so we have that? But you were absolutely… you were spectacular and I…
Oh, you’re so kind to say so. Thank you.
It’s the truth and I was with my dear friend Kris Carr and we were both sitting there and we… we had loved you before, but we both looked at each other and were like, “Damn! She just took it away.” So my question for you is, a few questions if I may.
One, was that process of becoming a speaker as a writer, did it feel natural to you? Like, did you have to go, “Ok, I have to figure this out now.” Or did it…?
Yeah. What was that like?
I’m first a writer, second a speaker. Writing is easier for me and I’m sort of more at home there. Writing is probably… like, when I’m sitting down writing even if it’s not going well, that is the place in the world where I feel like I am the least full of shit. You know what I mean? Like, that most authentic version of yourself where you’re not selling anything, you’re not trying anything, you’re not putting anything on, you’re just sitting in your truth of who you are. That’s what I feel like when I’m writing. Speaking, you are selling something in a way because you… it’s this very different kind of way of interacting and so I’ve really had to learn how to do it. And… like, for instance, the first time when Eat, Pray, Love first came out, the first time somebody had me give a speech, I had a speech on a piece of paper and I went and read it at a podium because I didn’t know.
You know? And I stood there and I read those words that I wrote and I turned the page and every once in awhile I looked up and…
As you do.
As you do. And it was… that’s a way that you can give a speech, but even as I was doing it I was thinking, “Oh, this isn’t how you do this because nobody wants to sit in a chair and be read to for 40 minutes. So you don’t get to do it this way anymore.” You know? “You’re gonna have to find a way to be here the whole time, because they don’t wanna see the top of your head.”
“And they want something else.” Right? So that was the beginning of changing it. And then I started to work with being sort of lighter with it and kind of giving myself an outline and then just sort of telling stories rather than reading them because it’s a… it’s a whole different kind of thing.
Yeah, I was gonna say, do you mind if we hang out here for a minute?
No, no. I’m happy to.
Because when I heard you speak it was as though I was… when I say this, I mean, your sentences, I was like, that’s literally what had Kris and I like, “Woah.” They were amazing. And I was like, “I wonder if she scripted it,” not in a… but because I know you cherish your words.
And I’m a person who loves words and so, you know, as… as a person who is always looking at how do people do what they do, it was… it was a curiosity point for me because you did it exquisitely.
Well, you’re very kind and I will tell you this, when Oprah Winfrey invites you to speak at a stadium tour, you prepare.
And I worked on that speech for 6 months and what you heard me saying…
That was me just reading a poem that was memorized in my whole… at 45, 50 minutes was just a memorized piece of paper.
But I want you to hear this from an audience member, like, you were so connected and that’s why I wanted to ask you about this because your presence and your delivery and, again, as someone… we just watch, I observe so many things of like, she was so in it. And I… I could feel in my cells and in my bones, I was like, “That took a tremendous amount of work.”
It’s a huge amount of work.
A huge amount of work.
I was walking. The only way I can learn a speech is to walk it into my bones, so I was walking, like, 5 miles a day on the side of the road giving that speech for 4 months. You know, like, that’s how much I put into it. And the other thing is, I had this really incredible moment the day before the first one of those, because it was an 8 city tour.
And it’s scary, it’s Oprah Winfrey. She’s sitting in the front row. Like, I invited you, I trusted you with my audience, who trusts me with their lives. Go ahead. What do you got? And you’re like…
20 thousand people.
Yeah. I’m not used to speaking to.
I mean, who is?
Like, a place where, like, Bon Jovi plays. You know?
So… so for me there’s this great thing, there’s this great sense of this doubt of am I worthy, do I belong here. And I was backstage about 15 minutes before I went on physically shaking. And… and then I had this thought where I thought, “You know what, Liz? They don’t need your fear, because they have their own. Like, that is the one thing they don’t need. Because they have… everyone who’s in that audience has all the fear they’re ever gonna need. So you’re not gonna… if you bring them your fear, you’re bringing them, like, it’s coals to Newcastle.”
