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.”
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.