Elizabeth Gilbert was on the Longform podcast to talk about writing— and so much more. This interview reminded me of the story that Jill Bolte Taylor tells her book, My Stroke of Insight.
Taylor, a brain scientist, has a stroke and her first thought is panic, “Oh my god I’m have a stroke,” and then excitement “Oh my god, I’m having a stroke!” For Taylor it was scary and sacred. She could be the patient and doctor.
Gilbert’s interview is like that, only replace ‘stroke’ with ‘best selling author.’ She describes things from both the internal and external. I loved it. This interview felt spiritual.
Here’s a few things I learned.
1/ Gilbert earned an XMBA. Technically it was her XMFA, but the ends were the same. She saw the opportunity and financial cost of post-graduate education as too high and set out on her own.
“Why learn about the thing by learning about the thing,” Gilbert asks, “when you can learn about the thing by doing the thing.” She kept a notepad with her when she served breakfast and tended a bar. Then she went west and worked as a trail cook.
Gilbert says she was “deliberate” in this. She heard the axiom to “write what you know,” but didn’t know anything. So she solved that problem.
Too often people hope that education solves this problem. It might, but it might not. The high financial and opportunity costs of education can outweigh the benefit. Jack Welch said that only the top-10 B-Schools are worth the time and money.
What do you do? Create your own degree.
Sophia Amoruso used the internet for her XMBA. Tim Ferriss did it by investing. The Wright brothers tinkered and read their way to the airplane.
School is expensive, make sure it’s worth it.
2/ “There’s a huge amount of real estate between the greatest and worst.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. – Ira Glass On Storytelling
When I read Eric Weiner’s Geography of Genius I thought, “I’m done. I will never write something that good.”
Gilbert reminded me that I don’t have to. She tells the story of interviewing Tom Waits who used the analogy of the circus. “You don’t have to be the high wire act,” he told Gilbert, “it’s a big tent, go do something else.”
Brian Koppelman recalls watching Amy Schumer on Last Comic Standing, and thinking, “wait, I was in a club with her last year.” He calls in his wife and says, “this girl is a genius and she sucked so hard just last year.”
When you start anything you will be somewhere between the best and the worst, it’s okay. It’s a big tent.
3/ Every job is a j-o-b.
“I have this theory that everything that’s interesting is mostly boring. Life is filled with all these interesting things and we chase the high and the buzz of the excitement of the thing, but 90% of the thing is boring.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Travel, Gilbert says, is boring. It’s solitary time on a crowded plane. It’s another night alone in a hotel room. Life is not a movie, and we forget this.
“The trouble people get into,” Gilbert says, “is that people go into creative careers because they want an interesting life and then they’re amazed to find out at how much tedium and boring is in there, but if you can stick through the boring part, there is stupendous reward.”
It was Austin Kleon who said, “every job is a job,” and it’s proven once again by Gilbert. The obstacle is to persist through the boredom and tedium.
One way to do that is to love the shit out of that boredom. Chris Hadfield loves the grind of flying. Casey Neistat calls it “the religion of work.” David Chang says “it’s like a scratch you have to itch.”
Find work to hold on to, because temptation is coming, Gilbert says:
“The tricky bit is starting from a place you are very curious because in six months it’s going to feel very boring and tedious because making things is very boring and tedious. Another idea is going to come along very seductively and do the dance of the seven veils in the corner of your studio and say ‘I am a much more interesting, much more exciting idea.”
Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes you have to do the work. How?
“When those other seductive ideas come along you have to tell them to take a number.” – Elizabeth Gilbert (tweet this)
Thanks for reading, I’m @mikedariano on Twitter.
