My Experience with Elizabeth Gilbert (that she doesn’t know about)

Well, I’m happy to report that I stumbled my way into a Failure Week success! Failure Week, as you may recall, was intended as a way to shift my intention away from achievement and the valuing of outcomes, and back towards risk taking and the valuing of the process. Failures are viewed, in Failure Week, as a victory – a sign that you’ve pushed yourself to take a leap, and you’ve had an experience you can learn from. Yup, that happened. It was uncomfortable in so many ways. And I guess that’s the point. Ok, so here’s what happened.

Pretty much nothing.

But I’ll back up.

I am a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed: A Love Story (among other titles), both of which I see as ultimately being about her journey towards authenticity. My favorite theme! In the first, she figures out how to leave a marriage to follow her authentic self, and in the second, she figures out how to get back into a marriage in a way that still feels authentic. More recently, I’ve been following her on Facebook where she posts daily inspiring and amusing messages. I love the cross-over in the themes we think about. Similar ideas seem to make us tick, and I feel a kinship from afar, like we have a comparable vibration and sense of mission. (Even just saying that “out loud” makes my insides squiggle, just so you know. I worry it sounds arrogant or presumptuous, possibly even delusional. That’s a little precursor to where this story is headed.)

So, for the last few months I have had this fantasy of reaching out to Elizabeth Gilbert via Facebook. I want to say something like, “Hey! I just wanted to introduce myself and say that you and I think about and try to communicate with the world about some similar things. I find connections like that inspiring, and I hope you might, too. Check out my stuff online if you’re curious, and reach back if you are drawn to!” Seems innocuous enough, right?? WRONG!!! Terr-i-fying. But it was Failure Week…the week to take chances without worrying about the outcomes. So I tried.

IMG_0429I wish I had a video of myself. What you would see is me staring at the computer screen. For a long time. And then writing a few sentences. And then deleting them. And then staring at the computer screen again. And then staring at her Facebook page to figure out where I would post something, and whether other people post things to her page, and whether she writes back, and what her tone is when she writes back. And then you’d see me writing a few sentences, again. And then deleting them. And then questioning the grammar. I mean, can I end my message with a dangling participle?! I’m writing to an author, after all! She WILL see the dangling participle. But if I say, “…write back if you are so drawn,” then it just sounds self-important and overly formal. So I abandon the writing and start playing with my own Facebook page, instead, to try to figure out where a post would show up and whether it would be private or public. I wish I could find a way to make it private!  And then I text my friend Alice, The One Without Whom I could Not Be Me and The One Who Has A Saint’s Tolerance for Interacting With Me in Neurotic Moments. You’d see me reading her my three sentences and asking her seven questions about how they sound, and you’d see her patiently thinking it through with me as if I’m not off my rocker.

I’m not kidding, this went on and on. I tortured myself. I used up what was preciously protected creative time on this agonizing process. I’m sure it would have been hysterical to behold. But probably even more interesting than watching this in video action would be hearing an audio playback of the monologue inside my head. It sounded something like this:

“Her followers don’t want to see a post from me, they come to see Elizabeth Gilbert’s posts! It’s like an embarrassingly unwanted photo bomb! But other people post, and it doesn’t seem strange. So maybe mine wouldn’t, either. But maybe mine will seem opportunistic, like I’m somehow trying to cash in on Elizabeth Gilbert’s hard earned audience. Or I might sound delusional, like Hugh Grant’s sister in Notting Hill when she first meets Julia Roberts’ character (a movie star from America) and declares with her crazy hair and bugged out eyes that she has always felt a kinship with her and suspected they would one day be best friends. I don’t want to be Hugh Grant’s sister in Notting Hill!!! But on the other hand, Elizabeth is just a person, too (see, I’m on a first name basis with her, now!). And maybe she really WOULD feel inspired by connecting with someone who shares some vibration with her. And maybe, just maybe, it’s ok to be big and take up this space, and maybe, just maybe, it won’t actually inconvenience or offend or upset anyone, at all!” And besides, the worst thing that can happen is nothing will happen, right? And Liz (she and I are getting closer and closer, see?!) is a proponent of taking leaps and reaching out into the world and being brave, so if she could watch this video of me agonizing I think she would giggle and say, “Send that message, soul sister!!! (I KNEW we’d be soul sisters!)

