What do you love more than life itself?
Writer Elizabeth Gilbert poses this question in her 7-minute 18-second TedTalk on Success, Failure, And The Drive To Keep Creating.
For the author of the runaway hit Eat, Pray, Love the answer is, unsurprisingly, writing. In the speech Gilbert explains that she believes her life wouldn’t be worth living if she couldn’t write. Or, to put a happier spin on it, the act of writing makes her life worth living.
Another way to phrase the question is: What do you feel called to do? Yes, that sounds a bit heavy on the spiritual or woo-woo side of things, but ask anyone who chooses vocations like art or creativity or social work or parenthood or anything else that doesn’t totally make sense from a rational perspective, and the only explanation that can be offered is that of the deafeningly quiet push and pull of the Muse.
The calling isn’t only for the famous and history books.
The calling, the sense of urgency to express, to do, to be, is real and alive in each of us. How loudly we hear the voice and the devotion to which we answer back is what determines the rest.
Here’s where I confess that as much as I value art and creative expression, I do feel a tad bit squirrelly at the thought of loving any one of those things more than life itself.
And if you look at my track record, there have been a number of things I felt called to do for a time, be it writing, acting, traveling, directing, etc. But I’ve discovered, for better or worse, that the medium is not what determines the message, or rather the foundation as Gilbert puts it, for the rest of my days on this earth.
What I do know is I would feel less alive if I couldn’t continue learn. To try. To experience. To connect. To feel. To be in community. Unfortunately that isn’t as easy to explain as, say, to write. I clearly haven’t figured out the panoptic word for my calling yet. But that thing, whatever it is, that is what feels unapologetically me.
For the past two years I’ve dreamed of creating a space for curious, smart, fun people to come together to learn about ideas and skills and concepts they’s always wanted to know more about. The goal is not to be an expert or become certified in anything. Just to try. In person. Not an online course. Not a massive conference. But an experience.
Exactly one month ago I started my new chapter as the Experience Impresario for Holstee, a creative design studio in Brooklyn. And today, I’m thrilled and scared and excited to announce that we’re opening our doors this October for what feels like a venerable playground of possibility: The Holstee Learning Lab.
The premise for the Learning Lab began with that whisper of the siren song that became louder and louder until she called with such bravado she could no longer be ignored.
So I opened my notebook and wrote the first thing that came to mind:
Life is short. What would you try if you knew you couldn’t fail? There are no grades at the Learning Lab. Only new ideas born, friendships formed, and curiosity cultivated.
And then I wrote down what I’d like to learn. And then I wrote down the names of people who were experts and teachers in each topic. And then I sent emails. And thankfully people said yes.
Rest assured, this is only the beginning. There will be arts and movement and music and design and just about anything-you-can-think-of classes. If there’s something you want to learn more about then send me an email at monica(at)holstee(dot)com.
Yes, you can Google how to learn something. But you can never, ever replace the fluttering of excitement that comes from that first day of school. The simple thrill of showing up to discover and create and explore. To be a novice and not be afraid to start from the beginning. Or to be afraid to be a beginner but choose to begin anyway.
I guarantee that whatever you want to learn more about, someone else does too. And then, before you know it, a community of people fueled by nothing besides their own innate sense of curiosity is formed.
Gilbert closes her TedTalk with some wise words of advice about treating the calling as a foundation for the rest of our life pursuits:
Look, I don’t know where you rightfully live, but I know that there’s something in this world that you love more than you love yourself. Something worthy, by the way, so addiction and infatuation don’t count,because we all know that those are not safe places to live. Right? The only trick is that you’ve got to identify the best, worthiest thing that you love most, and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it. And if you should someday, somehow get vaulted out of your home by either great failure or great success, then your job is to fight your way back to that home the only way that it has ever been done, by putting your head down and performing with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from you next. You just do that, and keep doing that again and again and again, and I can absolutely promise you, from long personal experience in every direction, I can assure you that it’s all going to be okay.
I don’t know whether a studio for the studious is the answer to my calling. But I know it’s a step in the direction of the Voice.
For now, I’ll just delight in dancing to the music of possibility.
And I hope to see you in Brooklyn very soon.