A Caveat - Persistence

Big magic: creative living beyond fear - Elizabeth Gilbert 2015

A Caveat

But this does not mean that unless you began your creative endeavors in your twenties, it’s too late!

God, no! Please don’t get that idea.

It’s never too late.

I could give you dozens of examples of amazing people who didn’t start following their creative paths until later—sometimes much later—in life. But for the sake of economy, I will only tell you about one of them.

Her name was Winifred.

I knew Winifred back in the 1990s, in Greenwich Village. I first met her at her ninetieth birthday party, which was quite a wild bash. She was a friend of a friend of mine (a guy who was in his twenties; Winifred had friends of all ages and backgrounds). Winifred was a bit of a luminary around Washington Square back in the day. She was a full-on bohemian legend who had lived in the Village forever. She had long red hair that she wore piled glamorously on top of her head, she was always draped in ropes of amber beads, and she and her late husband (a scientist) had spent their vacations chasing typhoons and hurricanes all over the world, just for fun. She kind of was a hurricane herself.

Winifred was the most vividly alive woman I had ever met in my young life, so one day, looking for inspiration, I asked her, “What’s the best book you’ve ever read?”

She said, “Oh, darling. I could never narrow it down to just one book, because so many books are important to me. But I can tell you my favorite subject. Ten years ago, I began studying the history of ancient Mesopotamia, and it became my passion, and let me tell you—it has totally changed my life.”

For me, at the age of twenty-five, to hear a ninety-year-old widow speak of having her life changed by passion (and so recently!) was a revelation. It was one of those moments where I could almost feel my perspective expanding, as if my mind were being ratcheted open several notches and was now welcoming in all sorts of new possibilities for what a woman’s life could look like.

But as I learned more about Winifred’s passion, what struck me most was that she was now an acknowledged expert in the history of ancient Mesopotamia. She had given that field of study an entire decade of her life, after all—and if you devote yourself to anything diligently for ten years, that will make you an expert. (That’s the time it would take to earn two master’s degrees and a doctorate.) She had gone to the Middle East on several archaeological digs; she had learned cuneiform script; she was friendly with the greatest scholars and curators on the subject; she had never missed a related museum exhibit or lecture when it came to town. People now sought out Winifred for answers about ancient Mesopotamia, because now she was the authority.

I was a young woman who had only recently finished college. There was still some dull and limited part of my imagination that believed my education was over because NYU had granted me a diploma. Meeting Winifred, though, made me realize that your education isn’t over when they say it’s over; your education is over when you say it’s over. And Winifred—back when she was a mere girl of eighty—had firmly decided: It ain’t over yet.

So when can you start pursuing your most creative and passionate life?

You can start whenever you decide to start.