“Ice to eskimos. That they have. They don’t need your insecurity. Again, they’ve got it covered. They don’t need your sense of low self worth, they don’t need your questioning of whether you belong. Believe me, they know those feelings. Here’s what… here’s what you got hired to do today. Is to model to them dignity and composure and grace and female autonomy. So they need you to come out and stand in your female body on that stage in front of 25 thousand people with an unshaking voice and speak about courage, because that’s what they came here for. And if you bring them anything less than that, you’re doing a tremendous disservice.” And there are times in our lives where we do serve by showing our vulnerability and our fear. Not that day. Not that day. Like, that’s it. And I was like, “Oprah Winfrey is the person in the world you admire the most, she thinks you can do this, she’s not an idiot. Do it.” You know? And bring them what they don’t have. Don’t bring them what they already have.
Well, can I tell you, you did it.
And you brought it, like, to the nth power.
It was absolutely genius. And thank you for just sharing the behind the scenes because I feel like that’s another piece of the puzzle where you can see someone and people can see you or they’ll see the show and they have these ideas that it’s so easy.
“Oh, she’s a really good speaker.”
“Yeah, she’s really good. She probably, you know, just made that up like the past week or whatever.”
And most often I find that that’s not true, that folks out there who are thinking about their own dreams or thinking about upleveling a skill or stretching themselves into a new zone, you know, it’s so incredibly generous of you to be able to share that because it gives people like, “Oh, ok. Liz felt that.”
I wish there was a shortcut to all of it. Like, every single thing that’s of value that I’ve ever experienced in my life, I’m always looking for the how to hotwire it. Like, there’s gotta be a way to do this without… nah. None of it. Spiritual growth, personal growth, relationships, physical health. Like, there’s not one single piece of it where you’re like, “There’s a way to… there’s a way to get to the top of this without actually putting anything in.”
Yeah, yeah. No, totally.
There’s no hack. There’s no hack.
And I actually hate that. That word is becoming on the top of my pet peeve list, everyone trying to hack things. And I’m like, “Stop it, stop it. Just do the work.” Yeah.
By the way, hackers. How do you think they got so good at hacking? They sat there in their bedrooms for, like, 20 years learning how to hack. Like, that, like, there is no such thing as a hacker who just woke up one day and was like, “I know how to get into the Pentagon.” You know? Like, these guys are really… they’re like really skilled. They put the time in.
They totally did.
So that word doesn’t even really work for what we think it means.
I wanna go to the power of finishing. Because you said something, another genius gem from Big Magic, about, you know, I don’t want it to be perfect, I want it to be finished.
And that is another one of those things where I’ll hear from folks it’s like there’s, you know, 15 half created bridges, half things that are just half done and it tortures them and they’re afraid to start something new because they haven’t really developed the habit of getting something out there even if it’s not totally perfect.
Oh, man. This is a huge one. This is a really huge one for women because it’s all rooted in perfectionism, which is, of course, the murderer of all good things. Perfectionism is just… it’s a serial killer. It just goes around killing joy, spontaneity, wonder, grace, humility, it just kills it all. And perfectionism I think is a particularly dangerous kind of fear, I always call perfectionism fear in high heeled shoes, because it’s fancy. It’s like a really fancy haute couture version of fear because perfectionism can advertise itself as a virtue and it can trick you into letting it think that it’s… it makes you special.
You have such high standards.
Yeah, I have such high standards. I’m like, look, I just can’t rest until something… I’m a perfectionist. It’s what people say in job interviews as their fault.
You know, well, I guess I just care too much. You know?
And you’re like…
And you’re like, “Wow, you’re telling me…” but what you’re telling me when you say that is that it’s gonna be very hard for you not only to finish something, but probably to begin something. Because the true perfectionist won’t even start because they know already that it’s not gonna be the thing that they can… they’re dreaming of. And their tastes and their standards are so high. I… there’s this woman I recently was talking to who’s… who wrote a very successful book maybe 15 or 20 years ago and hasn’t been able to write another book since. And I was talking to her about it and she said, “You know, the world’s just so full of crap work and I just don’t wanna put another piece of crap on the crap pile. So I just won’t release this thing until I feel like it’s perfect.” And I said to her, “I am so glad I never took that on as my problem if the world is full of garbage. Like, how is that your responsibility? It’s not… this is not your problem.” And I was like, “It’s not my problem if my work isn’t good. You know? It’s not my problem. It’s not even my fault. Like, it’s not my problem.” My problem… the contract that I made, the only way I finished my first novel, because it wasn’t good because I’d never written a novel before. So why would it be good? Who, like, wakes up and knows how to write a novel? So I was 50 pages into this thing and I’m 25 years old and it’s not good and it’s not… and I know what a good novel is, and it’s not. This isn’t working. And, you know, every dignified part of me wants to just put it in the bottom of the drawer and walk away. And then I just had, like, this, like, warrior moment and I just remember exactly where I was standing and I stood up and I said out, “I never promised the universe I would be a good writer. I just promised the universe I would be a writer. That is the only thing I committed to. This is not my problem.” And I just sort of said to, like, the faeries and the geniuses, I was like, “If you guys want it to be good you’re gonna have to chip something in here because this is what… this is what I can do. If you want to add something, feel… any time, you know, feel free.” And the other commitment I made was I do not wanna go to my grave with 50 pages of an unfinished novel in a drawer. There’s enough of that in the world. You know? And the other thing was this voice where I was anticipating the criticism because I knew what the criticism would be because I knew where it wasn’t good. And I just said out loud to all my future critics at that moment, I don’t know what kind of language I can use on your show.
