“Follow Your Passion“. It’s a phrase we’ve heard over and over and over. Yet, recently, I was introduced to another view of this concept, thanks to author Elizabeth Gilbert. She has had a change of heart … and so have I.
Elizabeth Gilbert was asked to speak at one of Oprah’s Super Soul Sessions, a while back. Her topic was titled “Flight of the Hummingbird: The Curiosity-Driven Life“. This is the talk she gave:
And, because some of you may be more like me, preferring to read, over watching the video (though, I do still highly recommend you watch the video, if you have time … Liz is a great speaker!), I’ve transcribed the video for your convenience:
[Oprah gives intro] [Liz:] Sweeties! Sweethearts, my loves, we’re here, in so much grace… Thank you. Thank you so much. So listen, I’m here today to do something that, I have to be honest with you, that I never in a million years thought I would ever do. I am here today to speak out against passion. You heard me right: against passion. And I know it sounds very strange and weird, but I want you to stay with me on this. Because I really believe what I have to say here, today, may bring a measure of comfort, specifically to some of you, in particular, and I’m hoping it really will.
But I have to back up for a minute, and just say, to come clean, that I am the least likely person in the world ever to become a committed anti-passion spokeswoman. The fact is that I have led my entire life guided by passion. Particularly in regard to my work as a writer, which is a vocation I have been chasing my entire life with a love that you could call obsessive.
I can barely even remember a time before I knew that I was going to be a writer, that I had to be a writer, that I needed to be a writer, that I was going to be a writer, no matter what it took.
I was probably like 5 or 6; I was a book-loving child. And, I remember I pieced it together, at last, that books do not just magically appear out of the ether, but that people make them. They create them, from their imaginations. And that kind of person who does that, is called a Writer. And once I had that piece of information, that was it: my destiny, from that point forward, was sealed, I made my decision. And I have never veered from that passion since.
I have to be very honest with you, because it would be disingenuous of me to play at anything else: Passion has worked for me. Passion was the thing that kept me writing in the new, early years, before anybody else except me cared about what I was doing. For a long time, I made a living as a diner waitress, and a bartender. And passion was the thing that made me come home from those long shifts, smelling like other people’s French fries, with really sore feet, after a really long day at work, and then I would take off my shoes and sit down, and go to my real work. And that real work was Writing. I did that, day after day and year after year. Even when I was getting nothing out of it, except for rejection letter, after rejection letter, after rejection letter. But I didn’t care.
I didn’t love it. No one loves being rejected. But passion — my passion for writing was so big that it made me stay in the game, even through all of the obstacles. And then, finally, I got lucky enough to become a published writer. Then, in 2006, I got really lucky. I wrote this book called, “Eat, Pray, Love” — you remember that one? — and, it became really successful, much to my surprise. And as soon as that happened, as soon as I became successful, THIS started to happen… people started putting a microphone in my hand, and they would send me up on stage, and they would ask me to stand there and speak about how I had gotten there, and what I had learned.
And so, of course, the minute I had the opportunity to speak in public about the thing I cared about and believed in the most, what did I talk about? Passion. What else would it have been? There was no other subject, as far as I was concerned. Passion, to me, was everything. It was the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, the one true path, and the only way forward. And so, in audiences across the world, I would just stand there on stage and I would say some variation of this, night after night.
“You know what you have to do, every single one of you? You have to identify your passion. You have to identify that tower of flame within you that will be your guiding, purposeful light. You have to find that thing that makes you feel like your head is on fire, that makes you feel like there’s a soul revolution going on deep inside your rib cage, that makes you feel like you would sacrifice and risk everything for that thing, that nothing else matters, that thing that you KNOW you were born to do. Then you have to get every molecule of your being, and you’ve got to funnel it directly and powerfully into that thing, that one thing, and no other thing. And you’ve got to focus on that forever, and that way, and only that way, will you succeed.”
I’d be up there on stage, and I’d be quoting Vince Lombardi, and I’d be quoting Winston Churchill, and I’d be quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, and I’d be quoting Jonathan “freakin’” Livingston Seagull, and I’d be telling people that ‘if you can dream it you can be it’, and that you’ve got to ‘jump so the net will catch you’, and ‘what would you do if you knew you could not fail’, and you guys… you know all the bumper stickers, you probably have them on your car, right?
We all know these slogans. But I did it with enormous sincerity, because I really believed it. I believed that I was doing a public service by telling people that they had to live their lives exactly the same way that I had always lived mine. I preached that, because that was my fundamental truth, that was my certainty. And then, something happened.