Magic Monday: Why is joy scary?

The podcast “Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert” is an absolute gift to creative beings, aka everyone. If you haven’t heard it before, the podcast is a follow up to her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear which celebrates and encourages living a joyous and creative life.

In each episode of her podcast, she responds to a listener’s letter describing the struggle stifling (and even paralyzing) their creativity. From a woman trying to balance writing and being a mother to a poet who doesn’t believe she is worthy enough to write poetry, the roadblocks each person faces are universal. And when Elizabeth Gilbert addresses these issues, many times it feels like she is speaking directly to you. Throughout the episode, Gilbert assigns homework and poses various questions to the caller with the hope they find their own creativity antidote.

With that in mind, I thought it would be cool to start a new theme called “Magic Mondays” where I reflect and respond to the questions Gilbert presents her callers. You guys, this will be fun and enlightening!

I’m not going to go in any particular order so let’s start with episode 205, “Call Your Real Life by Its True Name.” Here is the episode summary:

This week on Magic Lessons, Elizabeth Gilbert advises Colleen, an advertising executive in New York City, who dreams of being a storyteller but fears it’s a frivolous pursuit. Colleen hopes to create a one-woman show, mining stories from her childhood growing up in an Irish Catholic family that ran and owned a bar. Liz calls up the writer Gary Shteyngart for additional expertise on the pain and relief that comes with telling family stories.

Liz notices right off the bat the difference in tone when Colleen speaks about her dream life as a storyteller and her “real life” as an ad executive — then she totally calls her out on it.

“Are you afraid of your job? Are you afraid of going into work every day? Do you get terrified when you wake up in the morning and think ‘oh my god, I have to go to work and sit at that desk.’ Do you get panicked and paralyzed?”

Yes? Sometimes?

When I worked at a law office, while my coworkers and clients were nice people, the day-to-day absolutely drained me. I was not using my brain for what it was uniquely built to do. Even though I knew this, it took me years to leave and find something more fulfilling.

So here’s the question:

“Why is the thing that brings you joy scarier than the thing that brings you drudgery?”

It’s a valid question for so many of us who have ambitions beyond our desk job. Liz tells Colleen to stop calling her day job her “real life” and instead reminds her that her real life is the place where she feels truly alive. Why are we so afraid of this?

Well for one, it’s hard work finding what you love to do rather than falling into a default job (that’s a thing, right?). It can take forever to figure out what your rightful contribution to society should be! There are so many questions to answer before making the decision to follow your joy.

If this is truly your passion in life, what will people think of it?

What if you’re the only one who likes what you do?

Will people disown you if it’s terrible?

Worst of all — what if you fail?

In my experience, the things that bring us joy are often so close to our hearts that we refuse to try them for fear of failing. It’s all the “what ifs” that mess with us. It’s totally silly, but this reminds me of a Harry Potter candle I got as a birthday gift this year. It’s butterbeer-scented and just lovely, but I refuse to light it. If I use it for its intended purpose, it won’t ever look the same and then it will be gone. That’s kind of how going after dreams can feel. If we don’t try pursuing our dreams, then they remain unharmed and perfectly intact visions in our minds.

That being said, there was a kind of dread I felt that came with ignoring the little voice in my head that kept telling me to get out my comfort zone. It continued to build and get heavier until I could no longer sit on the sidelines of my own life. Last year, I heard the founder of Burncycle, Jessi Duley, speak about starting her own business. Someone asked what gave her the final push, and she said, “Things change when the fear of regret is greater than the fear of starting.”

Trying new things is scary. Especially when the stakes feel so high. I mean this is your life we’re talking about! Lately, I’ve been asking myself another question: so what? Who cares if it’s not perfect? Part of the fun is the process and, as cliché as it sounds, you’ll really never know until you try. Imperfections are what make art beautiful and human.

Maybe chasing your passion isn’t always the “responsible” choice, but isn’t at least trying better than living with the dread that you’ll never know?

Note to self: get out of your own way.

kanye west creative process


Do you listen to “Magic Lessons”? Is there anything keeping you from pursuing your “real life”?

2 thoughts

  1. I hadn’t heard of this but it sounds really interesting – I’m always looking for good podcasts to get into. I totally agree, trying new things (or change of any kind) can be uncomfortable and scary.

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