Every kind of language. We’re from Jersey, girl.
I said, “If you don’t like it, go write your own fucking book. And you know what? You won’t. Guess what? You won’t. You won’t. And guess what? I did and, therefore, I won.”
“Because mine’s finished and yours doesn’t even exist and now you’re criticizing my…” this is like an imaginary conversation, by the way, with people who have never heard of me.
You know, but that’s how I got through that first book was just like I just want it done because as my mother always taught me, done is better than good. You know? The world is full of a bunch of really, really good not done stuff.
And if you can just finish something, you’re already, like, 10 miles ahead of everybody else because most people won’t. And what will make you finish it is not discipline, but self forgiveness. Because we all start our project on day one with the same level of excitement. And on day 2 we all look at what we wrote on day 1 and we all hate ourselves. Because what we wrote on day one is… or did on day one, whatever our creativity is, is horrible.
And the people who go on day 3 and pick it up again and start over are not the most disciplined. It’s not rigor that’s gonna get you there, it’s saying, “Alright then, I’m not… I’m not Hemingway. I’m just gonna do what I can.” And you forgive yourself for disappointing yourself and you go and you do more. And that’s it, it’s just like a little bit of humanity towards your poor self.
Yeah. I’ll tell you, that’s the thing I need to remind myself of the most because I have this thing in me, I can go into that driving place and, again, that’s why I love your book so much. Let’s move on to hungry ghosts and failure, because we all fail. And I love the quote from Clive James: “Failure has a function. It asks you if you really wanna go on making things.”
Oh, I love that line so much. Ok, so the other day I was at an event and a woman stood up and she said, “I’m so furious at inspiration and creativity right now,” which is a really powerful way to start a statement.
Really caught my attention. And she said, “Because I did the thing that everybody tells you to do. I risked everything. I quit my job, I believed in my dream, I followed my bliss, I got a whole bunch of people to come along with me on this project that I wanted to do and it totally failed. And I lost money and I lost friends and I lost dignity and I lost faith and I’m furious.” And I said, “Who… who are you mad at?” And she said, “I’m mad at inspiration because I did my part and it didn’t come through for me.” And, in other words, she jumped and the net didn’t catch her. Right? And… and it was such a, like, I could feel her pain so much, it was like a hard person to kind of handle because she was just, like, all shards of glass at that point because she was feeling so broken. And I said, “But when did inspiration promise you anything?” Like, I know bumper stickers promise you things and people promise you things, but when did inspiration itself ever promise a human being anything? Other than the amazing experience of working with it and dancing with it for a little while. That’s all it ever promises you is I will let you near me and we’re gonna go and do this thing. So when inspiration says to you, “Let’s do this wild, amazing thing together,” and you say, “Yeah, let’s do it,” and you grab it by its hand like Thelma and Louise and you just drive off that cliff with it and inspiration is like, “Wee!” and you’re like, “Wee!” and maybe it’ll catch you and then you’ll be like, “That was amazing,” or maybe you’re gonna, like, hit the ground and bust into 100 pieces. And then you’re gonna be like, “What just happ…? Like, I thought we were a team.” At that point inspiration is sitting next to you sort of on the beach under the cliff looking at your broken body with this big grin on its face and it’s gonna say only one thing to you, and that thing is, “Wanna do it again? You wanna do it… should we do it… that was awesome. Should we do it again?” And you’re like, “I’m in tra… I’m in, like, I’m in a body cast because that failure that I just had hurt so much.” And inspiration is like, “But, yeah, you… but wasn’t that kind of amazing? Don’t you wanna do it again?” And you may say, “No, I never wanna do it again,” and that’s totally your choice. Or you may say, “I need a few months to kind of sew myself back together again from not having stuck that landing.” You know? But every morning I guarantee you you’ll wake up bruised and hurt and shamed and inspiration will be like, “Hey, wanna do it again? Should we do that thing again?”
