Last weekend I went to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic workshop in London. I’d bought tickets as a birthday present for my partner, thinking “This probably won’t be hugely relevant to me, I already write/create and don’t have a problem doing that”.
So we showed up. Along with around 1,000 other folk who wanted to experience the Big Magic of Liz ‘live’.
If you’re not familiar with her, she wrote the bestseller Eat Pray Love, which was turned into a film starring Julia Roberts. It describes the breakdown of her first marriage and how she found love again after a period of travel and healing. More recently though, she divorced the guy she met during that period to be with her (female) best friend who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Sadly, Rayya died in January.
But Liz still showed up. To experience her holding a space for herself, creating such an intimate space for us, and sharing her vulnerability and brilliance with us was more than worth the utter discomfort (bordering on terror) I felt throughout the day, and the exercises she lead us through – writing to ourselves from different parts of ourselves (from our fear, enchantment, permission, persistence and trust) – were truly powerful and exercises I’ll be repeating frequently and sharing with patrons.
I couldn’t work out what the terror was that I felt throughout almost the entire workshop. It wasn’t just having to sit next to a stranger after she told us we all had to move to different seats at the very start of the workshop (and again after lunch); nor was it that we had to read out our most vulnerable thoughts to said strangers – though it was definitely the possibility of having to read them out to the entire room.
The AHA moment I had, while processing the day with Becky afterwards, was that being seen – in any form – was terrifying for me. Because the very first time I was seen – after being in my birth mother’s womb for 9 months – I experienced the most painful and hurtful rejection of all…that of being ‘abandoned’ by her and given up for adoption.
It explains my almost phobic-like feeling of not really ever wanting to be seen fully, despite the work I do, the fact I write a blog/newsletter and have had various opportunities to be visibly ‘seen’ in my career (and life). But clearly, if I want to walk my talk, I’m going to need to ‘do the work’.
So why was Liz so good? What separates the ‘big guns’ from others who write, speak and/or do similar work.
I noticed the following things that, to me, really stood out that day:
- The way in which Liz showed up was inspiring. She was vulnerable, extremely funny, adept at making mistakes and handling them with humour, sharp, smart – everything you might expect from someone with a career trajectory like hers. Above all though, she was congruent. There was no facade, it very much appeared that what what you see is what you get and I’m pretty sure that almost everyone that day came away wishing she’d be their best friend! Knowing how much people can hide – when online and even in person – to be that congruent takes courage.
- The workshop was based upon the main chapters/themes in the book. It was interesting to see how she’d created the workshop/exercises from this, although I do wonder which came first – the writing practices inspired the book, or vice versa.
- The ways in which she created such an intimate and relatively safe-feeling space for 1,000 people! This takes quite some skill to create a space in which people felt safe to tap into and then reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings. She did this by modelling it, by personally supporting the folk who had to share publicly, and a few small acts that served to create that intimacy. Thankfully there was none of the “say yes if…” or “raise your hand if you agree…” or whooping/cheering BS. She didn’t need to whip us into a ‘guru mentality’ to get us to follow her lead. She led by example.
What Liz epitomises for me is the absolute need to ‘do the work’ before you can (while you) do your creative work; the work that allows you to show up, be seen and stand out, as nothing but yourself.
“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” – Steven Pressfield