What I Learned About Elizabeth Gilbert & Life After Watching 15 Hours of Her Talks In 5 Days
I recently took on a fun challenge for the ridiculously creative podcast, Project Woo Woo, where I was asked by the creator, Lisa Orkin, to dive into the mind of Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Big Magic, Eat Pray Love, & City of Girls.
Being that I only had 5 days prep and I did not have any of her books on hand, I chose to watch as many Elizabeth Gilbert interviews/talks of hers as possible (I.e. The Moth, TEDx, The Gathering Room, Chase Jarvis, Nashville Library, Big Think, The Algebra Club, Lewis Howes, Brisbane Writer’s Festival, Better Together, Tim Ferris, Super Soul Sunday, even the Two Buttons Closing Farewell) These talks & interviews spanned over a decade of her work.
Through all this listening, sometimes while cooking, others time ferociously taking notes, and even whilst playing video games or laying in bed, I learned quite a few takeaways. I decided to write this, so that you don’t have to put 15 hours in to enjoy these takeaways. This research project was surprisingly quite fun. Elizaeth’s quotes are in bold and I attempt to provide more context behind each phrase. I hope you find this as fruitful as I did putting it together.
Elizabeth Gilbert Cuts To Your Core Quotes
A creative life is any life where your decisions are based more on curiosity than they are on fear. I’m 1% more curious than I am afraid.
What’s refreshing about Elizabeth is that she is brutally honest about her creativity. She doesn’t deny that she is fearful and carries a lot of anxiety throughout her day, but as long as she is slightly more curious than afraid, she is able to create. She finds being fearless to either be a myth or idea only embraced by psychopaths. She sees fearlessness as a kind of violence against the self. Being able to say to your fear, I hear you, I respect you, I understand you and now we are going to do this is more liberating than simply ignoring it.
Gilbert accepts the complexity of the human spirit and even has compassion for her fear, as she knows it is a part of her.
The most revolutionary thing a person can be in this world is to be relaxed.
Elizabeth shared this concept, mentioning that this is relevant to all, but especially important to the women that are in male-dominated environments. Everyone in the room either is carrying a lot of fear or anxiety, and for you to give permission to others to relax is such a gift. It is also revolutionary because the most relaxed person in the room has the most power. You are able to see the room with 360 degrees of vision. To bring your full self and be rooted in who you are provides courage for so many others to be more comfortable with themselves in that same room.
Gilbert follows up by saying:
My real aspiration is to be love in the room in every room that I am in.
Because to embrace that is such a gift to everyone else in the room. They feel that and then are able to pass that along to others. By being relaxed, you allow yourself to emanate love, which people can feel. So, she ends up not having to fix anything or try to control a situation. She simply can be fully present, which is the best gift you can give someone.
Gilbert’s advice to people is that if you try to relax, it is going to be better.
I have never seen any person’s life transformation that did not begin with getting sick of their own bullshit
This one hits me at my core as there have been so many times when I’ve grown tired of hearing my same old BS story as to why I can’t do something. Elizabeth goes on to say that when she would procrastinate, she would always ask, who am I going to blame today? She goes on to say:
The opposite of the victim is a creator
She could decide to find someone or some situation to blame for why she isn’t pursuing her vocation, or she could let go of all that BS and create. Elizabeth says:
There comes a point in your life where you either have to stop lying or die.
Dying could mean simply giving up on your dreams and living a half-hearted life, or dying could mean not embracing your true self and continuing to pretend. Talent not utilized can eventually turn into pain. She challenges you to choose to follow the well-worn boring story or finally let it go, so you can create a new one. She also asks:
Have you accepted the responsibility of being a steward of this being?
By accepting this responsibility, I both provide myself compassion and also accountability towards my action. I can fail, make mistakes, and that is okay, as long as I also own the story that I’m telling myself and don’t lie to myself about what is really happening.
A Woman’s place is in the kitchen…with her feet up, drinking a glass of wine, watching her husband cook her a meal.
