I recently interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert for our Emerging Women Podcast on the subject of Creativity and Fear (the focus of her newest book, Big Magic, due out in September). The fact that this wildly successful woman still struggles with fear gives me hope! The insights Liz shared in our conversation are not just for artists and writers. They can apply to any of us who are working on our passions, whether in business or at the writing desk.
Liz’s key to embracing fear: “It’s really about working with your fear and around your fear, without denying it and without attacking it.” But how? Check out these excerpts from my most recent podcast conversation with Liz: Creating Big Magic – Part 1.
5 Ways Elizabeth Gilbert Deals with Fear:
1. Remember that fear has no toggle switch
“Fear is so old and so important that it’s not subtle,” Liz says. “It’s a toggle switch—it just goes on and off.” It lacks nuance, which is so important to creativity and authentic leadership. Its only function is survival.
But she respects fear. “It’s a viable and important human action,” she says. “But it also can get in your way when it comes to creativity, because creativity always asks you to enter into realms with uncertain outcome, and fear hates that. Fear always tries to shut that down.”
There are times and places where fear is very valuable. But when it comes to creativity, we need to put fear into perspective.
2. Start a conversation with Grandfather Fear
It starts with this wise advice Liz gives: “Without trying to get in a war with fear or pretend that it doesn’t exist or be ungrateful to it, we have to have a conversation with Grandfather Fear every time we begin a new creative project.”
Pretending that you have no fear is crazy. Hating fear is reactive, because we’re here as a human race because it helped us survive. It’s important to bring a healthy respect to the conversation, but have the conversation nonetheless.
How does Liz do it? She says to Grandfather Fear: “I know you’re scared because I’m going to expansively do something with an uncertain outcome, but we’re going to do it anyway.”
3. Bring Kid Sister Curiosity into the conversation
Liz talked at Emerging Women Live 2013 about how helpful it is to personify all the different emotions inside of her. In the podcast, she brought up the usefulness of that same technique when dealing with fear.
“I’ve got Grandpa Fear with the hand on the hand brake being like, ‘No one leaves this house!’ and ‘You kids get out of my yard!’ but I’ve also got the really reckless kid sister – Curiosity – who has no sense of consequence and wants to say “yes” to everything.”
Can you recognize those different parts within you? Now that you’ve said “hi” to Grandfather Fear, can you introduce him to Kid Sister Curiosity? Liz says that if you can, and you let them talk to each other, you can begin to approach wisdom.
4. Trust your Central Self to moderate
“Somewhere in me there’s a self who, if I’ve gotten enough sleep, if I am eating well, if I am in a relationship that’s nourishing, if I’m taking care of myself, and if I’m calm and still, can effectively moderate between all of these modalities,” Liz says.
You can tell Kid Sister Curiosity that you love her free-spirit, but to remember that someone has to pay the bills. And tell Grandfather Fear that you appreciate him looking out for you, “but you can put the shotgun down – those are just trick-or-treaters.”
She stresses the importance of recognizing the YOU that is in charge. And if you’re taking care of you, then you can trust yourself to hear all sides and move forward.
5. Keep doing the work
“Inspiration doesn’t owe you anything,” says Liz. Once you’ve found a balance between fear and creativity, you still have to do the work. She gets the good sleep she needs to start fresh. She sits down at 7am to write. She invites Inspiration to the table and then she gets to work.
“But it’s not like the Annunciation where suddenly an angel comes into the room,” she says. “It’s a drag, but I don’t sit there thinking, ‘Hey, you didn’t come to me! I asked you!’ I put the message out. They know I’m there. And I’ll just sludge through it.”
But the beautiful part? She says, “I’ve got one ear open, ready for the unexpected thing.”[inline][/inline]
She’s “ready for the sentence that I didn’t know I could write. Ready for something to change. Ready for something to grow.” And she’s teaching me to bring that open conversation to business, too.
When we are emerging, we feel that nothing can stop us, right? We feel the fire of our own inner alignment, and the clarity of our truth is rocket fuel for making our dreams manifest. We ride high on what we know is right and we feel like we have super powers.
