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

This episode will make you feel GOOD—and we’ve got some exciting Conference news, too! Tune in.

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.

Don’t think about fear as something you have to—or can—beat, says Elizabeth Gilbert. If you fight against fear, it will fight back harder and win. The better bet is to take a soft approach. Make room for your fear. Let it come along for the ride with you. Just be damn sure you don’t let it get into the driver’s seat.

Offering invaluable advice and real-life experiences, Gilbert will help you to embrace fear, unleash your creative genius and feel empowered to use your voice with confidence!

+Please take our first-ever listener survey! (We’re giving away free tickets to make it worth your while!)


“I’m a big, walking permission slip …telling women that it’s okay, yes I do also think you should write a book, yes I do think it’s okay that you want more for yourself than this marriage is giving you. I agree. Do you want an authority figure to say that it’s okay for you to take a risk or to change your life? I am delighted to provide that role in your life. Until you have the courage to be your own permission slip, I am happy to be it for you.”Elizabeth Gilbert


 

This Month’s Guest:

ELIZABETH GILBERT is the author of Eat Pray Love. Exploding onto the scene in 2006, the best-seller famously chronicled the year Gilbert spent traveling the world after a shattering divorce. Translated into more than thirty languages, Eat Pray Love has sold over thirteen million copies worldwide, and in 2010, was made into a feature film starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem. Her writing has been published in Harper’s Bazaar, Spin, and The New York Times Magazine. Gilbert was a finalist for the National Magazine Award, and her work was anthologized in Best American Writing 2001. Her first book, Pilgrims, was a New York Times Most Notable Book, and won a Ploughshares prize. Her first novel, Stern Men, won the Kate Chopin Award in 2001. The Last American Man, which compellingly explores America’s long-standing intrigue with the pioneer lifestyle, was a finalist for the National Book Award. In Committed: A Love Story, the anticipated follow-up to Eat Pray Love, Gilbert tells the story of her unexpected plunge into second marriage. The Signature of All Things, Gilbert’s first novel in over a decade, was named one of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, NPR, and Time. Out of the period of introspection following Eat Pray Love, came Gilbert’s brilliant nonfiction treatise, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Her newest book, City of Girls, a love story set in New York City theater world during the 1940’s, was released in 2019. @gilbertliz

Our Host:

CELESTE HEADLEE is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, Heard Mentality and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me MoreTalk of the NationAll Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @celesteheadlee


 

Additional Resources:

Resilience Expert Valorie Burton: On the Power of Self-Talk

Valorie Burton

“At the core of resilience is how you think,” says author and life strategist Valorie Burton. “That’s the thing we can control the most. You want to know: Is what you’re saying to yourself helping you or hurting you? A huge piece of resilience is what you say to yourself, and changing it if what you’re saying isn’t helping.”

Burton, author of 13 books, including Successful Women Think Differently, and her forthcoming Let Go of the Guilt, spoke with us recently about how successful women can think about these times.

Valorie Burton will join Melinda Gates, Issa Rae and other amazing speakers at the Oct. 1st virtual Texas Conference for Women. If you haven’t secured your ticket, learn more here. We’re expecting more attendees than ever this year!

Q: After writing 13 personal development books, what insights have you found most helpful for navigating these extraordinarily challenging times—and still being able to move forward toward your goals?

First and foremost, this is a real test of resilience. The pandemic was such an unexpected and shocking turn of events. Now with all of the social and racial unrest, it feels like: Oh, my goodness what is next? The emotional toll is very real. I think it is important to give yourself extra emotional space to deal with all of it.

As women, we are hard on ourselves. We expect ourselves to keep going in the same way as if nothing has changed. But things have changed. Being able to pivot is very important. We need to take stock of what has changed in our relationships, parenting, job or business, and health.

Asking yourself, “What do I need right now?” is also a really important question. Then understand: This isn’t forever. And look for the opportunity in it for you. There are opportunities. Not in every situation. But in many, there are opportunities and messages. You don’t want to miss them. You have to look for them.