23 thoughts on “Elizabeth Gilbert”
[…] built a set of skills without formal schooling (besides a 1 year course in the army air reserve). Elizabeth Gilbert put it best, when she noted that you can learn by doing (Option B, the XMBA), or learn by learning […]
[…] cost in everything. It’s a central tenent to the XMBA and part of the reason people like Elizabeth Gilbert and David Chang pursued […]
[…] is not synonymous with learning. The Wright brothers learned more from books than at school. Elizabeth Gilbert asked, “why learn about the thing by learning about the thing, when you can learn about the thing […]
[…] lacking. Teddy Roosevelt’s parents hired tutors and took (lavish and exoitc) family trips. Elizabeth Gilbert approached trips from a different financail place, but found the same value at the end. Our post on […]
[…] Amoruso to Ezra Klein lean toward favoring real world knowledge rather than book knowledge. As Elizabeth Gilbert asked, “Why learn about the thing by learning about the thing, when you can learn about the thing […]
[…] as a manager and stepped aside as CEO. Ezra Klein said, “I can’t do teleconference calls.” Elizabeth Gilbert said “I needed to go roll around in the world.” Knowing yourself is a great […]
[…] lets you see the world. Elizabeth Gilbert started to travel because she heard to write what you know but admitted she didn’t know […]
[…] Andy Weissman spoke about evaluating founders he asks whether the company and the person can scale. Elizabeth Gilbert said she needed to write, but not in graduate school. She said that being in a room with 12 other […]
[…] say that some non-school experience was formative. Sometimes that means skipping school entirely. Elizabeth Gilbert considered an MFA degree but decided against it. Why? “Why learn about the thing by learning […]
[…] as an option different from college. You could, like David Chang, Tim Ferriss, Sophia Amoruso, or Elizabeth Gilbert consciously replace “school learning” with “life learning.” That does work, […]
[…] way to build good condition is having books around. From Elizabeth Gilbert to the Wright brothers, people praise the availability of […]
[…] When Elizabeth Gilbert thought about MFA programs she thought, why don’t I just go do cool stuff and write about […]
[…] learned a hell of a lot. David Chang eschewed graduate school in favor of opening a restaurant. Elizabeth Gilbert, Tim Ferriss, and Seth Klarman (“I learned an enormous amount there (Mutual Shares), probably […]
[…] Kleon pointed out that every job is still a job. Elizabeth Gilbert echoed that sentiment too. Brent Beshore said he has a great job but “some days you have to […]
[…] don’t have a boss doesn’t mean you don’t have to do things you don’t like. Elizabeth Gilbert said […]
[…] Elizabeth Gilbert said “The tricky bit is starting from a place you are very curious because in six months it’s going to feel very boring and tedious because making things is very boring and tedious. Another idea is going to come along very seductively and do the dance of the seven veils in the corner of your studio and say ‘I am a much more interesting, much more exciting idea.’” […]
[…] seen snippets in the XMBA posts. Elizabeth Gilbert‘s story may be the most instructive of the […]
[…] Elizabeth Gilbert had this same idea and she too wanted to roll around in the world. […]
[…] Lepore notes, this isn’t superficial curiosity. This is I feel this in my bones curiosity. Elizabeth Gilbert explained […]
[…] to learn. Another way to express this is the DIY-MBA. When people like Troy Carter, Ezra Klein, and Elizabeth Gilbert skip school to live – they do so because of the time costs. The kind of investing Calcanis […]
[…] Ty Warner learned to sell by hitting the road. Before Ken Grossman brewed beer he ran a bike shop. Elizabeth Gilbert rolled around in the world, wrote, and repeated. Ben Carlson said, “For people trying to […]
[…] Elizabeth Gilbert‘s comments might be my favorite. “My parents would have seen (getting a degree or credentials) as a waste of money and time when you could just be out there doing the thing, and learning how to do the thing by doing the thing.” […]
[…] Elizabeth Gilbert had this realization in advance. “I need to write what I know, but I don’t know anything…I created – really intentionally – my own postgraduate MFA program.” Gilbert worked in a diner, collecting more character quirks than generous tips. Then she would hit the road and travel. One trip led to her Wyoming working as a trail cook. That turned into her first published story. […]