Her former husband, Jose Ruiz, the Brazilian she met during her Eat, Pray, Love adventure used to say this her. He would cook these elaborate meals for her and simply say “now, tell me everything. What happened today?” Gilbert would ask herself, how did I win this life? Her friends would say, “you blossomed into the person that attracted that. You learned how to treat yourself so well on your own, so that when someone came along that treated you well, you finally recognized what that feels like because you have been doing it to yourself the whole time.”
Why Does A Woman Have To Die Before She Considers Making A Change
Glennon Doyle told Elizabeth Gilbert this, as she found that so many women had gone through so much suffering to the point of near collapse before they were open to making a change.
Is Pain A Conduit for Transformation And Growth? Only if you do the work.
Elizabeth interviewed Jim MacLaren for GQ magazine, a motivational speaker who had lost his leg only and still became a premier triathlete. After going through one loss, he was hit by a car during a triathlon and became a paraplegic. After thinking he had dealt with the challenge of a lifetime, he now had to face another. In the interview, he told her, “a catharsis doesn’t happen automatically, just because you have gone through pain. Transformation only occurs with your effort. Don’t ever waste your pain Liz. It is one of the greatest tools to transfer your life, but only if you use it for that. Don’t ever fall into wasted suffering.”
You don’t need to be a good girl to be a good person
In City of Girls, Elizabeth explores female sexual shame and this idea that you can cause someone else harm with your own choices. She was tired of reading novels where the female protagonist pays dearly at the end for her decision either through banishment, suicide, or both. Why not challenge the idea that one has to be “the good girl,” following all the antiquated patriarchal rules that come with it, and I can be a badass and also a good person.
Hold your creative wishes lightly
Elizabeth is quick to remind us that nothing is owed to us. If you believe you are a prolific artist or writer, you are not destined to become famous. You might get lucky and it happens, or you might not. Either way, if you love creating your art, if you see it as a vocation, then becoming famous or rich doesn’t matter because it is about the work giving you meaning. So have creative wishes, but hold them lightly, let them flourish on their own instead of trying to control where they blossom.
You never had control. All you had was anxiety.
There is this belief by many of us that we are in control some of the time. Elizabeth doesn’t believe this anymore. She has seen how magnificent and brutal it can be in a room where people feel powerless and relinquish all sense of control. She says that…
There is something magnificent when people reach the end of their power.
It’s liberating. To continue to believe that you are in control (especially during these pandemic times) is what is giving you anxiety. She challenges us to simply embrace the idea that you never had control in the first place.
I want to eradicate the words passion and purpose. Stop following your passion. Instead, follow your curiosity.
According to Elizabeth, we are in a passion fetishizing culture.
Gilbert says she can’t access her passion every single day, but she can access her curiosity every single day.
She once told a story about how she was preaching the common success story about following your passion and finding your purpose. That night, one of the audience members wrote her a Facebook post saying she felt worse after seeing Elizabeth speak because she doesn’t know what her passion is. She now believed something was wrong with her because finding her passion doesn’t come easy to her. Elizabeth then stopped preaching about pursuing passion and purpose as those can be dangerous words for someone that isn’t lucky enough to know it, and instead gently and with compassion, suggests that you follow your curiosity. Elizabeth says…
You’ll appreciate the grace and the sweetness of knowing you are dedicating your life to the human instinct of pursuing inquisitiveness.
Not only will this lead you to a more fascinating life, but you don’t have to be so hard on yourself for exploring your curiosities. It may or may not lead to your purpose or passion, but you don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself to discover it. She even ends one of her talks saying:
Never let a passion bully like me push you around.
Love never gives advice. Love simply says I am company for you in your darkest hour.
People are constantly trying to fix things and people, but love, true love simply is powerful by showing up. Elizabeth learned this when her best friend and true love, Rayya Elias died. The best she could do was simply be there to witness it, and to embrace all the messiness, the dark humor, the peace, the chaos and everything in between.
Gilbert even writes letters to love, as if it is a person that is accompanying her through life.
The opposite of fear isn’t courage. The opposite of fear is love.
