"Even tragedy is figureoutable," and other lessons for artists from Marie Forleo’s new book

I was given an early copy of Marie’s book, Everything is Figureoutable, by Penguin Random House via Marie’s team to share with you on the blog! Hooray! It’s available wherever books are sold starting Sept 10, 2019. (I also pre-ordered my own copy ages ago.) Below are the 7 stand-out takeaways I got from reading it, especially as an artist.  

1. Even tragedy is figureoutable.

I pre-ordered Marie’s book after reading this story on her Instagram account, written by Jenn, from New Zealand:

“…suddenly, everything changed. My beautiful mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Nothing seemed figureoutable. But you know what? When I looked deeper and stopped railing against what was happening, the little things were figureoutable.  Like trying to find nursing care for my mum, who lived in a rural area. Like finding special foods she could tolerate. Like getting medical equipment so she could spend her last days (and last five weeks) in her home. So I can honestly say, yes, everything is figureoutable.” 

I had no idea that just five months later I would be hit with my own “…suddenly, everything changed” trauma.

It was one of those calls that make your head spin and have you throwing clothes into a suitcase, booking a last-minute flight, and trying not to cry knowing that as hard as this is hitting you, people you love are being hit harder. 

Hospitals. 

Cancer. 

A haven of comfort violently transforms into a source of pain. 

Then, just when you think you’re out of the woods.

Another call. 

Crying on floors for weeks, months.

More hospitals. Confusion. Misdiagnosis. 

Another loved one, suffering.

Alzheimer’s. 

I remembered Jenn from New Zealand. 

In the horror, it shined a flashlight on the figureoutable parts. 

Like calmly telling a family member that it was time to call 911. Intense, yes, but I’ll never forget the odd sense of calm, knowing that even in some of the worst scenarios, people and systems exist to help with the unimaginable.

The “everything is figureoutable” concept also gave me courage to put my own creative projects on pause, guilt-free.

I needed time to grieve. 

I let go of old expectations, even some dreams - but held on to hope.

2. “Won’t” is your friend. 

When I was going through that tough time, I remember thinking: “I can’t work on my book right now.” 

I watched a webinar of Marie’s around that time; she shared an idea about replacing the word “can’t” with something else.  

I was skeptical at first, worried it might be be like one of those self-help tropes tone-deaf to injustice, inequality, trauma; another needless prescription with a side effect of shame. 

Marie took it in another direction.

You can try it yourself (as I did). 

What is something you wish you could do right now but feel like you just can’t?

What came to your mind just now when you read that?

For me, it was: I can’t get up at 5am anymore to write. 

Waking up at 5am is how I wrote my first book and blog in 2011 with a full-time job. Here I was again trying to write my second book, but what worked before wasn’t working this time. The few times I forced it, I got sick. 

Marie’s idea? Replace “can’t” with “won’t.”

I won’t get up at 5am anymore to write. 

I felt empowered. 

I realized that I was choosing this, and that I was actually proud of that choice. 

I’d deemed that rest was important for me to write at my best. I decided my health mattered more than meeting some prescribed deadline or process. I decided I wanted this to be fun and sustainable because I wanted to write books for the rest of my life. 

(I also realized I’d been ignoring the fact that I’d been through three major life changes in three years that require lots of recharging and grace: moving across the country, changing careers, and losing one of the most important people in my life.)

The shame I’d been carrying dissipated.

The power fell deliciously back into my hands. Not long after proudly pinning my “won’t” badge to my metaphorical jean jacket, I started writing from a coffee shop 7am-9am three times a week. My word count soared. 

3. Refuse to be refused.

This is the title of my favorite chapter in the book. I won’t say much else because it’s worth the read. It’s the chapter about three things that turn amateur artists into pros: failure, rejection, and resilience. 

I loved this metaphor for failure: “Failure as a concept is incredibly shortsighted. It’s like watching a movie and stopping in the middle because the characters hit conflict. You have no clue where the story ends unless you keep going.” 

(#keepgoingclub)

4. Go for dreams before you’re “ready.”

I can’t think of any artist I’ve interviewed who felt ready before they took a big step towards their dream. I’m reminded of Morgan Marcell, whose initial reaction after her first dream-come-true Broadway performance on the Hamilton stage was, “Thank God I didn’t kill someone!”

“You never feel ready to do the important things you’re meant to do,” Marie writes. 

She also emphasizes the importance of clearly defining your dream, judgement free: “Follow your quirky inclinations, no matter how obscure or insignificant they seem.” 

I also love all her little “tests” in the book. Like the one she uses when she doesn’t feel ready for a new opportunity:

 “In ten years, will I regret NOT doing this?”

5. It’s okay if it’s hard. 

 My favorite antithesis to the “everything is figureoutable” idea? “Everything worthwhile is hard. Excruciatingly hard.” 

That quote comes from Marie’s book.

“Everything is figureoutable” is not “everything is easy.” 

It’s not about easy. It’s about possible. 

It’s not about pretending the hard stuff doesn’t exist; it’s about facing it.

Things are figureoutable only to those willing to walk through the tough stuff. 

6. You’re allowed to move on even when things are going well. 

Marie calls herself a “multipassionate entrepreneur” and shares great stories in the book about major pivots in her life and career; my favorites were about the things she walked away from even when they were going really well. 

I can’t think of one artist I’ve interviewed who didn’t operate the same way, myself included. 

Professional artists are constantly looking for the next way to grow. Really well is. never as good as exciting, scary, or new

Marie framed it in terms of food: “You don’t quit eating because something went horribly wrong. You stop eating when you’re satisfied.”  

7. When to ignore the doubt and the doubters. 

Years ago, Marie told a story about an encounter she had on a hotel escalator that I never forgot. 

I was thrilled to see it in the book.

While heading up to the main ballroom on an escalator for a business conference, a fellow attendee introduced himself to Marie and asked about her business.

 “I was thrilled to share,” she remembers. “I told him about my new program and its mission to give creatives and small-business owners the skills they needed to market and sell with integrity online. I said that business education could be enjoyable, heart-centered, and even fun, while still generating massive results. 

“He laughed and said, ‘Really? Is that a real business? You actually make money doing that? C’mon now. This is a hobby, isn’t it? Tell the truth. You’ve got a rich boyfriend or husband who pays your bills.’”

I was disgusted. I still am.

And the reason I never forgot it?

It was familiar. 

I’d had those escalator moments. Too many to count. Buried.

And I knew others were having them, too. 

Marie writes about channeling that anger, dealing with critics, both online and in person, and going your own amazing way in spite of it all.  

“The more you care about what others think, the more they own you.” 

She also has another lovely “test” to check a critic: “Does the person criticizing you have a body of work you respect?”

When I finished the book last night, my eyes watered and my left hand covered my mouth as I read the last story on page 235: Janet from Mexico sharing how she used the “everything is figureoutable” idea to find the best care facility for her brother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. 

The stories will stay with me forever. Like the one about Leymah who ENDED A CIVIL WAR in Liberia. 

Or Amanda, from Texas, who took over her family’s very troubled business and soon after got diagnosed with breast cancer. She tripled her family’s business income while going through cancer.  

The stories in the book are a quiet drum beat, a vibration between each chapter that almost sounds exactly like: “if they can figure it out, so can you.”  

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