So, would you do me a favour? Watch this. It is a little long, so feel free to wait until you have about 20 minutes to spare and perhaps some tea. Tim Tams will also go down a treat.
I have already written about my love for Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved Eat Pray Love, and Committed even more. She seems to be polarising in some ways but I think that she is intelligent and endearing. Her ideas and philosophies are incredibly valuable to modern women, whether or not you agree with them wholeheartedly.
Whatever your response to her books, I guarantee that you will fall in love with her after you watch her speak - she is so natural and accessible. I have posted her musings on creativity (see my first ever blog post, things that inspire me), and I recently watched this video of Liz speaking at Oprah's Live Your Best Life, a festival to celebrate the 10th anniversary of O Magazine. To paraphrase, Liz unveils the irony behind the fact that people look to her to find out how to live life (specifically how to get their lives "together"), when she just doesn't have the answers. Nobody does. She also explores the reasons so many of us look to others for the key, "the secret", to a happy, successful and fulfilling life.
Liz believes that this movement is a consequence of our burgeoning world. In a landscape where the possibilities are absolutely endless, it is so difficult to define our goals, hopes and dreams. Our parameters. Infinite options can be paralysing - when there are so many alternatives, it's almost impossible to be convinced of our choices, when we finally have the courage to make them. Choosing just one door, when there is an over-abundance open to us, is scary. I have struggled with this myself. I still do.
So there are the choices. There is also that imminent fear of failure. When we have the world at our feet, it's difficult to justify falling flat on our faces, not in the least to ourselves. We are bombarded with this ideal of "perfection", which we are expected to uphold in all realms of life - we should be good people, successful in our careers, supportive of loved ones, calm and collected, healthy, beautiful, interesting, happy... the list is never-ending. This all-round perfection is, of course, completely and utterly unattainable, which means that failure is inevitable. It's a viscous cycle.
Women are especially prone to this brutal discontent. As Liz notes, we are the first generation of women in the history of mankind who have had freedom, autonomy, literacy and access to their own power. We don't have strong, independent women to look to in history books. We are on the front line. No wonder it is so difficult to carve out our niche.
Liz uses the metaphor of the "maze":
When I look at my life and the lives of my female friends these days—with our dizzying number of opportunities and talents—I sometimes feel as though we are all mice in a giant experimental maze, scurrying around frantically, trying to find our way through. But maybe there's a good historical reason for all this overwhelming confusion. We don't have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map. As a result, we each race forth blindly into this new maze of limitless options. And the risks are steep. We make mistakes. We take sharp turns, hoping to stumble on an open path, only to bump into dead-end walls and have to back up and start all over again. We push mysterious levers, hoping to earn a reward, only to learn—whoops, that was a suffering button!
So this all brings us to the "age of memoir", (arguably) ruled by Oprah, the queen of self-discovery and self-examination. The popularity of the memoir is precipitated by our need to see how everybody else is solving these universal, endless questions. Snippets from other people's lives provide clues for our own "scavenger hunt". The danger, of course, is to compare ourselves with other people. The resulting envy and self-doubt is nothing but harmful and self-destructive. Consider this quote by spiritual guru Osho, from The Book of Understanding: “In this world, it is very difficult to find a happy person, because nobody is fulfilling the conditions for being happy. The first condition is that one has to drop all comparison. Drop all these stupid ideas of being superior and inferior. You are neither superior nor inferior. You are simply yourself! There exists no one like you, no one with whom you can be compared. Then, suddenly, you are at home.”
As Liz says, the only thing that we can do is to get up every single day and do our very best with who we are and what we have. To do what we can. To try to do better. And when we, inevitably, fall short, to pick ourselves up and carry on. We all want to live our best lives, so go for it. Aspire - but mitigate that aspiration with self-forgiveness. And make a promise to do ourselves no harm on our aspirational paths. Ultimately, being kind and understanding to ourselves, throughout our life journey, will be so much more productive than continually beating ourselves up. Our greatest challenge in life is to accept and, eventually, learn to love who we are, unconditionally. That is the one and only true "key" to happiness.
"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us."
— Marcel Proust