After the breakout success of her novel Eat, Pray, Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert was faced with a problem – how could she possibly follow-up on such a success? As Elizabeth explains in her popular TED Talk below, the mere thought of attempting to top that work paralyzed the author’s creativity for months. That is, until she had the realization below that freed her from her worry.
A Breakout Success
After years of writing, Elizabeth Gilbert finally had a breakout success. And not just any success. After remaining on the New York Times Bestseller list for an astonishing 187 weeks, after selling the rights of that book to be made into a movie, after having Julie Roberts star in that movie, and after seeing that movie go on to garner over $200 million in the U.S. box office alone, Elizabeth didn’t just have a success on her hands, she had a culture changing mega-hit. Her book had achieved the highest success any modern author could possibly have hoped for. But, rather than enjoying the elation such success would seemingly bring, Elizabeth was paralyzed. How on earth could she possibly top such success?
For months, Elizabeth struggled to work on anything at all. Counterintuitively it seemed, the enormity of her success was preventing her from experiencing any future success. Elizabeth began to ask herself how this could be when all she ever wanted to be throughout life was a writer. It was in this question that Elizabeth found her answer.
What Elizabeth realized was that along the path to becoming a successful writer the one thing that always pulled her through the tough times was what she called, ‘going home’. For Elizabeth going home meant going back to what she loved more than herself. Writing. What Elizabeth further realized was that great success and great failure are actually quite similar. Both cause an equally jarring experience – the experience of being removed from one’s, ‘home’. According to Elizabeth, the pysche is unable to determine between success and failure, and only knows both experiences as disorienting. According to Elizabeth, the only way to re-orient oneself is to, ‘find your way back home again as swiftly and as smoothly as you can.’ For Elizabeth, your home is, ‘that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.’
Trusting the Journey
Elizabeth had never written for the success of it. She was wrote for the love of writing. Thus, when her follow-up book finally came out, and bombed, she didn’t care. This not caring freed her in a way, and allowed her to pursue another project with renewed vigor and lowered pressure. As a result, her second follow-up was beautifully received. To Elizabeth, this was a very nice outcome, but beside the point. For her, it is about doing what she loves. It is about the journey, not the destination. And it is about living within her true home.