There are ~1000 seats in this room. I’m a couple rows away from the stage, close enough to see her face but realistic enough to know this won’t be the small, intimate workshop I imagined when I excitedly booked this ticket a year ago. All morning, I felt strangely detached – carefully managing (read: lowering) my expectations of what this day would be like.
Doors open at 10 am. People slowly trickle in – early – like me. We all have on neon pink bracelets with the words “Big Magic!” in small, bold letters. I catch the eye of strangers across the room and smile. One woman, amidst a row of still empty seats, takes out a book and begins reading. Soon, she’s completely engrossed and I wonder what adventure world she’s a part of. I suddenly wish I had a book too.
At 11am, Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert comes on stage. The mere sight of her – how she moves, the way she smiled, her familiar voice – bring tears to my eyes. I am surprised. Caught completely off guard. I did not expect this wave of intense emotion. I guess that’s what happens when you meet the person who significantly influenced what you choose to do with your one precious life. Influenced the potential you see in yourself.
Our first writing exercise is rough.
Liz Gilbert tells us to start from Fear. Because Fear is the biggest barrier keeping us from living our most creative lives. We spend most of our days ignoring Fear, drowning it out, telling it to shut up. But today, we will give Fear a voice.
Liz says – imagine that Fear is a friend, sitting across the kitchen table from you. Fear wants to tell you everything – all it’s worries, anxieties, and failures it’s trying to protect you from. All the reasons why you shouldn’t do it. All the reasons why you shouldn’t even bother trying.
And you listen. No comebacks. No retorts.
We begin our letters with “Dear (your name), I am your Fear and this is what I have to tell you”.
As I write, I notice I’m feeling much more vulnerable than I was intending to be. (As if vulnerability can be planned). My emotions are running rampant now, but there’s no sense in trying to control them. I didn’t expect the workshop to start like this.
As my pen moves, Fear tells me to go down memory lane to revisit this last year. Fear scolds me for leaving my comfortable, well-defined career path to create a new one for myself. Fear tells me how scary it felt jumping into that dark abyss. Fear acknowledges the freedom of the jump but the terrifying uncertainty of the fall. Fear brings up all my self-judgment, societal-judgement and voices in my head – pessimistic, relentless, and often downright cruel.
After 6 minutes, our time is up. (What, already?) Liz Gilbert laughs and says that often we think our fears are these infinite, bottomless pits of terror. But if you put them down on paper, they are actually quite repetitive, redundant, and even boring.
In other words, no offense – but there’s nothing special about your Fear. Everyone has it.
The day continues like this. After our letter from Fear, we write a letter to ourselves from Enchantment (our sense of inspiration, joy, curiosity), Permission (to do the things we want, and to stop doing the things we don’t want), Persistence (what gets us through difficult times when we want to give up) and Divinity (trust that there’s a higher plan that we might not understand yet; that we are exactly where we are meant to be).
After each letter, we read it out-loud to a stranger (turned friend), while they read theirs to us. Liz Gilbert then walks around the room, offering the microphone to brave souls who share their letter with the entire room. All 1000 of us. Liz asks us to raise our hands if we can relate. More often than not, I raise my hand. In my peripheral vision, a sea of hands go up and down.
We are baring it all.
By the end of the day, this ~1000 person room feels like an intimate 50. I don’t know each and every person here, but I feel a sense of camaraderie and empathy for complete strangers who are also doing something brave, new, and creative in their lives. Their story differs from mine, but really, we are all the same.
When we leave, new friends hug me, and tell me they admire what I’m doing. They say, they wish they had the courage to do the same. They tell me their own doubts. Their own fears. How they’re are getting in their own way. The creative project they’ve started, or wished they were starting.
I smile and think – how talented we all are, at getting in our own way.
The workshop was in May, but I still think of it often. Just yesterday, I felt my stomach constricting, a bundle of nervous energy as I took timid steps down a new path I didn’t consider before. I felt excitement, mixed with a healthy dose of nauseousness. Familiar feelings I’ve had before.
The only difference is – Fear is sitting at the table with me as I work. I type a few keys, and Fear types a few too. (Maybe Fear is writing a novel).
I’m not sure Fear will ever leave me. But the thing is – I guess I’m okay with that now.