Most people believe that to be courageous, you must not be fearful, but fear must exist to have courage. Courage is taking an action even in the face of fear. So if the only way courage can exist is with fear, then the opposite of fear is love. Instead of feeling anxiety, you are in a relaxed state. Instead of being scared of people, you see the best in them. Instead of seeing the world as a threat, you see all the abundant opportunities for connection.
I store my grain in the belly of my neighbor.
Elizabeth shared this Indian proverb as a way of challenging the Western Capitalistic nature to hoard, when our best way to survive is to be generous and to watch out for one another. Especially during COVID-19 where you can never hoard enough. What if instead we embraced caring for our neighbor as much as we care for ourselves? We would all feel safer.
The truth has legs. It is only the thing standing at the end of the day.
Her best friend, Rayya Elias, used to tell Elizabeth this all the time. If truth is the only thing that will remain, why not start with truth, wherever you are. Doing this can be so liberating as you don’t have to carry the burden of a facade. By choosing to be real from the get go, it gives permission for you and others to do the same. This is part of being the most relaxed person in the room. You end up not trying to hide anything and then people can decide, should I also be brave and show my real self, or be riddled with anxiety carrying around my false facade.
I Choose To Live In the Marketplace
You can choose to live in the monastery to find enlightenment where it is calm and peaceful, but Elizabeth has chosen to live in the marketplace amongst the chaos. That is where she can do the most good.
Please do not abuse yourself for the choice that you made when all you knew was what you knew today
Many of us spend a great deal of time second guessing ourselves and beating ourselves up for doing something we regret. The truth though is that we didn’t know any better and we made the best choices that we could at the time. To have a certain level of grace and compassion for ourselves and where we were at when we made that decision, can help take away much of the pain that we carry daily. You do not deserve that abuse. You never did, so choose to forgive yourself for it.
I butt my head up against the idea that things can always be solved. Often, they cannot be.
We always want to solve issues. This is what humans do, but to be able to let go of trying to fix/problem solve and simply be is sometimes the best gift you can give yourself and others.
Embrace The Glorious Mess That You Are
You are magnificent, as well as a train wreck. You are phenomenally talented and also can be too much for some. All of it can coexist at the same time as that is what being a human is. So embrace it all: the beauty, the scars, the mistakes, the successes, the setbacks, the emotional rollercoaster ride, and the craziness, as that is all you.
The Terrified Child Vs. The Older Judge
Elizabeth found that she has these two voices that are constantly at odds with each other. There is the terrified child that is constantly making mistakes and feels as if she needs to be forgiven all the time. While the other voice, the older judge is always telling her what the right thing to do is and criticizing her when she doesn’t obey. What she does to quiet them is to say I love you both. I got this.
There is no such thing as a dying person.
People are either living or they are dead. No one wants to be treated as a dying person. As long as they are living, they want to be treated as if they are living. Rayya was fully alive until she passed away, so that is where Liz learned this important lesson.
We think it is charitable to treat a dying person as if they are dying, but they are still alive, so treat them that way. How would you want to be treated if you were dying?
I’m learning to befriend myself
There is so much pressure to love yourself. All the advice out there is to love yourself no matter what. Why not simply start by becoming friends with yourself as an initial step. Take small steps to follow those quiet curious thoughts, instead of making it this grand, Lord of The Rings epic, adventure to find and fall in love with yourself.
Turn the volume down on the drama
When you are in the midst of high drama, it is hard to even think as you react to what is around you. By choosing to step back from it for a minute and see it with curious eyes, to almost mute the noise, you can see the drama from a different perspective. You can step out of the drama and see it for what it really is, and then decide if you need to spend so much of your time addressing it or not.
Whether you are a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert or don’t see what the big hype is about her, you can’t knock the wisdom that she shares. It’s ironic that she speaks so much about genius visiting us instead of people being claimed a genius. Maybe what makes someone a genius is their ability to channel something bigger than themselves with a humility and reverence that the thought deserves. Thanks Elizabeth for this crazy ride through your life.