“I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
I dove into Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, this week. Have you read it? It’s a book about creative living, and there’s a dare in there that I think applies to all of us, whether we think of ourselves as artists or not.
Gilbert writes: “I’ve watched far too many brilliant and gifted female creators say, ‘I am 99.8 percent qualified for this task, but until I master that last smidgen of ability, I will hold myself back just to be on the safe side.’
“Now, I cannot imagine where women ever got the idea that they must be perfect in order to be loved or successful. (Ha ha! Just kidding! I can totally imagine: We got it from every single message society has ever sent us! Thanks, all of human history!)”
Yeah, thanks. (I bet some men can relate, too.)
See, even if you don’t paint or write or sing, you are a creative person. You are the designer of your life. That is a creative project. So if we’re designing our lives, but we hold back until we’ve figured every last thing out—when do we actually start living?
If you’re trying to be perfect, you can’t experiment. You can’t play. You can’t create anything, because you have to stay inside the lines.
You can only consume. You choose your labels — I’m a minimalist, I’m a homesteader, I’m a writer, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a yogi, I’m a musician — and you try to apply them perfectly. You make sure to stay within the bounds, because if you don’t, you might get called out on your 0.2%.
But your life is not a thing to consume. Your life is a creative project.
I don’t know about you, but my life doesn’t fit neatly into labels and boxes. I feel weird even calling myself a “minimalist,” because that word means different things to different people. Some definitions don’t apply to me at all. Some definitions, I’m nowhere close to 99.8 percent — and I don’t want to be.
There are enough dishes on my kitchen shelves to feed my six kids plus another whole family, all at the same time. Because we do that.
I have groups of family photos on the walls. And I like them there!
And what’s more, my kids have Legos.
My goal in life is not actually to be a “perfect minimalist,” and yet I still sometimes feel like someone is going to walk up to me with a checklist:
– Do you live with colorful (not white!) furniture or—gasp—paint?
– Are there more than two wooden spoons in your kitchen?
– Do your kids have toys with pieces? Or heck, maybe even: do you have kids?
Sorry, you’re out. Please turn in your minimalist credentials at the door.
I know that’s missing the point. The point isn’t to achieve some “supreme level” of minimalist living. Designing a simple life isn’t about the details of what’s allowed and what isn’t. (How many sheets in the linen cupboard? Wait, are you allowed to have a linen cupboard??)
The point is to design a life that’s right for you, one that majors in the most important stuff and lets go of the less-than-essential.
So how about we decide to be more driven by curiosity about that 99.8 percent than by fear about the 0.2? What if we spent more time thinking about the good that can come from that 99 percent (or sixty percent) and less thinking about the embarrassment that might come from the other side?
When you design a life that’s driven by curiosity, not fear:
1. You can create a life that works for you.
Fear tells us we have to follow the rules. Curiosity leads us to question everything. You can let go of expectations, forget about other people’s opinions, and get curious about what really works for you. It might not be the same as what works for someone else, but curiosity doesn’t care whether you match up to some ideal (read: imaginary) definition of how to live your life.
2. You can make true connections.
When you stop trying to be perfect, you can be a person. Nobody’s perfect, and being okay with your own imperfection is one of the fastest ways to connect with other people (because they’re imperfect, too).
3. You can celebrate other people.
When you let yourself off the hook for not following the rules (even the minimalist rules!) you can give that same grace to everybody else. You can celebrate the people around you and the paths that they’re on, instead of comparing to see how you each measure up.
4. There’s no shame in your game.
Fear comes from a place of not-good-enough, but you’re worthy of belonging and connection no matter what labels you use or don’t. Curiosity lets you move beyond that whole fear-shame spiral into a new way of being.
You don’t have to worry about whether you meet the criteria for being a “real” minimalist; you can just get right to deciding what’s essential — and what’s not—for the real you.
5. You can approach your life from a place of ease.
Keep what you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. Keep what brings you joy, in your home, in your schedule, and in your life. Let go of the rest. And don’t worry about whether you have more cookie sheets than your neighbor.
Sure, that means the labels might not fit. It means you might try some things out and let go of them later. That means my minimalism might not be as tidy as yours. Maybe mine is just messy.
Oh well. Creating is messy, and I’m not waiting on perfection any more.
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