That Time I Thought I Didn’t Like Elizabeth Gilbert
When the book Eat, Pray, Love was at its height, I couldn’t stand it or author Elizabeth Gilbert. Of course, I hadn’t read it. I read reviews and somewhat knew the story. It irked me to no end that Gilbert had become famous for what, having enough money to not have to work, the tragedy of buying a bigger pair of pants so she could eat more pasta, traveling around the world seeking spiritual guidance and then writing a best-selling book about it? I avoided anything having to do with Gilbert and definitely didn’t see the movie when it was in theaters*.
Years later a funny thing happened. For some reason I downloaded a sample of Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things — probably wanting to see for myself that her writing was overrated. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I loved The Signature of All Things just as deeply as I do To Killing a Mockingbird or Jane Eyre. I immediately started following Gilbert on Facebook. There I found a kind, humble, inspirational woman just living her life with all its complexity like anyone else. Although yes, obviously with different connections and opportunities than many people.
Of course none of it, my irritation with Gilbert, and now my absolute appreciation for her, had anything to do with her at all. It did have everything to do with how I viewed other people’s success. More specifically other people’s success if they were doing what I wanted to do be doing. I used to think that there’s only so much success to go around. Any time a writer wrote a bestseller or became an “overnight sensation” meant that another sliver of the success pie was gone and it hadn’t been given to me.
Ridiculous I know, but scarcity plays well into our own fears and insecurities. It’s a well-known marketing technique that has woven itself into our daily lives: Only 1 left in stock order now… order today because the price goes up tomorrow…once this item is gone it’s gone forever so order today. You know the drill. There’s a limited supply of X and if you don’t have the money, the right timing, or the connections you’re going to miss out.
I wasn’t consciously walking around thinking that I had something against other people’s success. Instead I had this low-level of judgement that I used to chip away at someone’s achievements. I carried it around with me to pull out in conversations masquerading as commentary. “Well of course Marley and Me was a best-seller, the author was already a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. I know so many other writers who could have written a better story.” It wasn’t pretty, I know.
It was my friend Lianne, fed-up I imagine, with my attitude, who cared enough to call me on it. One day she asked me point blank, “Why do you always think that someone else being successful means you won’t be. Why do you act like that?” I really had no good answer to that question and felt ashamed when I realized she was exactly right, that was how I had been approaching things. In that moment of realization I felt small and frustrated. Luckily for me Lianne, good friend that she is, gave me an out, “Why not look at other people’s success as a guidepost — if they can do it then you can do it too. It doesn’t mean there’s less room for success, it shows you there is MORE room for success.”
In that moment this amazing friend asked me to exchange my scarcity mentality for one of, if not absolute abundance, then confidence in my own journey. She was asking me to stop thinking that other people being successful had any negative impact on my own trajectory.
Of course she was right. The way I had been thinking of success was not only limiting but it was just an excuse, another way to procrastinate. If there’s only so much success to be had, and other people already had it, why should I even bother. Our minds are tricky that way — often getting in the way of the very things we think we want the most.
The truth is putting any energy into disliking or resenting someone because they are successful, or because you perceive them as having what you want, is a HUGE waste of your own precious time and energy. It’s not productive and ultimately I don’t believe it takes you down the path you need to go. The trick is to stay focused on what you need to do instead of being distracted by other people’s accomplishments. When it comes to success, whether it’s ours or those around us, we need to joyfully celebrate it, because there really is enough to go around.
*Confession: I did eventually watch Eat, Pray, Love the movie when it made its way to television because hey, Javier Bardem.