Until the fear hits. And just like that, Bam! We become paralyzed, we procrastinate, we stay up at night spinning in our repetitive negative mental constructs, we do everything we can to fight the fear or avoid the pain. It’s exhausting! And it has never worked for me.
There’s a sense that fearlessness means we will try anything without regard for consequence, that we will take risk with no attention to repercussions, that we will leap off of buildings with nothing holding us back. These actions are brazen, but real fearlessness – real courage – is when we take action while feeling our fear and discomfort at the same time.
“People who are without fear actually scare me.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
Here’s a little secret that I don’t often share – I dread public speaking. Or I should say: I dread the time leading up to the time when I am to speak. Once I am on stage, I feel comfortable, but the minutes, hours, and weeks leading up to that time are sheer torture. I feel like I am carrying a big weight on my shoulder that follows me everywhere.
But guess what? No matter how hard I try, I cannot avoid the public speaking part of what I am creating with Emerging Women. And so I stick with it – and bring my fear with me. Liz Gilbert goes so far as to say “have some reverence for your fear,” for it has treated you well, kept you alive in a world filled with dangers.
Courage comes from the French word coeur, meaning heart.
I love this because it brings a feminine perspective into the word courage, which for many years I have associated with the masculine paradigm – swinging swords, life-risking heroism, dangerous acts of self-sacrifice. But when we think of Courage as coming from the heart…..well, Sisters, we got this!
How are Fear and Courage showing up in your life right NOW? Share your story with the tribe in the comments section – we learn so much about ourselves by hearing from each other!
If you’re like me, you get a warm feeling when you read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook posts. She is a true role-model – not simply because she is a successful New York Times best-selling author, but because her she is constantly examining what success really means for her.
Whether she’s sharing her rituals, her favorite moments, her missteps, her lessons learned (and relearned) on the path to authentic success, she does it with an endlessly endearing sense of humor about herself that is so totally relatable it feels like it’s coming from a best-loved big sister.
As the clean slate of the New Year approaches, and New Year’s resolutions lists loom large on our social media feeds, I find tremendous comfort in the Grace&Fire podcast conversation we had before the first Emerging Women Live. Here are some of the things Liz said that stand out as I begin to gently shape my intentions for 2015:
“Curiosity is given to you, but your response is your job, and whether you take responsibility for that curiosity is your job.”
“I think that destiny is a kind of contract between human beings and the Mystery. Things are put before you, situations occur, and then you decide what’s going to be made of it.”
“Instead of forging forward into the vast forest with no idea where you’re going, go back a mile…
When was the last time something felt inspiring to you? When was the last time something was exciting to you? Return to that and then be gentle with it. Don’t take it by the neck and try to interrogate answers from it about what you’re supposed to do. Go back to that spot and sniff around. Put your hand on the ground, feel where it was warm, and see if there’s a little small overlooked clue near there that you somehow missed.”
“I think everyone is trying to play the grand, final scene of the big opera, but really, it’s the scavenger hunt that’s the most interesting…
Eyes on the ground, looking for that four-leaf clover, looking for that little scrap of paper hidden under the next rock, trying to find the clue. Because it is just a series of very small, almost invisible clues. And there’s a level of trust that develops where you just believe.”
Happy New Year, everyone! We wish you joy and an inner knowing on your path to authentic success!
Brené Brown. Elizabeth Gilbert. Talk about real feminine power. They’ve unfogged the lens through which I see the world, opening me up to the magic of curiosity and power of vulnerability. They are both insightful and hilarious, genius and genuine, and they bravely embrace their true selves as they model the journey to authenticity and meaning. In short, these women are my heroes!
If you feel the same way, set down your drink and get ready to flip out… cause we’ve got BIG NEWS.
We’re reuniting this dream duo for an intimate on-stage conversation at Emerging Women Live 2015 in San Francisco!
You may remember that Brené and Liz met for the first time at the innaugural Emerging Women Live in Boulder, CO. The connection was immediate, and there was air-karate to prove it. Their bond had a ripple effect that amplified the already intense “these are my people” feeling that bubbled in the room. And we want to be a part of that again.
So on Oct. 8-11, 2015 in San Francisco, Brené Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert will not only each share a fresh keynote talk with the tribe, they will also come together for a conversation that I WOULD NOT MISS FOR THE WORLD. Would you?