And one of these days you’ll be like, “Oh, let’s do it again.” I mean, we’re only here for such a short time.
Let’s drive off another cliff. You know? But as you go into that more and more you might find ways to kind of, like, put airbags in the car. Like, there are protective measures that you can take to make sure that when you fail maybe you don’t lose everything.
You know? That you have some sort of room and cushion so that you can fail, so that when inspiration invites you to take another leap you’re like… dust yourself off, all my bones are still intact, yeah. Let’s do it. Because there’s no better thing to spend your life doing than saying yes to that invitation.
Liz, I feel like you and I could talk for hours. I’m gonna… I have 2 more things before I let you boogie.
The creative paradox and making space for two mutually contradicting ideas, that I love because I love the richness of paradox. This idea that if my creativity must be the most important thing in the world to me and it also must not matter at all.
Oh, jeez. Ok, once again.
We’re all grownups here.
I do believe that it is humanly possible for the human mind to hold two completely opposing ideas as true at the same time.
And this is why, for instance, I’m capable of being a completely rational, scientific, empirical person who believes in evolution and global warming and reads The Science Times and thinks it’s all fascinating and at the same time I can keep a place in my mind awake and alive to mystery, magic, and miracle. No problem.
Like, I do not see this as a contradiction. I have… I have a big mind, you have a big mind, we can do both of those things at the same time. You know? And… and so the paradox that you have to be able to hold onto comfortably if you’re gonna do any kind of creativity is exactly that. As you’re approaching it you have to approach it as though nothing matters more than this. And then sometimes minutes later you have to be willing to throw it away and be like, “Eh, it doesn’t matter.” You know? So, like, when I’m writing, that’s what I’m moving back and forth between all the time is I’m sitting down and I’m like, “This sentence has to be the most beautifully written sentence in the entire world and it is spiritually and artistically lazy of me to bring anything less than that.” And I’m, like, laboring over this sentence and I’m trying to bring… and I love it and then I go back later and read the paragraph and realize that it actually doesn’t work. And then I’m like, “Ah, screw it.” So, like, you love it and then you dismiss it.
You love it and then you dismiss it. It is not… the thing is, your work has… one of the big problems that I’ve seen, I talk about this in Big Magic too, is when people refer to their work as their baby.
It ain’t your baby.
It ain’t your baby, it’s not a human baby. It’s not a human baby. There’s a lot of differences between this book and a human baby. Like, for instance, this. Watch. Like, oh my God. You’d arrest me if I did that to a human baby. But I can totally do that. I can do that. I can rip pages out of it, it’s just a thing. It’s just a thing I made. It’s not a baby. And it’s independent of me now.
Because it’s finished, so it doesn’t need me.
And people can attack it and they can criticize it, they can misunderstand it, they can steal parts of it, they can do all sorts of stuff that you wouldn’t do to a human baby. And it will be fine and I will be fine because there’s a difference between me and this thing. Right? So as much as I cared about it while I wrote it, now I have to kind of not care about it. And what I also have to recognize is if anything I have been its baby because everything that I am and everything that I have learned and everything that I have been and become in my life is because of the creative things that I made. In other words, they were making me. Right? That’s why you have to let your creativity out is because it has you as a project. It’s building you. It’s creating you. So it’s not the other way around. So, like, don’t get all precious about the thing you made. Get precious about it while you’re making it, because that’s the part where you can and should be precious. Once it’s done, bleh. Kick it to the curb and make another one. You know?
It’s like you’re old enough to drive, you know? You don’t need me anymore. You know? Like, just let it go.
Buy your own lunch.
Exactly. Under this roof? Not… you know, like, that’s the sort of tone that I think is appropriate. But don’t be like that as you’re doing it. Because as you’re doing it love it, cherish it, and then forget about it.
