Recently I read the book ‘Big Magic’ by the inspiring Elizabeth Gilbert (highly recommend this book for any creative types out there!) and wanting more I started listening to her podcast ‘Magic Lessons’ on my way to work each day. On Episode 204 titled ‘Who gets to decide whether you’re a legitimate artist?’ Elizabeth talks to a young poet , who after getting rejected from every single MFA program, fell into despair and wondered if she could still call herself a ‘poet’. To help advise this young woman Elizabeth spoke to the poet and story teller Mark Nepo who said something that really struck a chord with me –
“If you’re a little girl and someone sees you singing in the playground and you have a nice voice, sooner or later someone says you should become a singer. And if I express myself someone will say you should become a writer. And if you like to take care of plants and have your hands in the earth, someone says you should become a gardener. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but notice that we’re being told to become a noun and the vitality of life is in staying a VERB.”
This was an Oprah Winfrey ‘wow’ moment for me. Although the concept is so simple, I realised how easy it is for me to get trapped behind calling myself a noun which can stop me from doing all those things I know I want to do.
As a society, we are obsessed with naming everything and even everyone. It adds a sense of order and structure to this often unpredictable world so I can understand why it adds comfort. People like structure, hell, I do LOVE a to-do list! But calling a person by a noun however can also be extremely restricting and often painful. If we limit ourselves to one singular noun , a ‘dancer’, a ‘singer’, a ‘gardener’, an ‘artist’, a ‘mother’, a ‘bus driver’ etc. What happens if we don’t succeed in the eyes of society to what we feel that certain noun should be? What if we don’t get accepted into that school and we don’t achieve that qualification? What if our book doesn’t get published? What if I injure myself and can’t kick my leg as high as I could before? What if I don’t get that acting part? The list is endless. We can feel as though we can’t call ourselves this ‘noun’ anymore and end up losing our whole identity. Therefore, sadly can stop doing what we love for fear of failure.
So, I invite us all to be just be VERBS. Do the verb, not the noun! So often I feel the fear and resistance to try and do or create something new, feeling as though I can’t call myself it yet. I didn’t even want to write this , in fear that I can’t call myself a ‘writer’. But I don’t want to be a ‘writer’ , I just wanted to write. So go out there and create! Let others worry about deciding what they want to call you! Go sing, go dance, go run, go bake, go paint, go do whatever you want to do! Focus all your energy on just doing it, and ironically you will become the noun without the added pressure. For example, if you sing a song, for that moment you are a ‘singer’ (Who cares if you haven’t won a Brit Award!). You’re doing the thing that makes you happiest and awakens your soul, and no-one can take that away from you. So, from now on I’m going to try and make a conscious effort to stop worrying about ‘being’ something and just focus on DOING things.
We are all simply just people who do things. And that is wonderful.
“We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I’m going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”