Tickets are on sale now, at a steal of an Early Bird price. Now’s the time to reserve your seat – the line-up is only going to get more phenomenal! I can’t wait to get the goosebumps of deep resonance with Brené, Liz, and every one of you.
PS – A ticket to Emerging Women Live 2015 is the IDEAL holiday present for a changemaking woman in your life. Just register with your information and send an e-mail to [email protected] explaining that the ticket is a gift. The most amazing. gift. ever.
Elizabeth Gilbert is the beloved author of the 2006 runaway bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. At the time of this interview, her TED talk on creativity has over 8 million views, and her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, has been celebrated as “the novel of a lifetime” by O Magazine. Liz was a featured presenter at the 2013 Emerging Women Live Conference, and the following is a transcript of the conversation we had just before that event.
Chantal Pierrat: There’s a lot of places that we’ll probably end up going today, but I wanted to start with your book since it’s sitting here right in my hands. You were so kind to send me an unproofed copy. I’ve had a chance to dig in a little bit, and I have to say, it’s kind of a page-turner.
Elizabeth Gilbert: Oh, I’m so glad it’s making you turn the pages. That’s what I want. I want you to sprain your wrist turning pages with this book. [Laughs]
CP: Yes, I’m definitely falling down the rabbit hole. But it’s interesting—I’ve not read your fiction. I’ve read, obviously, Eat, Pray, Love, which had such a big effect on me. I’m curious to hear more about how this process was for you, not really writing about yourself. In the last two books, you’ve been writing memoir style. How did this feel?
EG: Well, it felt like a homecoming. That would be the word that I would use, that popped into my mind. It’s true, you’re not the only person who hasn’t read my fiction! [Laughs] I started out as a writer of fiction many years ago, and the only thing I ever wanted to be my whole life, my only dream as a writer, was to write short stories and novels.
So my first book was a collection of short stories and my second book was a novel. I was well on that path, and then my life fell apart, as anybody who’s got $10 to buy a paperback of Eat, Pray, Love knows. And I ended up veering very sharply into this world of confessional memoirs that, of course, I do not regret having done at all. It’s been an extraordinary encounter with myself and with readers. It’s just been an amazing phenomenon.
And then after that came Committed, the follow-up, but 12 years had passed and I hadn’t written a word of fiction. And I just had that feeling that we get sometimes in our lives where I felt like, “If I drift any further away from this essential part of myself, I will never uncover it again. It’s time.”
“If I drift any further away from this essential part of myself, I will never uncover it again. It’s time.”
And also, the luxury appointed to me by the success of Eat, Pray, Love was I could do something as whimsical as take three, four years out of my life to do a passionate study of 19th-century botany and write a novel about 19th-century botanical exploration. So the book is also kind of a celebration of this place I am in my life right now where I have the time to pursue my creativity as I’ve always wanted to.
CP: So the main character is this brilliant young woman named Alma, and she’s developing for me still because I’m still in the early part. But I do think of you when I see her, and I don’t know if it’s just because I’m looking for you.
EG: Of course I’m there, and I think my readers will find me all over the book. It’s definitely a continuation of my passion. It’s a book about passion and it’s a book about travel and about discovery of the self, the discovery of the world, and discovery of the self in the world. Those are my themes that I’ve been looking at for a long time in a lot of different ways.
Alma is—the thing I love most about her is that she’s driven by a huge, towering lust for knowledge and for learning. Certainly in that, we are familiar. I really wanted to write a book about a woman whose life is directed by a craving to learn. I feel like that’s a character who we just don’t see enough in literature. And it’s somebody who I feel like I know, and somebody I feel like I am, and somebody who I think a lot of us feel like we are.
“I really wanted to write a book about a woman whose life is directed by a craving to learn. I feel like that’s a character who we just don’t see enough in literature.”
CP: So The Signature of All Things—I’m curious how you came upon that title.
