Tag Archives: Liz Gilbert

Intro to Influencers: Liz Gilbert

Photo: Wesley Fryer on Flickr

Author’s note: A while ago, when I began my coaching business, I started making a list of those people that influenced me. But a list alone isn’t compelling enough so I wanted to do a deeper dive into each of my influences to share HOW they influenced me, my personal development, and my coaching. Enjoy!

When a former work colleague recommended Big Magic by Liz Gilbert, I wondered if that was the same woman from Eat, Pray, Love who travels around the world? All I really knew about Eat, Pray, Love at that point was that it had something to do with finding oneself and that the book had had a moment, even making it on Oprah’s Book Club. 

Regardless, this introduction to this wandering guru was critical to my own development. 

The vulnerability and realness that Liz shares both in Big Magic and how she engages with her fans otherwise is so simple, real, and welcoming. I’m a sucker for vulnerability. Just tell me what you really feel and I’m usually in. And Liz does so in a way that feels different, though I can’t quite put my finger on how. It feels more real, less polished, less edited. And that builds a relationship with the reader that is powerful. 

But more than that, I read Big Magic at a critical time for me, when I talked a big game about writing, but studiously avoided ever actually doing it. Even when I had some motivation, other things like fear were keeping me from taking the next steps necessary to achieve that dream. It’s a hard realization that fear is keeping you from achieving your dreams, but it’s the only way to address the reality of my continued lack of investment in something that I told others (and myself!) was so important. I knew the importance of it, but didn’t prioritize it like I needed to. 

What Big Magic included were some very specific tips to help make the transition towards letting my creativity out. Liz ingeniously recommends having your fear write to you about what you are or should be scared of and then having you respond. Instead of avoiding fear or trying to minimize it, Liz recommends inviting it along for the ride, but not letting fear change the radio station and especially don’t let it get behind the wheel, as I unfortunately had.

I knew in my heart that writing was a powerful and important way to clarify thoughts and communicate ideas and values. And I knew I had important ideas and values and thoughts that I wanted to communicate. And yet I would get sucked into less meaningful things on a daily basis. Not altogether bad things, but just indolent things. Why? Because I was scared. I was scared I would write something and no one would read it. Or I would write something and everyone would read it and see that it sucked. Either way, fear had won because my ass was sitting on the sideline, getting an extra hour of sleep or catching up on the latest NBA game. 

Liz inspired me to break through this fear in just the right way. I’m sure it’s not the right tone for everyone, but it was the right tone for me to hear. Calm and knowledgeable, but forceful that the rightful place of your ideas, feelings, and art is out in the world and not stuck in your head. She also helped me appreciate the subtleties of all the ways we can express creativity. It’s not just writing or painting, but also includes cooking or sharing one’s love for another. 

A final key thing that Liz and I share is a firm belief in the superlativeness that each of us share inside us. There is something deep inside us that each of us that is so unique, so powerful, so restorative, so contributing to the world. Most of us never spend the time to discover that or are scared to accept what we learn. Liz directly challenges this limitation. And the world is a better place for it.

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Hopes and Dreams

Photo by Alex Nemo Hanse on Unsplash

One of our family’s coping mechanisms during this pandemic has been our regular ritual of determining each family member’s hope and dream for the weekend. We each choose one thing to add to our often-lengthy chore and to-do list and, then, as a family, we do our best to make that hope and dream come true. These hopes and dreams are simple, but powerful. Things like get donuts, watch a favorite movie, go for a long run, or try a new family board game. 

A couple months ago on Mother’s Day, my wife’s hope and dream was to watch Michelle Obama’s Netflix special Becoming. I had read Michelle’s memoir of the same title last year and loved learning the story behind the half of the Obamas that isn’t as often in the news. Michelle is impressive in her own right and her memoir told the story of how she made her way from the rapidly changing South Side of Chicago to the pinnacle of power and privilege. 

The Netflix special, though, added some additional color to the memoir by sharing vignettes from her book tour. It showed some of the behind-the-scenes interactions with her team, the funny bon mots she shared with her interviewers at public events, and the touching moments with students and young people at private events. 

It was in one of these private events where a young woman asked why she was invited to participate in this small group conversation with the former First Lady, implying that her background and experience were unworthy of such an opportunity. Michelle wasn’t having it. She told the young woman that she deserved to be there and she just needed to accept the story of who she was and build on that. 

This was a powerful moment in its own right, but it crystallized something important for me. We all want to understand our history, tell our stories, and then write the next chapter. That is an innate human need, but it’s hard. Our personal histories have some great things and also things that we want to forget. Our present lives can be hard to accept sometimes because of the busyness of our day-to-day lives, impostors syndrome, or other barriers. And we all want to write that next chapter, but we are scared of failing. 

There is nothing special about these challenges. Everyone faces them. Seeing Michelle wrestle with similar challenges in her life and then seeing the young adults that she engaged with also wrestle with them crystallized this common human condition for me. I’ve been circling it for a while, but never quite getting there. Getting close, but never close enough. I realized that my goal, my mission is to help people understand and accept their stories and then help them write the next chapter for themselves. To reinforce those superpowers that are hard to acknowledge and to be that Michelle Obama in your corner when needed.

Like that girl, this path was before me and I just wouldn’t accept it.  But if you look at some of the people that influenced me, it only makes sense. 

Nilofer Merchant’s work on Onlyness…

Brene Brown’s various works that have focused on vulnerability…

Liz Gilbert’s deep dive into creativity in Big Magic

Sanyin Siang’s exploration of how to launch and acknowledge your superpowers…

And many more.

They are all about finding and accepting your story and then sharing it with the world. You have to listen to your own story and believe it. 

As I’ve gone about the long and winding process to understand my own history, tell my story, and write the next chapter, I’ve learned that my strengths of learning, relating to others, understanding others’s strengths, connecting dots between people and concepts, and turning ideas into action are best applied in helping others take that same journey. 

Is that executive coaching or career coaching? Maybe a little of both, Regardless, I’ve already seen the impact in some of my clients in the ability to know their history, tell their story, and write their next chapter. It is so satisfying to me to see the proverbial lightbulb turn on and these clients make this change.

But there’s more that I’m excited about. Beyond the fact that this is good for individuals and their own utility, it’s also transformative especially for leaders. Why? Because the best leaders are the ones that know themselves the best. Leaders are praised and rewarded for their clear visions of where they want to go, but many have failed in knowing where they came from and taking careful stock of what currently is. 

But those who know not only where they have been but where they are going are better situated to be leaders. Those who have done this foundational work are confident of who they are and where they came from so they are more humble and empathic as leaders. And you can’t get where you want to go or even define where you want to go in the first place without knowing where you came from. 

Similar to my family’s weekly ritual or Michelle Obama’s encouragement of the young woman, helping my clients uncover these recognitions in pursuit of happiness and positive impact is my hope and dream. Let’s go!

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