On Thursday, March 5th the Australian Womenwise committee gave 10 lucky Flight Centre women the opportunity to attend theBusiness Chicksin conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert Brisbane event held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Elizabeth Gilbert is most well known for her memoir Eat Pray Love, which spent 199 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, has been translated into more than 30 languages, and sold over 13 million copies worldwide. In Gilbert’s bestselling nonfiction book on creativity, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, she explores the mysteries of how to lead a bold and inspired life, and this formed the basis of her speaking tour.
The key themes of the event were on ‘Reframing the priorities in your life, accessing creativity and choosing a creative path over one of fear’. These subjects were well aligned, and a timely reiteration, for the Flighties in attendance, of the 2020 Womenwise theme of “Seize The Year”.
For anyone familiar with Gilbert’s books, the topics covered would come as no surprise as she intertwined advice together with a series of heartfelt and moving personal anecdotes. Below are some of the most impactful lessons that Gilbert shared and was careful to insist were not necessarily what would work for every woman in the room but which had proven pivotal in her experience.
On the life you’re pretending to want:
As a 25-year-old wannabe writer, Gilbert moved to New York to pursue her dreams, but instead wound up working several casual jobs, living in a share house with a needy boyfriend not doing what she came to NYC to do. One day she found herself at a block party where she was talking to a woman she had admired from afar and told her about her lack of writing. The woman then asked Gilbert what she described as the single most important question she’d ever been asked: “What are you willing to give up, to have the life you keep pretending you want?”
The woman asked Gilbert about her favourite TV show, what books she had been reading and what she liked to do on the weekend, and when Gilbert told her all of these things, she replied by saying:
“All of your energy, time and resources are going into literally everything except what you say is the most important thing in your life. Everyone has three jobs or has had that at some point, it’s honorable to do so, but where is your free time going?
Gilbert realised that in order to stop pretending she would have to say no to not only things she didn’t want to do but things she did want to do like going on a week-long summer vacation with friends in order to devote time and energy to what she did really want, which was to be a writer. That summer she got rid of her TV and her boyfriend (the latter of which was easier to remove) and wrote her first book of which only 11 people have ever read, but it set her on the right path.
On the word that would change the world:
Gilbert talked about how women have been told to be fierce, brave, strong, resilient and badass and while she admires these words she talked about how there’s one word she wishes women aspired to be.
“The word I want to see in you...which I actually think would change the world and that women could embody is: relaxed.”
Gilbert talked about how no other society in history has been as anxious or had reason to be as anxious as the one we are currently in. So therefore harnessing the ability to be relaxed and reach a “wordless oneness is a powerful position to hold in a space,” whether that’s the office or at home.
“If you woke up tomorrow and approached whatever shitstorm tornado you’re personally in right now from a relaxed state. Would you be better able or worse able to handle it? Would you be a better boss or worse, a better parent or worse?”
Gilbert went on to describe how the most relaxed person in the room is the one who has all of the power:
“You can see everything that’s happening, you’re slightly detached from it and therefore have a 360 degree view...you can see the hustles that everyone’s running and you can see the opportunities and the game that’s being played on the field.”
“Contemporary history shows that everyone in a meeting room is jacked and stressed but if you’re relaxed you can see the path forward, you can see and accept more situations from a relaxed position.”
On defining one's priorities:
Gilbert began the second half of her keynote by referring to the three things that are important to her life, they were priorities, boundaries and mysticism.
“When I’m talking about priorities it's not passion or purpose I’m referring to. If you are someone who happens to have purpose or passion, great, you have what I call ‘not a problem’.”
Priorities for Gilbert refers to the answer you give when asked: ‘who do you like being with and what do you like doing?’ “Find people you like and do stuff with them.”
“You’re not managing your priorities because you’re too busy. Do you have a friend that you’d give a kidney to but you haven’t seen them in 6 months because you’re too busy? What's the main thing that’s stopping you from doing what you want?
It's amazing how quickly your priorities change when you have a situation like a friend becoming sick. Things like a book contract, speaking events, etc don’t matter when that happens.
She also briefly touched on inbox anxiety and how managing that comes down to prioritising what’s important in your life:
“My policy with my emails is that there are ones I do immediately, ones I do in a week and then ones I leave until the sun bursts….The reason I have not responded to your email in 5 months is not because I don’t have time, it’s because I don’t care about you. There are about 7 people in my life that I care about and the rest of you will have to find your own way.”
On the importance of creating boundaries:
Her next important guiding principle was around creating boundaries and that if you don’t have priorities then you can’t create boundaries. Gilbert then referenced the literature and mythology scholar Joseph Campbell who described in an interview in the 70s how easy it is to make something holy and any human can do it by simply drawing a circle around something and declaring everything inside is sacred:
“If that circle of sacredness does not have you at the centre then you will never live a relaxed life. I’m not talking a Kanye West ‘I’m the greatest' mentality. We are talking about how you are not here to be the instrument of someone else's desires, you are here to serve your own sacredness...You can not love people if you have no boundaries. I’ve never met someone full of resentment that had boundaries.”
On the need for mysticism:
This is where Gilbert talked about being in touch with her inner spirituality and delivered a more abstract perspective around what it means to be in touch with your ‘inner mystic’. She made clear that this has nothing to do with religion but instead with her creativity that has been led by her spiritual journey.
Gilbert described how the experience of having her partner Rayya Elias dying instilled this need for mysticism and faith in trusting one’s inner voice:
“Apparently all spiritual moments happen on the bathroom floor, I don’t know, it's where you go to surrender I guess. I was watching the person I didn’t think I could live without not just die but suffer and I couldn’t do anything. As a woman there is nothing we hate more, we always find a way to help or do. Something very painful and holy was happening when she was dying. I thought: Rayya is being died(sic) in the same way that a child is being born. She is experiencing the connection with the source and I could only do nothing (sic). I became as deeply relaxed as I could ever have been. There is no move for you to make….In that moment I heard a voice that said: ‘When there is something for you to do, you will know.’ It’s not a Moses coming down the mountain voice, it's an internal voice.”
A final important note to be celebrated from the event- As part of the speaking tour Gilbert announced that she was donating the speaking fee of her February and March tour to the the recent Australian bushfires, a donation which the Business Chicks events business generously joined in donating profits from the event to.