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yes to doing
© Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Join in and celebrate you—
by saying YES!
This month, we talk with author Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic. See what she has to say about this month’s YES: Yes to Doing.
What do you think stops people from becoming more than a dreamer, but a doer?
A: I think it’s always about fear. And fear is a tricky and sly entity, because fear has many disguises. Sometimes fear looks familiar, like itself—manifesting as regular old anxiety and jitters and panic. But other times, fear disguises itself as perfectionism—forbidding people from taking any chances in life, lest they be revealed as somehow flawed. Sometimes fear disguises itself as apathy—making people behave as if they are lazy, when in fact they are just terrified of failure. Sometimes fear disguises itself as anger—raging about how “the world has never been fair me”, and using that anger as an excuse to remain stuck. Other times, fear disguises itself as cynicism—tricking people into pretending that they don’t care, when, in fact, they care way too much. But when you really break it down, stagnation is always some version of fear.
Essentially, over the years, I have learned this truth: If I am feeling stuck in life, then I can be certain it is because I’m afraid of something, and I just haven’t faced it yet. My job then becomes to figure out what, exactly, is scaring me so much. Once I’ve identified my exact fear and given it a name, it’s a lot easier to take action. I never judge myself for being afraid, either.
It’s only human and natural to feel anxious when you’re taking a leap. I try to be friendly and compassionate toward myself about my fears, instead of feeling shamed and self-abusing. My goal has never been to become a fearless person (i.e.: a sociopath.) My goal is only to become a brave person. Brave people feel fear, but we proceed into new and risky situations, anyway. Because, at the end of the day, the question I always ask myself is, “What’s the alternative to taking this risk?” And the answer is always the same: “Do nothing. Stay safe, by doing nothing.” And doing nothing just never feels like it’s going to create a very interesting life for me. Usually, staying safe just makes me end up depressed. (In other words, the safe path usually feels more dangerous to me than the risky path.)
How has saying yes to doing helped you in your life?
A: I’m a writer because I said yes. Or, to put it properly, I’m a writer because I never said no to writing. From earliest childhood, I loved books and reading and storytelling. That was the easy part—identifying a natural inclination that I possessed, which drew me in the direction of language and writing.
Often, though, what happens in life is that somebody has a talent or a fascination, but there comes a moment when they start saying no to it. Sure, they love it, and sure, it makes them happier than anything…but they start saying, “The love I feel for this pursuit can’t be enough, can it?” Soon, they start realizing that their dream isn’t practical, or that they probably can’t make any money from it, or that their families won’t approve. And so they drop their gift, and forget about their love story, and choose a more responsible course of action. Often what follows is depression and frustration. I never did that. I never said no.
I feel like our talents and fascinations and innate curiosities are a sacred gift—a line of questions from the universe, asking us, “Will you commit yourself to me? Will you make things with me? Will you sacrifice for me? Will you run away with me? Will you marry me?” From the beginning, I’ve only ever said, “Yes.” And I’ve been committed to that YES for life.
What has been a major accomplishment by saying yes to doing?
A: In my creative life, it’s been learning how to trust my own curiosity—no matter how faint the signal. There is no better way to follow your creative intuition than to have faith in your own curiosity. It you are interested in something, then you must learn to trust that you are interested in it for a reason—no matter how weird or obscure the thing may be. You don’t have to know how the project is going to end, in order to begin it. In fact, you can never really know how the project is going to end before you begin it.
So when I feel curiosity about something, I always say yes, even when it doesn’t make rational sense yet. In my personal life, my biggest accomplishment was learning how to be alone with myself—saying yes to my own company—rather than constantly attaching myself to one man after another. I broke my pattern of intense serial monogamy about thirteen years ago, and life has been better ever since. By actively choosing to be alone for a while, and learning how to hear my own interior voice (without the static and distraction of seduction, romance, chaotic break-ups, and drama), I finally said yes to the powerful currents of my own life.
What will you say yes to this year?
A: Some wonderful collaborations. Spiritual and creative partnership is the newest and most exciting yes for me right now. I’ve always been a bit of a creative and spiritual loner—preferring to go hide away in isolation with my own ideas and questions, and then emerging into public only when my projects are complete. But in the past few years, I’ve made a few friends whom I not only love, but also admire for their creative spirit. I’ve been collaborating on adventurous charitable and creative projects lately with people like Brené Brown, Cheryl Strayed, Glennon Doyle Melton, and Pastor Rob Bell—and I love it. It feels like such a magnification of power, to join energy streams with people who are doing such brilliant work in the world. This idea of partnership is still a really new idea to me, and it thrills me more than anything right now. I still have no idea where it will take us…but, of course, that’s the fun part.
To learn more about Big Magic, visit ElizabethGilbert.com.