The martyr vs. the trickster

martyr

I’ll tell you the truth — I’m not the most lighthearted person.

A bubbly, cheery ray of sunshine? This is not me.

I love and appreciate people who are naturally sunny and smiley and upbeat … but I don’t really get how they do it.

This fact hasn’t bothered me for most of my life. I’m snarky and bit intense, and I’ve got a resting b-face that assures no one will ever approach me in public. I’ve got a great sense of humor (if I do say so), but it’s dry and sarcastic and can be biting, at times.

What can I say? I just have a tendency toward the serious, the intense … and the anxious.

And I’m starting to realize how much it’s getting in my way.

It’s not that I want to skip through life with a butterfly net … but I would like to take things less seriously, have more fun, and not stress as much.

And I think I’ve found a way to do that.

TURNS OUT, I’M A MARTYR

You’ve probably heard me talk about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic before. It’s one of my favorite books about creativity (and life in general).

There’s this brief section in the book where she talks about how martyred we are when it comes to our creativity.

Being a martyr to your art — or anything you produce; it doesn’t have to be artistic — is about believing that struggle and suffering are necessary to make anything of value.

It’s your stereotypical starving artist, literally dying for their creativity.

It’s the way we wear our angst and our scars like a badge of honor: “See, I sweat for this thing. I sacrificed everything for this. I gave of myself until there was hardly anything left to give … and that proves that I’m worthy of it.”

Why do we believe that?

Yes, if something was hard-won, there’s definitely a sense of reward and fulfillment for having endured, for not giving up. That’s honorable.

But I think we forget, I know I do, that not everything has to be that way.

In fact, I think we forget that to such a large degree that we actually start to assume that unless something was hard-won and difficult … we can’t trust it. It’s less real. We must not have really earned it if we didn’t struggle or fight or kill ourselves to get it.

WHICH CREATES A WHOLE HEAP OF PROBLEMS

Liz Gilbert was talking about the “martyr” mentality as it applies to creativity.

But I think we can agree that this kind of martyrdom — believing in struggle, suffering, and stress — is a lens through which many of us view all of life.

For me, it explains why …

  • Sometimes when I’m writing, I don’t feel at ease in my body. I feel tense and a bit panicky. (Why? I couldn’t tell you. Maybe I’m afraid I won’t find the right words?)
  • I compulsively check email, even when I know I don’t need to. I’m looking for problems to solve, instead of just sitting still.
  • Even with plenty of evidence to the contrary, I fear with each new round of the PPVE that it somehow won’t go well, and that people won’t like it.
  • I fret that my clients aren’t getting “enough” out of their coaching experience, even though I’ve done this many hundreds of times.
  • When I’m cooking, I sometimes get anxious about timing everything just right … as if I have no experience with making food!
  • I start buying into the idea that once I’m “done,” I can relax, even though I know that I will never be done.

It’s uncomfortable to admit, but I think I’m slightly addicted to the struggle.

Maybe I believe (on a mostly unconscious level) that unless I’m struggling, I’m somehow not doing my best or earning my keep. Maybe I’m creating angst left and right because I just expect life to be hard.

And that’s exhausting, isn’t it?

There has to be a better way than trudging through life, taking everything so seriously and creating suffering where it doesn’t need to exist.

INTRODUCING THE TRICKSTER

Liz Gilbert calls the opposite of a martyr a “trickster.”

Whereas a martyr is serious, rigid, and unforgiving, a trickster is playful, flexible, and light.

A martyr has a hard time trusting anything to work out, which is why they tend to exert a ton of control over life (which creates heaps of anxiety, of course … because who actually has real control over anything?).

This is what Liz has to say about tricksters:

The trickster trusts the Universe. He trusts in its chaotic, law-less, ever-fascinating ways — and for this reason, he does not suffer from undue anxiety.

A good trickster knows that if he cheerfully tosses a ball out into the cosmos, that ball will be thrown back at him. It might be thrown back really hard, or it might be thrown back really crooked, or it might be thrown back in a cartoonish hail of missiles, or it might not be thrown back until the middle of next year — but that ball will eventually be thrown back.

The trickster waits for the ball to return, catches it however it arrives, and then tosses it back out there into the void again, just to see what will happen. And he loves doing it, because the trickster (in all his cleverness) understands the one great cosmic truth that the martyr (in all his seriousness) can never grasp: It’s all just a game.

BEING A TRICKSTER PAYS OFF

What’s convinced me to make the transition from martyr to trickster is the proof that being a trickster actually pays off way more than being a martyr.

A couple of months ago, Kristen and I went to New Orleans for a few days. It was glorious. We spent hours and hours walking through the city, stopping in for food and drinks whenever we felt like it, randomly buying things, and having impromptu conversations with people.

There were few plans. It was all light and easy and fun. The whole experience was completely “trickster.”

We did no work, paid hardly any attention to Clarity on Fire at all … and got more coaching requests and more course sign-ups in those 3 days than we had for the first 28 days of the month.

Weird coincidence? Maybe. But if you ask me … it was proof that ease and fun work.

And of course, it’s not just that trip that’s sold me on being a trickster.

I take an hour-long break in the middle of the day to read a book — something my martyr self would be horrified by — and I end up coaching way better that evening.

I wrote a blog that I thought no one would like, but published it anyway because why not (about not wanting to be a #girlboss) … and got a HUGE influx of feedback.