One of my favorite mantras when dealing with something hard is “What is is.” Fighting against it just ends up draining more energy. Obviously, things are harder for some people than others. But if you’re fighting against what is, you can’t focus on what to do to minimize the negative impact.

Q: You have spent more than 15 years studying resilience. What is the most important thing that women should know and do to cultivate the resilience that can help us in this moment?

Understand the power of a decision to get through it. When I went through a divorce 11 years ago, I thought my life was over. I was crying to my mom, and she said, “You’re 36! I hope your life’s not over!”

Then I came to a decision: I said, “I will walk through this fire but it will not consume me.” And, I decided that I would be better because of it. What I look for now is how can I grow through this difficulty and not just go through it.

At the core of resilience is how you think. That’s thing we can control the most. You want to know: Is what you’re saying to yourself helping you or hurting you? A huge piece of resilience is what you say to yourself and changing it if what you’re saying isn’t helping.

Q: As women, many of us find we take care of family, work, the house, the dog, and everything and everyone else—and then have little energy left for our own self-care. But if that’s not a helpful habit in ordinary times, it’s a seriously bad strategy in long challenging periods like this one. So, how do we use this moment to truly make self-care a priority?

I don’t want to use the cliché about putting the mask on yourself first. But taking the time to rest, to eat well, even to walk for 30 minutes: those things make a difference. So, I would say think of self-care as a resilience skill and a strategy for being able to accomplish everything else you need to accomplish and feel good while doing it. Then make it something enjoyable and doable and part of your to-do list.

Q: In Successful Women Think Differently, you identify nine habits that successful women practice. If you were to rewrite that book now, what ways of thinking could help us more successfully navigate these uncertain times?

Successful women see the big picture. Although they may not know how things will turn out, they understand there is a bigger picture. I think in these times, it’s about imagining yourself looking back and thinking about what you will wish you had done in these times. It is about making wise choices and not because you are panicked about something.

I understand that these times are stressful but we make choices everyday about the attitude we bring to what is going on. Cultivating positive emotions (through having something to look forward to, play, gratitude, movement and so on) is one of the most important strategies we have for dealing with stress.

Research tells us happiness isn’t just correlated with success. It causes success. So, in midst of all of this, I think it is even more important to do things that bring you joy because it will help you deal with all stuff that saps your joy.

Focusing on what is beyond your control is what leads to hopelessness. Successful women are always looking for internal locus of control.

Q: You have a new book coming out in September, called Let Go of the Guilt. Can you tell us about that?

A few years ago, I was asked to do a breakout session on work-life balance for parents. It was not my expertise. I was trying to figure out myself. I mentioned guilt because I was feeling it. The collective groans from women just struck me. I started bringing the subject up. The response from women was always the same.

Women are very hard on themselves—not because they did something awful but because of all of the expectations that society puts on us. I did some research and realized women are more guilt-prone than men. One study showed that women have a guilt-deficit until they are in their 50s.

So, I created coaching for letting go of guilt. I worked with a number of women who used the process. It worked. Women felt like a weight was lifted. I am very excited about this book.

Valorie Burton is the author of 13 books on personal development, founder of The Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute and an international speaker on resilience and happiness. Learn more at www.ValorieBurton.com.


More from the July 2020 Newsletter

Why You May Be Better Equipped to Navigate Today’s Changes Than You Think

natural haired black woman smiling while looking away onto the street and thinking

If you’re like many people these days, you’ve been dealing with change as you never did before—changes that you didn’t seek out as the next positive step in your career or personal life but had thrust on you by outside circumstances.

But here’s a little good news:

The skills you need to deal with today’s unexpected changes are the same as the skills you likely have already tapped to create positive changes in your life. In other words, you may be a bit more prepared for the turmoil of 2020 than you think.

“I think the real difference between this type of transition and one initiated by your own desire is just in how you approach it,” Erica Williams Simon says in the newest episode of Women Amplified. “It’s about attitude,” the author of You Deserve the Truth: Change the Stories that Shaped Your World and Build a World-Changing Life, says.