Can you feel the momentum building? I felt it!! It built and built until that tape in my head sounded like a cheerleader and I finally hit POST!!!!!! Hahh hahahh!! Victory!! Ummmm. Right? images-5Well…no. Because the post NEVER APPEARED. As any of you who have read my Facebook page know, I am a newbie in all things technology, so I have no idea what I did wrong, or maybe it was just the universe making a point. But that damn post, those three sentences I agonized over, disappeared into the ether. Which was perfect. Because it forced me to look at the PROCESS I had just been in, instead of judging the experience based on the OUTCOME (of which there was none).

So I took a breath and asked myself, “What the hell just happened?” And I re-heard that audio tape in my head, and this line stood out: “…maybe, it’s ok to be big and take up this space, and maybe, just maybe, it won’t actually inconvenience or offend or upset anyone, at all.” That’s when it hit me. This was a very important and agonizing victory of a failure, because it brought me face to face with the demon this whole blog journey is about: the fear that we have to stay small in order to protect others from a bigness and brightness that might not be ok for them. That fear is deeply engrained for me. For many. Have you ever found yourself dressing down so you don’t look too good? Or trying not to laugh too loud? Or deciding not to speak up in a class or a meeting? Do you ever worry pride will look like superiority, as if one can’t have pride and humility at the same time? Do you fear confidence will look like arrogance? Or talent or skill or the success that comes from hard work will look like presumptuousness or egotism? Do you worry you will be judged or attacked for your brightness, or that by owning your space you smoosh someone else out? I hit all of that in this process. I was afraid to own my light in case someone else found it offensive or intrusive or arrogant or presumptuous.

images-4But I started this blog adventure because I want to debunk that message that gets slow-dripped into our veins. Because I believe IT’S BACKWARDS! I know I’ve said it before, but this is my core message and it needs to be said again and again and again. When we take up our space and we own our brightness and we shine like the amazing creatures of the universe that we each have been created to be, then we step into our purpose. Then we give the most back to the people around us, and to the planet, at large. That’s why being our authentic selves is the most compassionate thing we can do. Authenticity doesn’t endanger others; it’s a gift. That’s what this Compassionate Authenticity journey I have started is all about. I prefer the easy and expansive and glowing experiential reminders of this, but Failure Week gave me a chance to learn from the shadow side of experience, too. And we have to do that. We just have to. That’s where so much of the learning happens.

So, thank you Liz, my soul sister, for having this intense victorious failure of an experience with me. You’re the best BFF ever!! 😉 Your buddy — Linds

The Expectations Monster

When I started writing a couple of months ago, it felt GREAT. I felt inspired, empowered, playful, and revitalized. I eagerly and gleefully carved out time to write like I was stealing cookies from a cookie jar. By the time I had posted my third entry, I had four additional entries mostly written and ready to go, and about nine other idea seedlings jotted down and germinating. And then…I stopped. I waited patiently for myself to pick up the pen, again. Thanksgiving came and went, Christmas came and went, New Years came and went…dagnabitt, the whole winter season came and went! I noticed the rising self-critical voice that wanted to say things like, “See, I knew you wouldn’t follow through,” and “See, I knew you couldn’t do it,” and I just tried to stay patient and curious. And then I realized – this very experience had to be the subject of my next entry. So here we go! Back in the saddle.

So…what knocked me OUT of t10653520_10152825156517457_4315024289227522228_nhe saddle? What can I learn from this about the forces that block our creative flow and quiet our voices, even when we can hear the pulse of our own creative energy behind the wall? I, like many people, often point to time deficiency as my prominent creative barrier. Ok, yes, the holiday season got in the way of my routines, and yes, some extra work responsibilities popped up that took precious time. But having finally succeeded in MAKING the time to write, I now couldn’t deny that I had simply stopped making the time. I could feel there was a force at play more interesting than time. When I thought about sitting down to write, it didn’t feel light and playful, anymore; it had started to feel weighty and serious. Something was blocking the fun. I realized I was feeling the paralyzing force of EXPECTATIONS!!! Creation happens in the light, and expectations are heavy, man.

Story time. In my first year of college, I took a leadership role in a student activity group whose mission was to educate the student body about health issues, primarily around safer sex, date rape, and drug and alcohol abuse. We had a great year, full of creative risks that led to big pay-offs. By the end of the year we were presenting to groups of about 500 people, we were facilitating lively and thought provoking conversations, and we were training groups from other schools who wanted in on our model of education. It was AWESOME. Just like when I started writing this blog a couple of months ago, I felt inspired, empowered, playful, and revitalized.

