Having a genius or being a genius: Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk on creativity

The fact that a creativity carreer carries often fears and worries with it is not a news to anyone, isn’t it? Now, imagine that finally you reached success in your field: you are on the top and it is marvellous. But what happens then? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the famous book “Eat, prey, love“, talks about it in a TED Talk just after being consacrated as a successful writer.

“Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in you life”

This sentence has been attributed to Marc Anthony, Confucius, Mark Twain, but whoever said it, he was right: it’s a great truth, a big luck when it happens, a quote often connected with creative jobs. In this last case, however, the risk is to pass from “never working a day in life” to work double: once to do the job and once to fight the fear of not being good enough to succeed.

Every creative mind experienced this and heard someone say: “what if you won’t make it? What if you won’t succeed in your field?”

Elizabeth Gilbert faces, for herself and also a bit for all the other creatives, the uncomfortable topic of these fears and worries in a pretty delicate moment of her career: the months following the success of her most famous book, the one for which she is almost completely sure she will be remembered.

“Yes, I am afraid”

And she says it clearly and loud: yes, of course she is afraid. The fear of failure, of not being enough, especially after an enormous success as the one she reached (from the book has also been made a movie with Julia Roberts), and of being criticized is around the corner. Too often, she realized, because of these fears creative people end falling in bad habits, mental problems and self destruction. And she is in danger, but she will fight to not go down that path. Because, thinking about it, what is the motivation that scares us when we are sure that we are having the job we enjoy and that we are made for? What is different between a creative job and the one of an engineer, of a construction worker, of a baker?

Daemons and geniuses

Gilbert searches for an answer, and she does it looking in the past and in other societies to understand if there are some virtuous cases in which the creative gift was managed in a way that resulted in good attitudes, and not in the self destructive ones. That’s how she found the two big examples of ancient Greece and of the Roman world.

Both societies thought that, during the creation time, the artist was backed up by an entity: in ancient Greece it was called “daemon“, in Rome it was…the “genius“. The deamon or the genius were the spirits helping the person creating art; this helps the person not feeling so much under pressure like artists feel today: if the work was good, it wasn’t all the artist’s credit, but in case of a failure, he wasn’t 100% “guilty”.

Only with Renaissance, since the man was put in the centre, artists stopped “having a genius” to start, in the best case, “being a genius”.

Being on the front line

In Gilbert’s opinion, the crux is all here: to realize that what makes us worried, scared and unsure is our being on the front line in a task that is enormous to bear for a single human being. Especially after passing the best moment: we all can be creative when hit by inspiration or in that perfect time in which we feel in connection with the entire world; it’s not as easy when we have to do all the rest of the work to complete it or to study because we need to arrive prepared to that moment. The advice that the writer gives us at this point is: if it’s the right moment, grab it; if it’s not, compliment yourself anyway because you are so stubborn to be there every day, even the ones in which you “have no genius”.

Below there’s the TED Talk; enjoy! 🙂

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  • Cara Emanuela,
    ti ringrazio molto per la pubblicazione di questo articolo, per aver condiviso il video di TED addirittura con i sottotitoli in italiano così da permettere a quelle le persone che come me parlano inglese poco poco di comprendere il meraviglioso Talk Di Elizabeth Gilbert Sulla Creatività. Il video ha avuto su di me un effetto incredibile, come una cosa che aspettavo di sentire da tanto.
    Evviva il tuo blog!
    Grazie Liana

    • Ciao Liana, sono contenta l’articolo ti sia piaciuto; è uno di quelli che hanno avuto più successo in giro per il web: evidentemente approccio e gestione (delle ansie) della creatività sono problemi molto comuni, e il messaggio della Gilbert è fondamentale per tanti. Per me in primis, dato che ci ho messo anni prima di riuscire a pubblicare qualcosa di mio sul web o condividerlo con altri, e ancora oggi ogni tanto faccio fatica.

      Evviva anche il tuo nuovo blog (sei già entrata nel mio feed!) e la creatività tutta, ma senza ansia 😉

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