I have long suspected that, if given a chance, Elizabeth Gilbert and I could be very good friends.
Elizabeth – or Liz, as I imagine I’d call her – has been inspiring me for years.
Her book Eat, Pray, Love gave me permission to value my own happiness at a time when I desperately needed the validation. Her TED talk on creative genius transformed how I saw myself as a writer and creator. She makes me laugh on Twitter.
We also have a ton in common.
She’s a writer; I’m a writer. She has blonde, curly hair; I have blonde, curly hair. She’s been accused of being a self-absorbed oversharer; I’ve been accused of being a self-absorbed oversharer. TWINSIES!
This week, my dreams were realized and suspicions confirmed when I met Elizabeth live and in person.
We hugged. We took selfies. We laughed about 14 year olds and their superior knowledge of all things tech.
It was a very eventful 90 seconds.
Technically, we didn’t become friends, exactly – only because she didn’t have sufficient time to fall in love with me while signing books and taking pictures – but she did affirm everything I already knew to be true.
Namely: Elizabeth Gilbert is amazing.
In addition to being wise and inspiring during the talk she gave, she was also gracious and kind while greeting fans afterwards. She told us that she most wanted to be known for being a nice person, indicating to me that she is as decent a human being as she is a writer.
It’s nice when your heroes show themselves worthy of your admiration.
I wish that I could share with you every single second of that night so that you, too, could be as inspired and encouraged as my fellow attendees and I were. Alas, the best I can do is share a few of the snippets I hurriedly typed into my phone.
Some of my favorites:
She talked about how we each imagine that our fears are unique and special and interesting, but that if you took them out and flipped them over “you’d see Made in Taiwan stamped on the bottom.” This made me laugh and nod my head because almost every single person I talk to is just certain that the thing they are afraid of is specific and different enough to possibly be rational, and yet… no.
Our fears are common. They are basically “stay away from the unknown or something horrible will happen.”
There is comfort, I think, in realizing fear is not that complex.
There is also comfort in knowing that…
I loved that in a talk about creative courage, Elizabeth’s overriding message was that “it’s just art.” Seriously. Relax.
I often joke that I find my courage to do crazy things in remembering that I am probably not going to die or go to prison no matter how badly my latest experiment goes. (Death and arrest are, apparently, my personal deal breakers.)
When Jared and I were planning our epic sell everything and move into an RV for a year adventure, I liked to remind him that “worse case scenario, we end up living in your parents’ basement – and it’s a pretty nice basement!” He was rarely comforted by that possibility, but I maintained that the worst case was relatively not that bad.
Truly, most of us are not in a position where attempting to make things – or even chase our dreams – is going to kill us or anyone else. And yet we agonize over our choices as if our lives were on the line.
The question we should really be asking ourselves is:
Not the familiar, if you knew you couldn’t fail – but what if you knew you would?
Elizabeth said that she kept writing through the years of rejection because she loved writing more than she hated the failure. She admitted that her ego was bruised early and often, but that the hurt was never as bad as the joy of writing.
Go to the place where the certainty of failure can be trumped by the enjoyment of the process, of the actual doing.
That is where the magic happens. That is where your purpose lies.
Oh, and your purpose might not be what pays the bills.
Elizabeth admitted that she never demanded that her writing support her financially. Instead, she worked tons of odd jobs and vowed to support her writing. Her extremely practical advice to the audience was to figure out how to not going in debt while making things.
I love inspiration that can coexist with reality.
But my biggest takeaway from the night was not a quote; it was the simple reminder that stories are powerful.
Elizabeth’s entire speech was basically a string of well-told stories and poignant observations. With these stories she made us laugh, think, and feel deeply connected. I resolved right there in my seat at Carnegie Music Hall to practice storytelling more and pontificating less.
I’m pretty sure Liz would approve.