Elizabeth Gilbert: Stay Safe from the 'Random Hurricanes of Outcome'

November 17, 2014

In her most recent TED Talk, Elizabeth Gilbert, a writer best known for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, shares wisdom about creating a protective space between yourself and your work so that when you face great failure or great success, you can stay grounded and find your way home again.

Gilbert, a gifted storyteller, brings honesty, passion, and poetry to her TED Talk and counsels us through her own experience to stay focused and undeterred as we encounter enormous highs and profound lows.

Eat, Pray, Love became an international bestseller, a success beyond Gilbert’s wildest dreams. And with that success, to her dismay, Gilbert felt as anxious and as removed from herself as she had early in her career when people would say, "Aren't you afraid you're never going to have any success? Aren't you afraid the humiliation of rejection will kill you?"

Just as she experienced very real fear of failure in her early writing days, Gilbert now faced an equally terrifying proposition: what if her greatest professional success had already been realized? What then?

I had to find a way to make sure that my creativity survived its own success. And I did, in the end, find that inspiration, but I found it in the most unlikely and unexpected place. I found it in lessons I had learned earlier in life about how creativity can survive its own failure.

As a young writer, Gilbert did what so many do when following a passion and striving to live out a dream: she got a job to pay the bills and devoted herself tirelessly to her craft. Making ends meet as a diner waitress, Gilbert submitted countless stories and manuscripts to magazines and publishing houses, and for six years met only rejection letters in her mailbox. Failure after failure after failure.

Constantly questioning if she was doing the right thing and if she was on the right path, Gilbert would "find [her resolve]" and fight her way back. She would say, "I'm not going to quit. I'm going home."

For me, going home did not mean returning to my family’s farm. It meant returning to the work of writing because writing was my home, because I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego, which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself. And that’s how I pushed through it.

Gilbert suggests that persevering and preserving sanity and emotional stability through great failure and great success requires us to create a distance between our selves and our work so that it doesn't consume us, so that it doesn't define us, and so that we might always be "safe from the random hurricanes of outcome."

Gilbert felt as undone by great success as she had by great failure, and she needed to find a mechanism, an approach, to protect herself, and her ability to return to work, from life's extremes.

I finally began to comprehend the unlikely psychological connection between the way we experience failure and the way we experience success...the only thing [the subconscious] is capable of feeling is the absolute value of this emotional equation, the exact distance that you have been flung from yourself.

According to Gilbert, the solution for “self-restoration” is the same whether you are fighting the demons of failure or swept up in the enchantment of success.

Whatever it is you do, wherever you find your home, get back there. Get back to doing what you love to do and do not stray from it.

If you should someday get vaulted out of your home by either great failure or great success, your job is to fight your way back to that home by putting your head down and performing with diligence and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from you next.

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If you enjoyed this video, you might be interested in Elizabeth Gilbert's previous TED Talk, entitled "Your Elusive Creative Genius." Additionally, you can keep up-to-date on Gilbert's work via her website.

By Lauren Frazier

Tag: Exploring Education

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