Jackhammers and hummingbirds

Last week, I saw Elizabeth Gilbert speak about her new book, Big Magic. At one point, someone from the audience asked a question I’ve been asking myself for years. What if you just aren’t the type of person who is going to be obsessive and committed and dedicated to one thing, your whole life? Does that make you any less of an artist, writer, poet, painter, baker, banker, etc.? What if you’re good at a few things but not great at any one? Should I give up now and save myself the trouble?

One of the things the Live Your Legend group requires via self-exploration is to find the thing at which you are an expert, and be an expert at the thing you are passionate about. When Elizabeth received the question, she gave a great analogy. She explained that she is a jackhammer. For as long as she could remember, she wanted to be a writer. She announced it at a young age, and pursued it relentlessly, obsessively, admitting that this often made her unaware of many people, feelings, and things around her. She became the great writer she wanted to be. But then there are the hummingbirds. Those who bring nectar and curiosity from one blossom to the next, who find things beautiful that she might have missed. The cross-pollinators, who are inspiring in their own right, trying new things along the way. It was a kind way to answer the young woman’s question. The truth, of course, is that if this woman wanted to BE any one of those things, she probably would have pursued it by now. Or maybe she’s just flitting, floating and years from now she’ll discover she really loves knitting and open an online shop selling her wares. Or not. The percentage of people who fully commit to their craft, their business, their talent, is small – relative to the population of the human race. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, that’s not what I’m saying. Most of us are working hard, maybe even loving what we do, but we’re not all capable of being geniuses, of being the next Elon Musk or a Pulitzer Prize winner. I know – I sound like Debbie Downer but I think a healthy dose of realism wouldn’t hurt. It doesn’t have to be a depressing fact. It might actually be liberating to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves that because we live in America, we must innovate/create or die – each and every one of us. Maybe its alright to just enjoy a bottle of wine and a good meal with the people you love, talk about what’s going on in the world, plan a trip here and there, learn something new, and age healthfully. Maybe the only thing I will ever be an expert at is loving my son and my husband, or how to find the best desserts while traveling.  And that doesn’t feel like defeat, it feels like acceptance. Maybe even relief.

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