Dear Liz Gilbert, Thanks for Reminding Me About the Shit Sandwich

by Blake Reichenbach on September 3, 2019
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I've recently been re-reading Liz Gilbert's book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. 

My purpose in revisiting this book is two-fold. 

  1. First and foremost, my mental health hasn't been in a great place recently, and as a result, my creative life has suffered. I've struggled to find the energy and focus needed to write productively. Big Magic is one of the few books that I like to revisit periodically for its ability to restore those wells of creative energy and give me the kick in the ass needed to just put pen to paper. 
  2. Second, I'm on my way to Boston for the annual Inbound conference, and Liz is one of this year's speakers. Even though I've worked for HubSpot, the company that hosts Inbound, for about 2 years at this point, I've yet to have the opportunity to attend due to the fact that I work remotely. This year, however, when I saw that Liz was going to be speaking, I more or less begged my manager and his manager to use it as an opportunity to get some face time with my teams at work... and to respectfully stalk Liz Gilbert. 

When I arrive at the conference center to hear Liz speak, I want Big Magic to be fresh on my mind. Even if her talk is entirely disparate from the concepts of the book, I feel that having Big Magic fresh on my mind will bring me closer to what she's saying. It's a book that I hold quite dear to my heart, and reading it feels like I'm speaking with a friend. Liz's style of writing within the book is very conversational and intimate.

More importantly, it's humbling and raw and honest. It makes Liz feel to me like one of the several mentors I've had in my life who has gripped me by the shoulders and shaken me, telling me to pull myself together. (Okay, so perhaps that has never happened, but I did once have my favorite college professor/ mentor write, "This feels incomplete-- more like a draft" on one of my essays and give me a B minus, which is basically the same kind of wake-up call). 

On my flight this morning from Kentucky to Atlanta, the part that particularly resonated with me was the chapter in which she described the importance of picking your favorite kind of shit sandwich. She quotes Mark Manson's adage about how to discover your purpose in life– answering the following question with complete honesty: what is your favorite kind of shit sandwich?

She goes on to write,

Manson explains it this way: "If you want to be a professional artist, but you aren't willing to see your work rejected hundreds, if not thousands, of times, then you're done before you start. If you want to be a hotshot court lawyer, but can't stand the eighty-hour workweeks, then I've got bad news for you."

Because if you love and want something enough– whatever it is– then you don't really mind eating the shit sandwich that comes with it.

Every endeavor, regardless of what it is, is going to come with its own form of shit sandwich. Amidst the issues I've been encountering recently with my mental health, I've been kicking myself for the very fact that I've been having to eat that shit sandwich when it comes to writing and blogging without recognizing the fact that you can't have the blogging without having to eat the occasional shit sandwich. 

I've been kicking myself for not having beef Wellington and turkey breast every day even though it, logically, makes absolutely 0 sense to expect that I would. It has been shit sandwich season– the bread is fresh from the oven and the shit is ripe– but rather than saying "this is where I am and I'll deal with it," I've been kicking turds and complaining that the shit is not, in fact, beef or chicken or a nice falafel.  

The more I think about it, the more I recognize that I am fully willing to eat the shit sandwich that comes with being a creative person. I write because I have stories in me that need to come out– because that's my primary tool for making sense of all the whirring and pulsating sensations that flash through my mind minute-by-minute. I write because it makes me happy to create, and, as Liz also reminded me in this re-reading of Big Magic, that's more than enough.