Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert encourages the audacity to dream
Some of the most brilliant, talented people I know are creatively constipated.
They second-guess themselves and fear that they will be rejected and ridiculed for their audacity to dream.
So their gems, their dreams, their genius, remain hidden.
They blame a lack of credentials, a lack of accolades, a generic lack of... and in the process, they strangle the very thing that lights them up and breathes life into them.
We've all seen enough reality TV episodes where over-confident, under-talented contestants audition as the world watches on, mortified at their public humiliation and shocking lack of self-awareness.
At the other end of the scale, there are the likes of John Kennedy Toole. Toole became so disheartened by rejection letters, his own harsh self-criticism and perceived creative failure that he commit suicide at the age of 31.
Some years later, his mother found the manuscript for a novel he had written and sent it to publishers (some of whom had rejected it previously). The novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, won Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.
There is, of course, a vastly abundant world between the creative dunces and and award-winning forces. We do not need to make money or a living from creativity. We do not need to win prizes or change lives.
This is an idea Elizabeth Gilbert drives home in her latest New York Times best seller, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.
The pressure we place on ourselves and the conditions we place on creativity is missing the entire, playful point.
"When I talk about 'creative living' here, please understand that I am not necessarily talking about pursuing a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts," Gilbert assures.
"I'm not saying you must become a poet who lives on a mountaintop in Greece, or that you must perform at Carnegie Hall, or that you must win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. (Though if you want to attempt any of these feats, by all means, have at it. I love watching people swing for the bleachers.)
"No, when I refer to 'creative living' I am speaking more broadly. I'm talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear."
She offers examples of people who incorporate curiosity and creativity into their "ordinary" lives.
Why do we, she demands, place "the burden of society's creative dreams" on a select few and condemn the rest of us to a "more common-place, inspiration-free existence"?
Why, when like her friend Susan, we could take up figure skating at 40 with the sole purpose a little joy and lightness.
"Skating made her feel alive and ageless," Gilbert said, noting Susan did not quit her job or win any medals. "She was making something of herself, making something with herself ... skating is the best way for her to unfold a certain beauty and transcendence within her life that she cannot seem to access in any other manner."
Or why, when we could become Christmas tree farmers, like her father?
He kept his job as a chemical engineer but moved his family to a nearby farm, planted seedlings and got started. He soon added goats and beehives, which 35 years later, Gilbert explains, he still has (the beehives, not the original goats).
It might not have been creative in the traditional sense of the word but it was following the whimsical path of curiosity rather than stay the uninspired safe course.
Gilbert, who details her many rejections and struggles as an aspiring writer, understands the terror that the internal road less travelled inspires.
Fear is boring she says, because it is predictable. But that doesn't mean it ever goes away.
She has learned, she says, that fear is the travel companion for a life lived on the edge of certainty and safety.
"When people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process," Gilbert says.
So, she tries to relax with her fear, so that the fear can "relax" too and takes it along for the ride but tells it that "Creativity and I will be the only ones making any decisions along the way".
"Then we head off together – me and creativity and fear – side by side by side, advancing once more into the marvellous terrain of unknown outcome."
Travelling with her fear but allowing creativity to flow has seen much success for Gilbert, who kept waitressing until her fourth book (New York Times best-seller Eat Pray Love).
But she insists that success was never the point for her, nor should it be for any of us to be creative or think of ourselves as a creative person. Forget about the Pulitzers or the talent shows and the fears and allow it to come alive as it will.
"If you're alive, you're creative," Gilbert writes, noting that all we need to do to be creative is to do whatever makes us feel alive.
"While the paths and outcomes of creative living will vary from person to person, I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life. It's a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.
"Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you - is a fine art, in and of itself."
- Fairfax Media Australia