“If the life that you thought you were living no longer exists, there’s a moment for grief, a moment to recognize that you weren’t expecting to have to make a shift here. But once you get there, however you get there, you have the power to determine your direction,” she says. (more…)

A Futurist’s Predictions about the Coming World of Work

Lisa Bodell

In times as uncertain as these, there’s something calming about speaking with a futurist—someone who, as Lisa Bodell describes it, knows how to marry strategic planning with scenario planning about possible, probable and preferable futures.

So, here are three things Bodell, award-winning author and CEO of futurethink, are possible outcomes we will see in the post-COVID-19 world of work that the popular Conference for Women speaker shared in a recent interview: (more…)

What Challenging Times Have Taught This Young Gender and Disability Advocate

Aria Mia Loberti

In her young lifetime, Aria Mia Loberti has faced more challenges than many of us.

In the third grade, she was taken out of school because her teachers were unable to accommodate that she was blind—or, more to the point, they forbid her from using a cane, saying she might trip other students; locked her in a room during recess; and permitted discrimination and bullying. (more…)

Navigating Transitions in Unpredictable Times with Erica Williams Simon

Making a career pivot can be scary and paralyzing, especially when events transpire that force an unexpected transition.

Covid-19 has left many with lost jobs and time to reflect and reevaluate life and priorities. Others are struggling to succeed at remote work with a disrupted structure and, in many cases, no available childcare.

In this episode, Erica Williams Simon will draw on her personal experiences to share practical strategies to help you shut out the noise, overcome fear of the unknown and identify your next step. Learn how to navigate transition in times of uncertainty, steps you can implement immediately to pivot now and ways to effectively communicate your story. (more…)

The Q&A: Empowering Women at Facebook

From L to R: Elisabeth Michaels, Sun Yen Cumby, Jocelyn Chen, and Ruth Bram

From L to R: Elisabeth Michaels, Strategy & Operations Manager; Sun Yen Cumby, Supply Chain Manager; Jocelyn Chen, Strategic Sourcing Manager, Contract Manufacturing; and Ruth Bram, Game Producer. Not pictured: Michelle Tanaka, Technical Program Manager.

 

Q: You are part of a volunteer group dedicated to empowering women at Facebook. Please tell us about that.

We joined the Women of AR/VR steering committee for various reasons, but the overarching theme was to be part of a group of women empowering other women. We wanted to do our part in building and developing a diverse and inclusive environment within the AR/VR organization at Facebook. (more…)

The Q&A on Communicating and Leading in a Crisis

With Silicon Valley Bank’s Michelle Draper Michelle Draper

Q: Nothing prepared any of us for a global pandemic followed by all the social unrest. But what have you found to be some of the most effective communication strategies in this crisis?

We’re a human business and we have to communicate in a human way. SVB has five corporate values, and we start with empathy for others. It doesn’t stop there: We must turn empathy into meaningful action. During the pandemic and in the wake of the tragedy in Minneapolis that again exposed systemic racism, we are following three guiding principles:

  • Stay visible: It’s in time like these that people are going to remember you for your actions, not your words.
  • Be helpful, clear, relevant: We need to find immediate solutions for the short term but our employees, customers and the larger community also need to know we care about them for the long term.
  • Act and speak with integrity: This is the time to put a laser focus on corporate values, and live by them. It represents an opportunity to reaffirm with clients, employees, shareholders and our neighbors and communities what we believe in. Not only is it the right thing to do, these stakeholders are demanding it.

We need innovation in ideas to solve these crises. SVB had already planned to present with Valence, a community to connect black professionals, a series of virtual events this summer to provide access to Black leaders in the innovation economy. The focus of the inaugural event in June focused on solutions to unite communities to combat racism and expand opportunity.

Q: Effective communication and leadership, of course, go hand-in-hand. But what would you say are some of the most important leadership skills in a time like this? (more…)