And then something happened: I was recognized for my work. I received accolades and awards. I was given the highest honor available to first year students at the college for leadership and community enhancement. It was presented to me at a formal ceremony in front of the school administration, and I will never forget the words the Dean of the College spoke at the ceremony: “The eyes of the college are upon you, and we are expecting great things.” The balloon I was riding high in suddenly got very heavy and serious and promptly thudded to the ground.

And that was it. I dropped out of the group. And I didn’t really do anything else that might catch the eye of the Dean of the College. Those words, “…we are expecting great things,” took the fun out of it all. Or, more accurately, I allowed them to take the fun out of it all. In retrospect, I see that I could’ve chosen to simply have fun being acknowledged without internalizing the external expectations that were being placed upon me. But that’s pretty advanced stuff. I wasn’t ready to be that differentiated. What happened, instead, is that I stopped focusing on the gratifying creative process and camaraderie of the group, or the educational mission that had inspired me in the first place. It became about the pressure to prove myself worthy of the expectations; it became about living up to some externally created version of greatness; it became something I would have been doing to please someone else; and it suddenly became something at which I could fail. That made it feel serious instead of fun.

This experience came rushing back to me as I considered why I had put down my blogging pen. In order to start the blog, I had given myself permission to simply write – not to worry about how good it was, not to worry about whether or not anyone read it, not to worry about what I would DO with the articles. Just write. Just let it flow. Just have fun! And low and behold, it felt free and creative and expressive. It was something I was doing for me, to enjoy the process, to help me shine my own light, and in honor of a deeply held sense of mission. But as I got rolling, I robbed myself of that freedom and flow with THE EXPECTATIONS MONSTER. I started thinking things like, “Geez, I better make sure the next one is as good as the last one!” And, “I HAVE to keep writing, I CAN’T lose momentum!” The expectations monster and the critical voice went into business together, and I became estranged from my muse.

Now, I know that the Dean of my college and my own inner voice are not acting alone. We live in a culture that values external achievements. We identify with our occupations – we ARE what we DO. And many of us strive for success, which we generally define by an outcome.  Sadly, in the face of these expectations, we sometimes reign ourselves in, creatively, afraid to make mistakes that would lead to failure. Once we’re reigned in for safety, we can’t really succeed. As the great Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”images-1

Gretzky is right. But there’s more to it, than that. It’s not just that we can’t “succeed” if we don’t try…it’s that the real success IS IN THE TRYING. The thing that makes us really light up and come alive, the thing that allows us to share our gifts with the world, isn’t achievement. Being fully alive is not defined by an achievement…it’s a process — whatever process makes you feel inspired and alive is your source of you-ness. Being authentically and joyfully in that process is the real success. And while this may sounds contradictory, the truth is that being in that process, whatever it happens to be for you, won’t always feel inspired and alive or easy and fun. And that’s ok, too. That’s good. That’s part of the deal and how we learn and grow. When we value the outcome over the process, then those times of struggle look like failure, and we lose track of the learning available in our pain and confusion along the way.

Liza, my older daughter, introduced me to the following fabulous story she found in a student online newspaper. Fettes University, an elite prep school in Edinburgh, noticed that their students were racked with anxiety and stress. They were driven by a fear of not living up to the high expectations held of them, and they were, as a result, not willing to take academic and creative risks. The wise adults on the scene knew that this was a recipe for disaster, and that their high expectations, which the students had dutifully internalized, were backfiring. Real learning can’t happen without risks, real wisdom can’t be found without failure, and real creativity can’t be shared and discovered if the flow is blocked by fear. So you know what they did? They instituted Failure Week, in which kids were actively encouraged to try new things and take risks and make mistakes without concern for the outcome. They were encouraged to fail, as it would be sign of diving into the creative process. Yeah, I know, a week is not much compared to a lifetime of high expectations. But it’s a start. Or at least a conversation starter.

So, I’m instituting my own Failure Week. I’m choosing to side step the Expectations Monster that reared up, and I am putting my Beginner Mind back on – the mindset of open eyed curiosity, risk taking and learning. I give myself permission to make mistakes. I choose to be open to the flow and embrace the process without being paralyzed by concerns for the outcomes. I want to be in it for the experience of the process, not for the final achievement. And I choose to approach my work as play, with amusement and ease rather than weight and seriousness. Amusement, after all, is the highest vibration we can experience. And I can’t think of a better vibration from which to create. Thus this very wise reminder I found on my desk from my younger daughter. Thanks for the reminder, Tessa.