Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert: On Fear and Creativity

rear view of young woman staring at abstract sketch of left and right brain concept (analytical vs creative)

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity, fear, and more in the latest episode of Women Amplified. While this conversation was recorded at the end of 2019, what she says about fear, in particular, is a welcome balm in this moment.

Here are highlights:

“I think we live in a society that really fetishizes the idea of being fearless and that you’re constantly being told that in various, really violent, almost aggressive language to kick fear in the ass and to punch it in the face and to show it who’s boss and to wrestle it to the ground. It’s this constant war. The language is one of war.

But in my experience, anytime I have fought against my fear, it has won because it fights back harder. It just digs in, and it shows me who’s boss—which it is. And, the only way that I’ve ever been able to “conquer” fear has been to allow it to exist and to come with a much softer energy and to see it for what it is, which is not really a terrorist monster, but an orphaned child, a small little part of you that just is so fearful.

And, to just mother it and to say:

‘Look, I can see that you’re really scared, and I see that you don’t think that you’re worthy, and I see that you are terrified that this whole thing is going to bomb and blow up and that everyone’s going to know that you’re a fraud. And, I acknowledge and respect that as being very real and you are part of this family. You, fear, are part of this family and you have a place here and you’re just as much a part of the family as creativity is. You’re just as much part of the family as longing and all the other human emotions. I will never tell you to leave. You get to be in the minivan with the rest of the family. I just can’t let you drive because you’re seven years old. You’re too little. You’re not allowed to drive. You can be with us, but you’re going to have to sit in the back with the other kids: anxiety, panic, terror, all of them.

They’re all in the minivan. They’re always going to be in the minivan, but we’re doing this anyway and you can come with us and you’re going to do this anyway. And I know, fear, that your role in the family is that as we’re on this road trip toward creativity or adventure, the new or the big new thing that we want to do, I understand that your role is to sit in the back and scream that we’re all going to die, and you do it really well; and you just keep doing that, and we’re going anyway, and I love you.’

There’s something about the ‘I love you, you’re welcome, you’re part of this’ that somehow makes it quiet down. It doesn’t go away, it just quiets. I think all it wants is to belong like the rest of us. It’s just the part of you that doesn’t believe that it belongs. And, you just have to keep coming at it with that really mothering tone.

And, when I say mother, I don’t mean the mother you actually had. I mean the universal loving, compassionate, kind mother that you wish you had. The one who said: ‘Whatever happens, I love you. Whatever happens, you’re welcome. Whether this is a success or a failure, you belong to me, you’re mine.’ That sort of language that we have to learn how to bring to ourselves because all too often we actually didn’t get that when we were kids because we were raised by people who themselves were terrified.

So, it’s just a love contest really in the end, I think. And, it’s not the way that our culture teaches you to deal with fear, but it’s the only way I’ve ever been able to get anything done.”

Listen to the entire episode on Women Amplified.


More from the July 2020 Newsletter


How to Unleash Your Creative Genius – with Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert

Take an exciting and inspirational journey with Eat, Pray Love phenomenon Elizabeth Gilbert in this episode of Women Amplified. This intimate conversation will explore challenges facing women today, and offer insights to better navigate decision-making, productivity, communication, relationships, career paths and so much more. Read More


Elizabeth Gilbert: On the Three Most Powerful Words a Woman Can Say

Elizabeth Gilbert

When she was 25 and had moved to New York City to pursue a career as a writer, Elizabeth Gilbert saw a woman in her neighborhood who seemed to be living her dream life: one of creativity that was not taken up by other day jobs.

“She became my mentor. She didn’t know. We didn’t have the conversation. I just decided. And, what that meant in my world was that I would semi-talk to her,” Gilbert told 10,000 women at the 2019 Pennsylvania Conference for Women. “My plan for this mentorship relationship was to be in her presence and what would happen is all that [she had] would migrate to me.”

Then, one night, Gilbert saw her at a party, where the woman politely asked how her writing was going. Gilbert responded: not very well. The woman asked why. Gilbert said she had too much work, and was busy with a boyfriend, and her roommates were very distracting. In short, she didn’t have time, and she didn’t have privacy.

“At the end, she asked me the single most important question anybody has ever asked me in my entire life. I can honestly tell you my life hinged on that question,” Gilbert recalled. It was: “What are you willing to give up to have the life you keep pretending you want?”

Gilbert felt offended and immediately defended herself. But the woman challenged her, saying that from her perspective it looked like Gilbert put time into everything except the writing that she said was most important to her.

Then she asked where her free time was spent. Gilbert responded that she didn’t have any. “Really?” the woman asked. “What’s your favorite television show?” Gilbert answered Seinfeld. Then the woman similarly challenged her about her favorite magazines and restaurants and bars.

Finally, knowing Gilbert and her friends had plans to go the beach for a week, the woman said: “You are not going because if you do go, then I don’t ever want to have this conversation with you again about how your work isn’t going well because the thing you care about you don’t have time for.”

Gilbert acknowledged that she had to learn to say “no” to things she didn’t want to do. The woman said, “Oh, honey, it’s so much worse than that. You have to learn to say ‘no’ to the things that you do want to do with the understanding that you just have this one life stream, this one energy source, this one brief moment here.”

That, said Gilbert, became the turning point in her life as a writer. She stayed home and wrote what would become her first book.

The upshot: “Women are taught they are supposed to care about everything and everybody equally; and it is a lie, a great lie that is keeping you in bondage,” Gilbert said. “The reason I think you are so worried, tired, and stressed,” Gilbert said to the audience, “is because you believe this great lie that you are supposed to care about everything and everybody equally.”

“My prayer,” she added, “is that you take that worry off your neck that you have been struggling with and turn it into a golden circle you put around you and your projects, and your creativity, around who and what you love. Say everything in the circle is now sacred. I choose what is in it. And, if you’re not in the circle you can what outside because I don’t care.”

Those three words, “I don’t care,” are the three most powerful words a woman can have in her arsenal, Gilbert suggested, because they allow us to focus our energy on what we do most care about.


 

The Magic of Liz Gilbert

People know Elizabeth Gilbert best as the author of the wildly successful international bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love that was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts. It gave voice to women who longed for something more. More from relationships. More from love. More from life. She inspired us to pursue our dreams wherever they take us.

Since then, Gilbert has continued to dazzle us time and again. Her wondrous book, Big Magic, has led countless women to recognize that there are “extraordinary treasures” that long to be coaxed out of every one of us.

Then, just this past summer, Liz Gilbert returned to her roots as a fiction writer with the release of City of Girls, an instant New York Times bestseller. Set in the theater world of the 1940s, it’s a spellbinding novel of glamour, sex, and adventure, about a young woman discovering – you’ll like this: that you don’t have to be a good girl to be a good person. But perhaps most importantly, she inspires joy and wonder wherever she goes.


Read more keynote recaps from the 2019 Conference


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