I first got to know Elizabeth Gilbert by reading her 2006 blockbuster hit memoir Eat, Pray, Love. I read her book at a time when I was on the path of training to become a yoga teacher, which made the book an absolute must-read for me at that point in my experience. And as someone who has also had a lifelong fascination for travel, I was especially interested in how her book explored trips around the globe in connection with a journey toward greater inner peace and self-acceptance.
After reading through this prominent crowd-pleaser, I then went and devoured her early work and her lesser-known, though often still critically acclaimed, writings. (As someone with a penchant for both historical fiction and for botany, I have to confess The Signature of All Things felt like it had been written with me in mind.)
In addition, as someone with a deep passion for unraveling the creative process and spreading the gospel of creativity and innovation, I was especially intrigued by her widely-viewed TED Talk and her subsequent book all about creative living, Big Magic.
I feel I have to say upfront: I don’t agree with everything Elizabeth Gilbert says about creativity and how ideas work.
It’s interesting, she starts her work by pointing out her disagreement with a neurologist on the topic:
Just the other day, I heard a respected neurologist say in an interview, “The creative process may seem magical, but it is not magic.”
With all due respect, I disagree.
I believe the creative process is both magical and magic.Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
I’ve always wanted to ask….who is this “respected neurologist”??!! Because THIS is the person I emphatically agree with. The creative process may seem magical….but through advanced work in science and philosophy, we actually can start to get an all-important grasp on its seeming mystery.
With all due respect to Elizabeth Gilbert, I believe creativity is fundamentally and foremost a skill. And if we want its seemingly magical effects in our lives, we ought to approach it as a skill that must be learned and practiced and made habitual in our lives.
The Outer Journey Meets the Inner Journey
In spite of my disagreement, I also have to say I still have learned so much about creativity and the creative process from Elizabeth Gilbert.
And I certainly do agree with many of her foundational observations.
For example, her insistence that all creativity begins with curiosity, and that because of this, we all have the potential to be creative individuals.
I love love LOVE her response when people tell her, “I’m not a creative person” and she asks them to replace the word “creative” with the word “curious” and see “just how ridiculous it sounds”. Because it’s true that if you focus just on living a more curious life, it will lead to your living a more creative life. (See more about my approach in Creative Achievements Coaching).
But perhaps the greatest lesson in creativity I’ve learned from Elizabeth Gilbert goes back to my first encounter with her in the pages of Eat, Pray, Love:
The creative life is all about the journey. And in the best scenario, the outer journey of discovery and exploration around the world will coincide, mesh, and merge with the inner journey of making discoveries about oneself.
Ultimately, these aren’t even two separate journeys, but just two aspects of the journey of living a truly full human life where experiencing the world in new ways allows one to understand oneself more deeply, and vice versa. It has a beautiful spiral effect.
What has been your experience of outer and inner journeys? How do they spark your own curiosity and creativity?