First, let me say than I loved Eat, Pray, Love. Both the book and the entirely adequate adaptation made me laugh, cry, and feel pain and joy.
Second, let me also say that, as a marriage skeptic who actually got married a year before I found Committed, I relished reading that book more than any other non-fiction book I had until that point read. What a gift to independent, intelligent, not-the-marrying-type women everywhere, like me. It’s a splendid work of research, writing, and storytelling. And I don’t find it meaningful at all that Ms. Gilbert’s marriage has since ended. (Well, it’s meaningful to her and her former husband, but it says nothing about the quality of the book or the quality and validity of her actions.)
Finally, though, today, I want to talk about Big Magic. Because this, of the three* books I have read by the lovely and wonderful Ms. Gilbert, is the book that contains
two bits of wisdom from Ms. Gilbert that have helped me up and change my life…for the absolute best.
The back story is that I am an ENFP. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry: I’ll write about it someday because it’s fascinating. Anyway, as an ENFP, I am always seeking to be my truest version of myself; to be ME in the most complete way. To serve that cause, I have learned and grown and changed so many times, my family and friends and acquaintances have always had a hard time keeping up. What is Sara doing now? What is she concerned with now? Where is she now?
The shortest version of my story is that, in the course of my becoming more truly me, I realized I needed some things in my life (freedom, travel, steady work that allowed me both, to be my own boss, etc. etc. etc.) and I made some of those things happen and was in the right place at the right time to allow the rest of them to happen.
But something has been missing for the last 17 years, and only by reading Big Magic and doing the kinds of brainstorming and soul searching I have been doing for the last 15 years, have I been able to realize what’s missing. And you can read about that result in this previous post.
The reason I salute Ms. Gilbert and her book Big Magic for helping me get to the ecstatic point in my life is because of two important lessons that she teaches in Big Magic:
1. “Follow your passions” is an awful thing to tell people because (a) not everyone has a passion, and (b) if they do, they’re probably already doing it. Follow your creativity is the way to go.
2. Don’t quit your day job to follow your creativity. Support it so that it doesn’t feel pressured to support you.
Hot damn, these were totally new concepts to me, which I had never read in any self-help book previously (and I have read ALMOST ALL of such books). Let me tackle these two concepts one at a time in relation to myself, which is what this post is about.
“Follow your passions” vs. “Follow your creativity”
Hallelujah for this insight! I have been deeply excited or totally in love with many things in my life. Dancing to House music, riding my bike, speaking and reading Italian, being in Italy, traveling, walking around all day watching life happen, petting fluffy cats, taking photos of amazing scenery, meeting new friends, and so many more. I mean, I LOVE these things so much. They make my heart sing and my face break out in immense smiles.
But not one of these things is a passion so big I would eat the shit sandwich (read the book!) that goes along with it in order to do it every day of my life, every waking hour, so I could make a living out of it. So, when I have read in the past to “follow your passion and live your dream!” I have been stymied by that word “passion”: What happens if I have too many and none of them presents a viable way to survive? What then?
Ms. Gilbert has come up with the answer: follow your creativity. And this is where it got interesting for me. Because as a kid, I used to love to draw and paint and take pictures wherever I went, but no one outside of my art teachers at school cared that I actually had talent. My parents didn’t seem to notice, and I don’t recall them praising me for my art. In any case, I don’t find such joy in making art nowadays. I draw every once in a while, and that’s fine, and I still love taking beautiful photos wherever I am (especially in this amazing place I live now--scroll down to the picture!!), but I am certainly not so passionate about drawing or photography that I feel a constant pull that draws me to do either one daily. Not even close.
And although I have always written and I am, actually, a professional editor and translator, I am not super passionate about writing as a career. I do love communication, and because 99% of what we all do involves email these days, I guess that makes most of my communication writing. But I would much rather be speaking to someone. Because—and this information is something I have struggled with for years and not known what to do with—I am a performer, not a producer. What I mean by that is, I want to engage in something that takes place in real time, with me being wholly present, and then is over. I am not drawn to working on something for weeks, months, or years to “give birth” to a “product” that then results from that work. That is not appealing to me in the least. It killed me when I had to work TWO whole years on my masters thesis. Ugh! Yuck! I like immediate “perform this, do it excellently, and be done with it, never to have to think of it again” kind of work. Being present at its finest.
Which led me to consider acting. For about 5 seconds. Nope.
But then I realized something. I love conversation, with people, in real time. I love being present, and “performing” active listening, in real time. I also love reality, with all its awfulness and wonderfulness. And back in the day, about 13 years ago, I was drawn to the art of coaching, and I took to it like a moth to flame. I was home. It was exactly what my body, my mind, and my soul were meant to do. I was in total flow, in complete Magic (as Ms. Gilbert would say), when I was coaching. Listening, being present, asking exactly the right questions at exactly the right time—not through hard effort, just by being “with” my client and truly hearing what is being said and not said. That is my art.
Was this creativity? The funny thing is, I don’t think so. I’m not “making” anything. In fact, coaching is sort of the opposite of me making anything: I’m offering my clients an invisible force to help them dismantle things: their obstacles, their fears, their whatever that’s keeping them from reaching their dreams and goals.
