Last year I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and it gave me a lot of think about. There are some concepts that I am still chewing on. One of them that I have been reflecting on lately is what Elizabeth calls “the central paradox.” Paradoxes sound contradictory yet actually explain a truth. Her paradox essentially says it matters; it doesn’t matter. Here is how accepting the paradox can lead to a more free and full life.
The paradox that you need to comfortably inhabit, if you wish to live a contented creative life, goes something like this: “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).”
As you can tell, Elizabeth is writing in regard to creativity, but lately I’ve been applying it to other aspects of my life as well. You can take that exact sentence and replace “creative expression” with any number of things we get caught up with in life.
My physical fitness must be the most important thing in the world to me if I am to live athletically, and it must not matter at all if I am to live sanely. My career advancement must be the most important thing in the world to me if I am to live affluently, and it must not matter at all if I am to live sanely.
Every day we are making unending decisions about how to spend our time, what tasks to prioritize, and where to spend our money. To each of us as individuals living in the day-to-day, they are momentous decisions that affect our future. We become paralyzed with fear – fear of failing, of trying something new, of looking stupid, of not making the “right” choice. This dread can cause us to become stagnant. We stop trying new things. We forget about that dream. We slip into the trivial day in and day out monotony as time passes us by.
Yet in the grand scheme of life as a whole – or to take it even further, the history of humanity for instance – they usually do not have a big impact. (Yes, I know sometimes some do. Though I’d also say that oftentimes those instances are unable to be predicted or they are even unintentional. Regardless, they are far and away the minority.)
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how her parent’s casual lack of concern allowed for freedom in their own creative living and positively influenced hers as well. This is because by accepting the paradox and realizing it – whatever your “it” is – doesn’t really matter SO MUCH, you can relax. There is space to breathe. The work becomes easier. Decisions are made with less stress. The fear and anxiety can subside leaving you with the courage to go after your personal project, goal, dream, life.
When you realize it doesn't really matter SO MUCH, you can relax. There is space to breathe. Click To Tweet
So, let’s take some of the pressure off. Give yourself permission to loosen up. Of course our values and actions are important to each of us. But let’s not cling to them as though they make up our entire identity or carry the weight of the world behind them.
The next time you feel paralyzed by fear or anxiety or uncertainty, remind yourself “it matters; it doesn’t matter.” You can fill in the blanks from above to suit your specific situation. Just do what you do, and if it changes your life or even the world, that’s awesome. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay too.
It matters. But it also doesn’t matter.
What do you think of this paradox? What other paradoxes have you had to come to terms with?