EG: The “signature of all things”is actually a theory that was posited in the 16th century by a quite eccentric German mystic, who’s also a plant enthusiast, named Jakob Boehme, who came to believe that God had hidden in the design of every plant on earth a clue as to the meaning and use of that plant. So, for instance, the simple way to describe would be that walnuts, if you open them up, they look like a brain, and walnuts are very good for headaches. And then sage leaves are shaped exactly like the human liver, and sage is very good for liver aliments.
So it was this idea, this compassionate gardener—God—wanted people to find their way to the clues hidden in the plants that would benefit us. It’s a lovely, kind of medieval mystical theory and it was well, well out of date by the time my characters in my book come along. There’s a lot of holes. [Laughs] A lot of leaves look like livers, and if you ate many of them, you would die.
You know, it’s one of those theories where he came up with a theory and tried to make the science fit to it. And my book is sort of about the opposite. My character is a real scientist who studies the world and deducts her theories after her study. However, she does fall in love with a man who still believes in that theory who’s also a botanist.
Liz’s fans send her pictures of their copy of SOAT from around the world.
And in a way, every single character in the book, all of them revolving around the world of plants, they’re all looking for the signature of all things in some different way, whether it’s scientifically or artistically or in the world of commerce. They’re trying to find the clues in the plant world to better their own life.
CP: What I love is that you are a great connector. You take us on a tangent, and yet it comes back around really beautifully to another piece. It’s not a hanging thread. It always ties back.
EG: Yes. Without a doubt. Thank you for saying that because I feel like the novels that I love—and I do love 19th-century novels. I love Jane Austen and Dickens and Trollope and Elliot. That whole gang, they’re my favorite. And I think that the mastery that they had is that they knew exactly, from the first minute of the story, where they were going and where they were taking you. And you know when you’re in their hands that you’re not going to get abandoned on the side of the road, which sometimes happens in contemporary novels where you’re like, “How’d we get here? I’m stuck here now!” [Laughs] “And I don’t think either me or the author has any idea where we’re going.”
So I wanted to have that same sense of leading the reader on a journey and saying, “It’s OK, you can trust me. We’re going to go on this together and we’re going to come back on the other side and we’re going to have a really amazing experience in the middle.” I’m hoping that’s what the book will convey.
“It’s OK, you can trust me. We’re going to go on this together and we’re going to come back on the other side and we’re going to have a really amazing experience in the middle.”
CP: Do you feel that, in your own life, you have that same sort of philosophy as you do in your writing style, where you trust everything actually does have a purpose and will cycle back?
EG: I do! [Laughs] I do. And it is magical thinking, right? Cynics and realists of all stripes would object to that idea, but it also does seem to be the case. It’s been shown now, even in scientific and sociological studies, that the people who are the most resilient and the people who seem to have lives of the richest quality are the ones who believe that there is some sort of a purpose to their life.
And I do think it’s kind of your job, if you’re lucky enough to have shown up in this world, to figure out what your purpose is. What are we doing otherwise, right? We’re just waiting. We’re just killing time. And from earliest consciousness, I just didn’t want to live in a waiting room. And in that regard, I’m very much like Alma, my character, as well. She’s definitely a purposeful young woman who, you will see, becomes a very purposeful middle-aged woman and an extremely purposeful old woman.
CP: So the tangents that life takes us on—it’s a dance between creating your own purpose and letting it unfold and believing in the seemingly randomness of it. You want both
EG: Yes. When people have asked me if I believe in destiny, I absolutely do, but I think that destiny is a kind of contract between human beings and the Mystery—whatever you want to call “the Mystery” with a capital “M.” I just call it “the Mystery” because it’s easier. And the Mystery entails everything that happens in our lives. And I feel like destiny is sort of an open questions. Things are put before you, offers are made, situations occur, and then you sort of decide what’s going to be made of it.
Somebody asked me the other day if I felt like my husband and I, if our love story was destined. And I said, “No, I don’t think our love story was destined. I think our meeting was destined. We certainly could have blown it.” [Laughs] The invitation was presented, and then it was turned over to our care, and what came next was up to us. But we could have easily walked away from it.
And I’ve been in situations before, in love and in work and in relationships, where an offering is there, and for whatever reason, the participants are unable or unwilling to see through it and it goes away. I don’t think destiny can force you to do something that you’re not going to do.