Forget about it. True Jersey style. So I wanna leave on what I think was maybe the most valuable thing for me, is your distinction between being a martyr and being a trickster as it relates to creativity because I feel like I was schooled in the pain aspect of it. Even though I’m a pretty joyful, fun, playful person…
…somehow if I sit down to write or create something new it’s like, “Ooh, I’ve gotta suit up and this is gonna be…”
This is gonna hurt.
This is gonna hurt.
This is gonna hurt. Ok, so I think there are two kinds of creators in the world: there are the martyrs and the tricksters. And most of us were schooled in martyrdom. You know, we come out of a pretty heavy Christian Germanic, romantic tradition that says by your suffering you shall be redeemed, really. And… and your scars are the badges of honor that show how seriously you take your life. And how much you destroy yourself and everyone around you in the process of making something shows us how seriously you take your work. I reject it. I reject it. The other way is the trickster way. And so the martyr walks around saying, “I will do this even if it kills me,” and the trickster says, “I didn’t come here to suffer.” You know? And the martyr says, “By my wounds I shall be known,” and the trickster says, “Pick a card, any card.” The trickster is playing with this whole thing the entire time. You know, the martyr says, “I’m gonna end up in a broken heap and… and that’s how you’ll know that I was serious.” And the trickster says, “I’m gonna walk off with your girl while you’re doing that.” The martyr is like Sir Thomas Moore and the trickster is Bugs Bunny who’s always looking at how to sort of subvert and do things differently and do things more playfully and do things in a transgressive way. You know? And that, I feel like, is where the instinct for art originally came from. Because art does that, it turns things upside down, it looks at things sideways, it plays with things, it… it de-sanctifies the holy thing.
See, the martyrdom is all about this kind of sanctity that is so heavy that it will break you. And the tricksterdom is like what if we don’t have to treat this thing like it’s a holy, sacred relic? What if I turn… what if I, like, put sparkles on it? What if I…? You know?
I get out my bedazzler.
What if I just get my glue gun and… and just… you know? Like, what if nothing’s holy and everything’s allowed? That’s what art has been asking for centuries, even holy, even sacred art has been asking. You know, even the Sistine Chapel has a bunch of little, like, winks from Michelangelo like, “What if the Pope is not infallible? What if I, like, give him donkey ears? What if I…?”
You know, there’s always, like, this sort of playfulness that art wants to do. And all we wanna do is take it so seriously that we kill it and often ourselves in the process. And so if you can learn how to dance with the trickster part of yourself, which is in you because we all have martyr in us and we all have trickster in us. And… and trust. That’s the thing about the trickster, the trickster trusts the universe. Trusts that if the trickster takes the ball, throws it into the universe, the trickster knows it’s coming back. It might come back 3 years from now, it might come back in a hailstorm of, like, 20 balls, it might come back, like, in some really comic, strange way, but if you engage there’ll be a response. And the only thing the trickster wants to spend its life doing is playing with that sense of, like, put it out there, see what happens. Put it out there, see what happens. And it’s just a more fun way to live that isn’t quite so heavy and isn’t quite so macho. And… and that’s the way that I’ve always wanted to engage with my work. And whenever I catch myself being the martyr I’m like, “Are you falling for this? Are you falling for this thing that says the only way that you can be creative is to suffer? Because you know better, right?” And then we trick our way out of it.
Liz Gilbert, you are a treasure.
Thank you. You are so sweet to say so.
It’s the truth as I know it. Thank you so much for being here. Everyone, I mean, I couldn’t love this book more. I really do think it’s required reading for all human beings, and especially if you’re wanting to create anything in your life. So thank you so much for being here.
You are so welcome. Let’s hope that all human beings buy it.
Read Big Magic. Woo hoo!
That’s so lovely. You’re so, so, so sweet and I love this conversation.
Thank you. Now Liz and I would love to hear from you. There was so much good stuff in this episode, so I want to know what was the most significant thing for you as it relates to your creativity and bringing your dreams to life? Now, as always, the best discussions happen after the episode over at MarieForleo.com, so go there and leave a comment now.
Did you like this video? I have to tell you, this is one of my all time favorites. If you like it, consider subscribing to our channel, because it’s awesome, and share this with all your friends. And if you want even more great resources to create a business and life that you love, plus some personal insights from me that I only talk about in email, come on over to MarieForleo.com and sign up for email updates. Stay on your game and keep going for your dreams because the world needs that special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for watching and I’ll catch you next time on MarieTV.