November 23, 2020

The 2 Words Elizabeth Gilbert helped me Remove from my Life so I could Breathe Again.


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A few months ago, I went through a dark night of the soul—the darkest I had dwelled within for years.

Initially, I put it down to burnout or, perhaps, pandemic-related exhaustion. No doubt these factors contributed, but I knew there was something deeper affecting me that I couldn’t shift.

I had lost direction. I had lost purpose. I had lost passion.

Worse, I had lost me.

Because of this, I began to feel like a failure. I felt ashamed that I was unable to be productive or achieve goals. I felt inadequate in my comparison to others who appeared so driven and focused. I felt that without any significant contribution to the world, my life was of little worth.

I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. Everything I had thought I wanted no longer gave me joy or fulfilment.

It all just felt exhausting.

Then one day, while out walking, I listened to this podcast with Jen Hatmaker interviewing Elizabeth Gilbert. In the episode, Gilbert says this:

“It’s not easy to live a curiosity-driven life, but the reason I offered it up as a possibility is because I think it’s a lot easier than living a passion-driven life or a purpose-driven life. If there’s nothing else that I can offer to women, it’s to just spare yourself from those two words. They’re brutal, and they’re shaming…there’s some particular way that you’re supposed to be living, and you’re not doing it right.”

These words were everything I needed to hear; my defining moment. I listened to them again and again. I wrote them down. I meditated on them. There was so much relief in the words—so much freedom and grace to just be.

I realised I had been striving to achieve the purpose-driven life, believing that was the point of everything—to know my purpose and base my entire life upon fulfilling that.

“How’s that working for me?” I thought to myself.

I decided to change tack and follow Gilbert’s advice. After all, I had nothing to lose.

It started with applying for a job as a part-time barista. I had been struggling for months to make an income from writing after losing my freelance work at the onset of COVID. The pressure to monetise my writing was destroying my creativity and the love of writing I had once held dear. I was flailing and miserable, but since I had conceded that I was a writer, I had to be dedicated to the cause, no matter what.

I had often wondered what it would be like to have a part-time job; whether my writing would suffer with neglect or flourish without the pressure to make it my sole source of income. I’d always been too afraid to try and stray from my purpose, even though writing was becoming harder for me with every passing day. “Just be more disciplined. Just be more committed. Just glue your f*cking ass to the chair and write, woman!”

But for once, I allowed myself to be curious. To wonder, “What if?” I applied for the position and began working as a part-time barista. Everything changed from that moment. Immediately, the pressure was released. I could breathe again.

I found myself happy to be working in the community after years of working from home; I found joy in the simple art of making coffee and chatting with people. I felt lighter and more myself than I had in months, maybe years.

Mostly, I began to feel my creative spark coming back. It took a number of weeks, but there it was again—thoughts, ideas, words. The desire to want to write. The motivation and drive to execute that desire into action.

Something in me had shifted. I looked forward to my working days, but finally, again, to my writing days too.

I chose the curiosity-driven life over the purpose-driven life, and I knew there was no going back. What I came to realise was how much pressure I had placed on myself to make my life purposeful and meaningful through my passion for writing. That it was my responsibility to make it productive, to grow it, to monetise it, and to make it my brand, my identity, and my sole purpose in life. I had come to believe my worth as a person was inherently tied to my success as a writer.

There is too much pressure in living this way. In striving for success within a purpose-driven life where our entire meaning must be found within that. Living curiously allows us the freedom to explore, to experiment, to simply ask what if.

It dissolves our expectation of outcome, granting us permission to try, and if we fail, who cares? It’s no longer about having to find significance in everything we do, but simple inquisitiveness in what we could do if we just look a little to the left or right.

It takes letting go of the fear of failure, outcome, and the unknown to live a curiosity-driven life. It takes the understanding that meaning does not always have to be found in our passion or purpose or success, but it can be found in the relationships we make, the connections we have with others, the love we give and receive, and in the joy of embracing the expansiveness of all this life has to offer when we simply choose to see where curiosity will take us next.


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