CP: You have an incredible attention to detail. Robert Penn Warren is one of my favorite writers in this regard, and this book reminds me a little bit of that.
CP: It has that same sort of—it’s like time stops and there’s a micro focus. And yet, I always think, “Wow, Elizabeth Gilbert, she’s got such big vision.” It seems like you have a pretty good balance of those two things going on. I’m wondering if that’s ever a struggle for you.
EG: You know, I love that idea, thank you for pointing it out. I think that the big picture is in the details. And it’s not an accident that my character, Alma Whittaker, who’s a botanist, finds her way in the world through studying mosses, which are incredibly tiny and incredibly intricate and which have been largely overlooked.
“I think that the big picture is in the details.”[inline]
Liz Gilbert in Wellington NZ (via her Facebook page)
And as a woman trying to make a name for herself in the botanical world, she discovers that there’s this huge universe right underfoot that everybody is literally stomping on. And that all the bigger botanists have made their name with bigger plants and flowers—you know, the orchidists and the people who study the great redwoods. But she can’t travel to those places. She doesn’t have that luxury to be able to take on those mega-floras.
But right in her backyard, there are probably 45 different varieties of moss growing on one boulder cropping, and she’s able to find an entire universe in that moss. And she’s actually able to ask the same giant questions about the origins of life itself through the study of these few boulders as the great men of her day are asking through the study of the cosmos and through evolution and through fossil records that they’re finding.
So all the answers are everywhere. It’s just that they’re in miniature for her because that sort of suits her life. And I also thought that was a big metaphor for women’s lives in general. I think for most of history, women have lived very rich, miniaturized lives. When you look at the artwork that women have done in Western civilization, it tends to be tiny. It’s needlework or it’s painting tea cups, it’s textiles, it’s tiny knots. Because women’s lives had been kind of compressed, unfortunately, into a smaller scale, and yet women bring their creativity to that small scale and make magnificent things on that scale.
“Women’s lives had been kind of compressed, unfortunately, into a smaller scale, and yet women bring their creativity to that small scale and make magnificent things on that scale.”
So I thought it would be interesting to have a female character who does the same thing in the scientific world, and who reaches the same conclusions as the great men by doing that. So I do think in her life, and in our own lives, there’s tremendous greatness to be found in the very small and the very everyday.
CP: There was a Harvard Business Review study where they compared male and female professionals, and whether it’s true or perceived, women scored lower in visioning. Everything else was equal or higher than the men. The only score that they didn’t meet and were actually below men was the ability to vision.
EG: The big, big picture. And I think another thing that is the danger of that is, of course, a little myopia and also perfectionism. I think that it was really important to me to write a novel about a women with a towering intellect, and I really didn’t want it to be a story about a woman who was brilliant but nobody would listen to her because she was a woman. I just felt like that was an oversimplification and also didn’t honor the real lives of the real, incredibly respected 19th-century female botanists who I studied as I was working on the book.
But what I do find—and this is a huge generalization but I think it’s a point worth making—that a lot of times what holds women back in the world is this idea that they can’t put something forward until it is perfect. And we all know that has never stopped men. [Laughs]
“…what holds women back in the world is this idea that they can’t put something forward until it is perfect. And we all know that has never stopped men.”
That’s the thing that I’m always trying to convey to younger women, to young artists, to young executives, to any woman I meet who’s entering the world at all. Don’t hold back your voice. Don’t hold back your ideas until they’re perfect because first of all, perfect doesn’t exist, and secondly, you’ll be overrun by people who are throwing out all sorts of stuff that’s half formed, and yours is 95 percent formed. You know, 95 percent’s good enough! Push it forward, put it out there.
Alma suffers from that level of perfectionism. And I think it’s probably one of the terrific saving graces in my own life that I actually don’t have a problem. [Laughs] I grew up with a mother who taught me from me a really early age that done is better than good. That was one of her mottos I grew up with. “Just finish it, just put it out there. It doesn’t have to be immaculate, it just has to be done.”
And I feel like that’s gotten me so far. That’s probably the reason I have six books instead of one. Otherwise I would still be editing that first one. I’m willing to throw stuff out there in the world. And I’m always trying to empower women to do the same.
