So the moment you start making the pro-con list, it’s almost like you lose…”

Jonathan Fields interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert for The Good Life Project, and they touched on the irrationality of creative endeavours:

Fields: But can we take this a sort of like a level deeper though? Because, like, if. If somebody feels it that viscerally when they’re just talking about this thing, then why do so many and so many of us do? Why do so many of us then kind of say no? What is it in your mind?

Gilbert:  You talk yourself out of it and you, I have to say. The reason you talk yourself out of it is because you get rational, and rationally, what you’re doing doesn’t make any sense. And there’s no argument that can ever hold up against that. Because you’re right, whatever the rational part of you is that says this doesn’t make any sense to do, this is absolutely right.

Fields: So the moment you start making the pro con list, it’s almost like you lose.

Gilbert: It’s absolutely, you’re absolutely right. Which is why you need to have a mystical or spiritual dimension underneath your creativity to combat the rational thought. Because the second that… I mean, I always say this because I always marvel at this… any act of pure creativity is the most irrational thing you can possibly do with your time. So you’re going to have an existential crisis because it doesn’t make any sense. Essentially what you’re doing. Like here, let me break it down for you what this guy is about to do. If he says “yes” to the thing that ignited him, he’s about to take the single most precious thing he possesses, which is his time. We’re mortal; we have a very short amount of time here. And how you spend that time matters and what you give it to has enormous consequence in your life.

We’re deeply aware of the ticking clock. So he’s going to take the one thing that can never be replaced, which is his hours and days and months of his short, mortal life. And he’s going to devote an enormous amount of energy and resources and power and trouble to creating something that nobody wants or needs, that nobody has asked him to do. It is a fundamentally really weird thing to do. So why would you in the world do that? And I guess it’s because when the moment that you do leave the party comes, you’re not going to be lying in your bed saying “Man, it was so short, my visit here on Earth, and why didn’t I do the thing that ignited me to life? ” Because that was actually the only thing. And the rest of it and all those rational ideas of stuff that was more important, I don’t even remember what that stuff is now. Why did I do that thing? Why did I do that thing I was called to do? I never want to be in that position.

 I want to be in the position where I can say, “I did all that stuff.”

I said yes again and again and again to the irrational plan rather than the rational one.

I am not particularly motivated by the prospect of deathbed regrets — by that time, who cares, as I’m about to die. So it’s never been a great motivator.

But I am motivated by the notion that, as Gilbert says, “any act of pure creativity is the most irrational thing you can possibly do with your time.” Realizing that helps me unlock all manner of possible futures that are, on the pro-con list, completely indefensible.


Patrick Ledwell's picture
Patrick Ledwell on September 13, 2023 - 10:55 Permalink

Not sure why I was called to take a mid-morning break, and visit your writing for the first time in a while. I am sure, though, that I'm grateful you shared this thought, this morning. Thanks for the good spirit.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 21, 2023 - 14:21 Permalink

Sounds about right. Reading this on the heels of your post quoting the dragons, though, it occurs to me that the creativity we’re talking about here is to happen in performance and in character, and not improvising a wedding speech on-the-spot. Or maybe it’s just that for public creativity as ourselves we create ahead of time, and we only publish what gets past our rational gate keeper/editor