And that fact fascinated me. Here, Ms. Gilbert had finally shattered that awful myth of “follow your passion” and was telling me instead to “follow my creativity,” and because I know myself so well by now, I learned within a couple of hours’ brainstorming that my creativity was, instead, simply BEING ME in the presence of another person who was attempting to reach her own goals and be the best version of HERSELF. It’s a revelation that has changed my life, and I thank Ms. Gilbert for that.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Now, this point that Ms. Gilbert makes is actually what got me to immediately formulate my method for allowing coaching back into my life and imagine that it has a real shot at flourishing--which I did not imagine back in 2003 when I knew coaching was my thing. As she points out, and as so many of you likely know, there is this weird undertone to all of those “follow your passion” and “live the life you always wanted” books that says “drop everything in service to your passion/dreams right now and risk it all to pursue those passions/dreams.” But I am 43 years old, and in no way am I comfortable doing that. It’s terrifying and, frankly, stupid to put my home, my health, and my family at risk so I can try to make a new venture work, from scratch, in a foreign country where I, sadly, struggle with the language.
My husband and I have talked about this for 2 years now:
“I feel like I have to leap off the cliff without a parachute in order to live my dreams,” I’d say.
“Well, when my business gets going, you can,” he’d lovingly promise (and he was not lying).
“But, we have no idea how long that will be, and I don’t know if I can handle working every day in something that doesn’t feed my soul,” I’d complain.
And then we’d come to the real, true conclusion that if I were happier in other parts of my life (like my social life, which disappeared entirely when we moved overseas), I might still love my current teaching job like I used to. And then we’d analyze what I needed more of (more in-person people contact, please! More problem solving and energetic collaborating, please! More coaching, basically, but I didn’t know it at the time…).
But after reading Ms. Gilbert’s amazingly simple and yet totally profound words, which went exactly against the grain of “you must stop working at a good-paying job in order to devote 100% of your time to your passion/dream/art,” I realized with a shock that I could start coaching again RIGHT NOW, while working at my current job! It did not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition, and, in fact, I would be a silly child if I dropped my sole source of income so I could attempt to build a coaching enterprise from the ground up. Silly! And stressful. And the last thing I wanted was stress. I wanted JOY. And here was the way to get it.
Keep your day job and make room for your joy/creativity, too.
They need each other to flourish.
So now, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I made room for coaching. Really, my job requires so little of my time, I have more room for coaching than I might ever fill. And being engaged in coaching, and writing about my own experiences with wellbeing and self discovery, and making the time to connect with other seekers and soul-inspired people, has already brought so much JOY into my life, that I approach my paid work with almost as much joy as I approach coaching.
To put it simply: Ms. Gilbert and her insights have changed everything for me. My gratitude is eternal. Not just for her, for having the chutzpah to write Big Magic and speak her truth at every turn. I’m also grateful to me for dedicating so much time and energy to following my truth and my joy and being dedicated to reaching both all these years, and to my husband for being so incredibly supportive despite his being baffled by my agony over the years and trying the best he could to understand and assist (he is not an ENFP, folks). And really, I am grateful to each of my friends who are on the path, too. They get it, and we have spent hours and days and years of our lives inching closer together to knowing ourselves, living in joy, and being the truest version of ourselves we can be.
I wish the same for you, with all my heart. Maybe Big Magic will help you as much as it’s helped me? I’ve embedded one of the (many) excellent interviews with Elizabeth Gilbert available on youtube, in which she speaks about so much of the amazing content in Big Magic. (Even though it’s not my personal favorite interview**, this whole interview is brilliant. But pay attention right around minute 19. Because that, my friends, is it. IT! YES! Finally someone speaking the truth. Do the thing you love and, even if you fail, it will be effing worth it. Amen. This is why I don’t even care if no one takes me up on my offer of free coaching. I’m DOING it, regardless whether the response is a hailstorm of clients arriving at my door or <<crickets>>!)
Look for more excellent links and tips below, after watching the video here ...
Afterthoughts and Asterisks:
Their conversation about “it’s all been done before, but not by you” always reminds me of Kat Robichaud’s incredible song “Of Course There’s Still Room.” If you don’t know Kat’s music, well…you’re missing out on serious Big Magic. This link will help remedy that problem (just buy the Darling Misfits album!) And here’s an acoustic version of the song, with some beautiful chord changes, that made me cry. To me, Kat is the epitome of authenticity.
*I have since also read The Signature of All Things, and I can say it’s a wonderfully engaging story. I have not enjoyed a contemporary novel in a long time, so from me, that’s incredibly high praise. Read it, and enjoy.
Link for Big Magic
And for Committed
And Eat, Pray, Love (if you have been living under a rock for a few years!)
**Below is probably my favorite interview with Ms. Gilbert, simply because these two are friends and it shows:
Coach, listener, back-pain expert, retreat leader, entrepreneur, and student-centered teacher; constantly curious student of life. Caring wellness expert with decades of experience, a back full of metal, and a heart overflowing with Love.
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