“I’m willing to throw stuff out there in the world. And I’m always trying to empower women to do the same.”
To be continued… You can listen to the recorded version of this interview HERE
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Chelsea has over 15 years of experience in administrative and executive support. After her years of working in the legal and oil and gas industry, Chelsea has made it her passion to fill her life with creativity and incorporates that into everything she does. Her position at Emerging Women allows her to expand on that creativity and assist with empowering women around the world. She is a native of Colorado and enjoys spending time with her husband, her son, bonus son, family, and friends. In her free time she loves camping, painting, and all things creative.
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Michelle studied Marketing and received her degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver. Her passion for marketing, combined with great attention to detail, and over 7 years of experience in the tech-world makes her a valuable asset to the team! In addition to Emerging Women, she is also a solopreneur and works with a number of different clients in the online business realm. She is an experienced Online Business Manager and Virtual Assistant who specializes in marketing operations, project management and online course launch management. She is a Colorado native, mother of two dogs, a cat, and a turtle, and step-mother to an amazing little girl. In her spare time she enjoys live music, good food, traveling, and spending time with her friends and family.
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Jen comes to Emerging Women with over 25 years of experience in event operations and volunteer management. She has worked various types of events as a Volunteer Manager for Integral Life conferences and as an Event Coordinator for various large arts and sports festivals throughout Colorado. Alongside her passion for creating and producing events, she worked as a hospital administrator for over a decade in one of Denver’s largest hospitals helping make care affordable to hundreds of patients. Jen was born in Lima, Peru but has spent most of her life in Colorado. In 2016, a year sabbatical morphed into a life living abroad. Jen has been living in Cusco, Peru for the past four years and cherishes her life in the Andes mountains. In her spare time she enjoys exploring the world, playing capoeira, and deepening her yoga and meditation practices.
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For over 13 years, Nicole has been a producer and connector in the field of personal and professional growth and transformation, creating diverse content, life-changing curriculum, and exquisite live and online experiences. She loves to unite and facilitate people in their work to live more good, true, and beautiful lives. She’s honored to bring this diverse expertise to Emerging Women. For the past two years she has been the lead producer for Emerging Women Live, and now is bringing her extensive production, coaching and facilitation skills to EW’s Power Circles. Nicole works in private practice as a Certified Integral Master Coach™, through her company, Unabashedly You, and has worked with hundreds of women (and men) individually and as a group facilitator. She also creates programs and interviews fascinating teachers and wellness experts in her role as U.S. Content Producer for Conscious Life. She is the co-founder of Core Integral, an educational company offering a comprehensive and accessible approach to learning integral theory. Prior to this work, she owned a large and lively restaurant and brewery in Pennsylvania. She has studied extensively and worked alongside Ken Wilber (Integral Theory), Daniel Brown, PhD (Tibetan Buddhism, Self-Development, Attachment, and Positive Psychology), and Sofia Diaz (Hatha Yoga and Feminine Embodiment). She holds a Masters Degree from Lehigh University. She regularly delights in the sunshine and mountains of Colorado with her two dogs and her partner Clint, and is a new mama to her daughter Truly Golden.
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Chantal’s mission is to increase women’s leadership across the globe. After earning an MBA from the University of Colorado, Chantal left a career in medical device manufacturing in search of work that would align her dedication to transformative leadership with her passion for living an inspired, impactful life. In September 2012, she founded Emerging Women, a global leadership and media platform that serves over 70,000 women worldwide and has advanced women’s leadership within Fortune 500 companies such as HP, Oracle and more. Chantal’s ultimate vision is to weave feminine leadership and authenticity into businesses, and to create a world where women have a strong voice in the shaping of our future. Prior to Emerging Women, for over a decade, Chantal served on the executive team as the VP of Sales and Marketing for Sounds True, a multimedia publishing company focused on spirituality, personal growth, and holistic living. Chantal is a sought after speaker delivering keynotes at The Grace Hopper Celebration, Wisdom 2.0, and many other stages where women’s leadership is critical to the conversation. When she is not dancing or working to empower women around the world, Chantal enjoys family time with her husband and two sons in Boulder, CO.