How to Get Unstuck: Oprah.com Talks to Elizabeth Gilbert
We sat down with the author of Big Magic to talk about how to make your passion a reality (no matter how scary it feels).
Leigh Newman: What are *THE* three biggest reasons you think people don’t pursue their dreams?
Elizabeth Gilbert: We’ll start with the idea: “I don’t believe I’m invited. This is something other people do. I’m not allowed to be a part of it.” That’s the first savage demon that stops people. The second is: “I’m not good enough.” And under that category goes the belief that if you had been born into different circumstances and had followed a path, you would have been ready to make something, but because you didn’t, you aren’t. You think to yourself, “I didn’t go to a good enough school. I didn’t get to go to a new city. I don’t have the right contacts. I don’t have the right kind of money. I don’t have the right studio space. Nothing in my life has gone right. So I’m not worthy. The third and last demon is: “Why bother? Why should I try to be an actor when there are 27,000 people who look just like me? Does the world really need another book of poetry? Does the world really need another watercolor artist? Definitely not.”
LN: What happens when these people let these demons take over? What goes on?
EG: A really wise teacher in India told me years ago that the talent you have and do not use becomes a burden on your life. It will make you feel heavy and depressed and pained. And I would add—for people who mistakenly believe that they do not have talent— that any curiosity that you have in your life that you do not pursue will become a burden on your life, as well. Because you will again feel blocked and paralyzed and passive and bored. The great writer Andrew Solomon famously said, “the opposite of depression is not happiness. The opposite of depression is vitality.” And a creative life is a vital life; it doesn’t mean that you have to write a symphony. It doesn’t mean that you have to win at the Kim Sun Festival. It doesn’t mean that anybody has to see your work. It just means that you are in active engagement with your curiosity and your creation. That you are not just a passive witness to things that are happening to you, but that you are deciding to be a co-creator and a co-participant.
LN: But let’s say you do try—what happens if you fail?
EG: When we all start our creative project, whatever it might be—writing a book, trying to learn how to salsa, attempting a meditation practice—we all start with the same impulse of excitement, nervousness and butterflies. We’re like “I’m doing it! I’m doing it.” That’s what day one is. Day two, we go back and we look at what we did on day one and we hate ourselves. Because what we did on day one is pretty terrible because we don’t know how to do it! And of course, it’s disappointing, humiliating. And so, on day three, we stop. The difference, I’ve found, between the people who go back to work on day four and the people who don’t, is that the people who go back to work forgive themselves for falling short of their idea. We’re always told the most important part of creativity is discipline. But I think it’s self-forgiveness, because all the discipline in the world is not going to make you sit down in a pool of self-hatred and create anything—because you can’t, you won’t be able to, you can’t whip yourself toward that. And whenever people speak of needing more discipline, all I see is anxiety, fear and imprisonment. But self-forgiveness is a meadow opening up to infinite possibility. It’s only thing that’s kept me writing for 25 years. Nothing I’ve ever written is as good as I wanted it to be. Our dreams are so aspirational—as they should be—but the actuality of what we create always falls short of what we imagine. And I would rather be engaging with this mysterious force of creativity even in a lackluster way than living a life of stagnation and nonaction. I would rather do—even in a lackluster way—than not do. It is, for all us, always a choice.
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