SHERIDAN — In just a few weeks, women from around the region will gather at Sheridan College for FAB Women’s Conference, organized by The Sheridan Press.
As part of that conference, on April 12, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic” are among her works) will offer a keynote address about what it means to live a creative life.
Recently, The Sheridan Press Publisher Kristen Czaban had a chance to catch up with the famous author. Below is the interview, edited for length, that took place March 19 by phone.
Czaban: Every time I’ve told folks you’re coming out here, I’m asked how I got you to come to Sheridan. What made you say yes to this event?
Gilbert: I love Sheridan, Wyoming, as it happens, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time, well, in Wyoming in general, but in Sheridan specifically. For like two seasons I worked as a trail cook on a ranch in Lander, in the Wind River range, though that was a long time ago — like 30 years ago. But I also have been a resident at Ucross twice. I wrote “Eat, Pray, Love” just outside of Sheridan. So it was an easy yes for me. I haven’t been back in years, so I thought it would be wonderful to come back.
Czaban: Tell me about your experience at Ucross. What stands out about that?
Gilbert: It’s a combination of things that makes it so magical. One is just the setting. For me at that time, living in New York, being cramped and just not having the famous “room of my own” in which to work, it was a gift beyond rubies to have access to a space where there is so much space. Where I didn’t just have a room of my own, I had a view of a giant pasture filled with cattle and mountains in the distance and the sky and hawks. The openness of the space made my mind open. It was heavenly.
Czaban: What’s special about speaking to a group of primarily women?
Gilbert: Well there’s two things. One is what it does for me. There is something so incredibly charged about a room full of women who have all decided to, for just that minute, put down their enormous list of obligations and responsibilities and everything they are carrying on their shoulders and carrying in their hearts and come and be in sisterhood with each other.
I get a contact high off of that. Everything I do in the world, there’s nothing I do that I take more seriously or think of as a higher honor than being able to speak to a room full of women, especially in this moment of near universal anxiety. To be able to talk to them from the heart is very moving to me.
The piece that is really exciting, though, is what it does for them. It’s not even necessarily that they are going to have their lives changed because of the words I’ve said to them. The statistics on this are incredible. When women go to women’s conferences, what changes in their lives when they come back is enormous. Even just for being in the room with a bunch of other women, they are more likely to get a promotion that year, they’re more likely to conquer an addiction that year, they’re more likely to… in every possible way you can measure health and well-being it’s of enormous benefit just to walk through those doors.
There’s something about being with a group of other women that makes women healthy. Knowing that that’s happening in the room, regardless of what it is I may say or what I may impart, just by signing up, by agreeing to do it, they are taking agency of their lives in some way that is going to have enormous impact and that’s very touching for me to be around.
Czaban: You’ll get to talk to a group of students, too. What do you hope they walk away with?
Gilbert: There’s nothing that I can offer anybody of any age, whether they are young or old, that is more powerful than modeling for them, as best I can, what it looks like to live a life that’s driven more powerfully by curiosity rather than fear. I can talk all day about that, but I can’t talk about it in a way that is more impactful than just being that and showing them what it looks like. I think the best teachers are those who are able to impart that… My very biggest hope is that I make them feel that they live in a universe of infinite possibility.
Czaban: You’ve done some really cool things. Do you believe in having a bucket list? If so, what’s something that’s still on yours?
Gilbert: I have mixed feelings about bucket lists. …I’d prefer that you have a list of stuff that really makes you feel alive and feels life-affirming. Doesn’t have the power of death hanging over it, but there is a spirit of being and a spirit of living that you can have that transcends bucket lists or not-bucket lists. But I do recognize that sometimes the only way to get their attention about the fact that their lives are short is to remind them. But there’s a lot of stuff I want to do while I’m still here. A lot of it has to do with travel and there’s adventures I want to have. I’ve still never been to Japan and I’ve still never been to Iceland.
But the ultimate adventure quest is that I would like to heal as much as I can heal, while I’m here, of the wounds I have in myself and the ones that I see in the people I encounter. I would like to learn how to love better and be loved better and be kinder. That’s where most of my energy goes. The scenery can change, and sometimes it’s nice and sometimes it’s not as nice, but that’s the real stuff right there.
Czaban: One session at the conference is about imposter syndrome, feeling like you don’t belong in your own success. Have you ever felt that? How did you get past that?
Gilbert: I must have, when I was younger, felt it. I don’t encounter that one very much anymore. I’m well aware of it as its existence. I remember the first time I spoke at the TED conference and I had a powerful sense of “boy, I’m really not supposed to be here,” especially when I’m talking after NASA scientists and robotics engineers and just feeling really out of my pay grade here.
I’ve gotten over that to a certain extent. One of the things that I’d say to someone, especially women, is something that a woman I know passed along to me years ago: Having semi-formed ideas that you can’t really back up with your experience has never stopped men from raising their hand and asking for the job, so don’t let it stop you. …There are a lot of mediocre people out there doing a lot of mediocre work, so why not you coming and doing your best?
And also, if you’re at the table, you belong at the table. If somebody invited you, it’s because they thought you were supposed to be there, so trust them on that.
For more information and tickets to FAB Women’s Conference, visit the FAB website.