Kristen and I got the flu during the latest PPVE launch, and instead of losing my mind, I just trusted that things would work out. I spent days on the couch watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt … and we had the best launch we’ve ever had.

IT’S JUST LIFE, PEOPLE

The bottom line I’ve come to believe in is this:

I’m not getting better results despite being at ease … I’m getting better results because of my ease.

Suffering only begets more suffering. Why continue to believe that things have to be hard? I don’t need to struggle to prove myself. I don’t need to sweat and strain to earn my keep.

twitter-bird You don’t need to be serious to get seriously good results.

So, how do you feel about this? Are you a martyr or a trickster? Let me know, in the comments!

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Much Love,

Rachel (+ Kristen)

21 Comments // ADD COMMENT

21 comments

  • Rachel

    Omgoodness I LOVE the audio option! Great blog today 🙂

  • Dan Pittman

    Wonderful article. The importance of having a retrospective view on our lives can’t be overstated, and yet living in the moment is what allows us to approach life lightly – with a “Trickster” attitude. Life is what occurs between our ears, not in front of our eyes. It seems better to have a trickster head on my shoulders. Thanks for sharing!

    -Dan

    • Rachel E.

      You’re welcome, Dan! I love “life happens between our ears, not in front of our eyes.” Really good thought, and so true. It’s all about how we think and interpret what’s going on around us, isn’t it?

  • Christina

    Thank you so much for posting this blog. It is definitely a reminder to me about the dangers of being too serious.

    I have actually been trying to adjust to be more of the trickster. It is not easy because of the habits we develop. However, I will say that you are absolutely correct.

    • Rachel E.

      I’m a work in progress, too, Christina. It’s definitely hard to remember sometimes! But SO much easier and fun when I *can* remember.

  • AL

    I totally agree!!! I grew up in an environment where everything was struggle x drama (martyr city), but the more I let go, trust that all is always well, simply living in EASE, the more life flows &, instead of everything falling apart, everything actually falls beautifully into place. Love, love, love it! You are so spot on-on fire! 🙂 Thank you!

    • Rachel E.

      Thanks, AL! Giving up control and trusting that things are happening as they should is both the simplest statement and one of the hardest ones to keep practicing, but my life is SO much better for the effort!

  • Victoria

    This was right on time for me! Thanks so very much for this post.

    • Rachel E.

      You’re welcome, Victoria! I love when our posts come for people at just the right time. 🙂

  • Paul

    Excellent blog! It is so hard sometimes to let go of trying to control everything, mainly due to fear that we won’t like how it ends up. But like you say, you have more fun if you do AND things usually work out better because one comes across more naturally.

    Here’s another thought for the day….
    “It will be alright in the end and, if it’s not alright ,it’s not the end.”

    Keep up the great blogs.
    Kind Regards
    Paul

    • Rachel E.

      Thanks, Paul! I’ve always loved that “if it’s not alright, it’s not the end” quote, too.

  • Sofia

    This article made me realize I’d actually been switching between these two modes ever since I started working. My boss is quite relaxed so it allowed me to start switching without even noticing and well, every time I actually agreed with my body to not force myself to go to work and sleep like I needed…I actually did my work much better after 😀

    • Stacey

      “every time I actually agreed with my body to not force myself to go to work and sleep like I needed…I actually did my work much better after” This statement was so eye opening for me. I always feel like I have to keep pushing myself, even when my brain is so overworked and I’m physically tired. I dont want to get behind in my work, or let my email get out of control. This statement reminds me to give myself permission to do what I feel in order to take care of myself mentally and physically. Thanks for sharing and great blog post!

      • Rachel E.

        Stacey & Sofia — I can attest to how much just taking basic care of your body and mind makes a WORLD of difference. The other day I was feeling like crap, took a 90-minute nap (something I rarely do) and woke up feeling like a completely new person. We forget that if we don’t invest in ourselves today — in the form of sleep and rejuvenation and relaxation — we steal from ourselves the next day!

  • Marian

    I suspect that the martyr is driven by the ‘have to’ or ‘should do’ that we impose onto ourselves. Resisting this imposition would allow us to more readily go with the flow – and trust ourselves more. Thanks for the post!

    • Rachel E.

      Absolutely, Marian! The martyred mentality has everything to do with imposing “shoulds” and “have to’s” on ourselves. I think your ideal “trickster” is someone who has VERY few shoulds in their life!

  • Jess

    Exactly what I needed to hear, at exactly the right time. I try so hard to control so many things in my life/ fall on the sword to prove my worth but it’s seriously exhausting. Thank you for this.

    • Rachel E.

      You’re welcome, Jess! I always love hearing how well-timed our blogs are for some people. 🙂

  • Patience

    Omg such a lovely blog post! I’m currently reading Big Magic and I just finished the chapter about the Martyr and Trickster. I’ve realized that I am more a martyr then a trickster but I would love to be a trickster. Society has conditioned us to believe that living our life like a martyr is the way to live but I seriously beg to defer!! I wanted to look into this idea a little further and during the process I found your blog. Thank you!!! I will def. subscribe!

    • Rachel E.

      Hey Patience! So happy that you found us, and that you are enjoying Big Magic. It’s one of my favorite books! Since you’re new to Clarity on Fire, definitely take our Passion Profile Quiz (that’s how you subscribe to us. I think you’ll love it! 🙂