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.
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.