One day Eli Trier had a brilliant idea. Suffering with depression, she had started writing down all the things she was grateful for in her life in the hope that it would lift her spirits. But she wanted to do something more. So she started a ‘gratitude blog’; “a year of saying thank you to the people who changed my life.” Each week she drew a picture and wrote a thank you note to one incredible person, including Richard Branson, Stephen Fry and Roald Dahl. People soon started to sit up and take notice. And in less than a year, the blog became a huge success, spawning a book, online courses and an exciting new business. But of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. In order to turn her life around, Eli had to leave her job, walk away from her marriage and move to another part of the country…
Five years ago I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t do anything that made me miserable ever again. I walked away from my marriage, my crappy office job and my gorgeous country cottage and moved to the big city on my own, with a dream to work for myself.
I temped for a bit and then set myself up as a virtual assistant (I have no idea why – I HATE admin with a passion). I fumbled around for a few years doing odd jobs, drawing on my background in marketing and my writing skills before realising that I had set myself with a job. One where I had not one boss, but many. A prison of my own creation. So, I did what any sensible person would do, I had a massive mental breakdown and went to bed for a month.
After that I got some good drugs, some good therapy and declared that 2013 was going to be the official ‘year of getting my shit together’. So, I got my shit together – I started the Gratitude Project.
Walking away from your marriage, job and home is a massive thing! How did you summon up the courage and keep going in your darkest moments?
I‘m very much a ‘do first, think later’ sort of person, and I am totally driven by my emotions. I have found over the years that I can deal with pretty much any sort of horror life chooses to chuck my way and it is, in fact, boredom which is my Achilles’ Heel. I cannot BEAR to be bored, in any way, shape or form.
Therefore my actions are not so much borne of courageousness as they are just me doing whatever I can to keep life interesting!! It sounds flippant but I like to play with life – I try to see it as an experiment: some things work, others don’t. And there isn’t much that can’t be cured with a good cry, a box of chocs and an uncomfortable phone call.
So, not so much a strategy as a personality defect! My only lifeline is the famous quote, ‘This too shall pass.’ That’s seen me through a few dark nights :-)
What inspired the Gratitude Project?
The Gratitude Project was originally just a personal project. I started it because I wanted to get better at drawing and hand-lettering and most of all, because I wanted to say thank you, and give something back to all these amazing people who have inspired me so much.
I first had the idea in the August of 2012, and I published my first post at the beginning of January 2013. I then didn’t tell anyone about it until that April! At that point I started talking to people and telling them what I was up to, and the response was amazing!
How did people react?
I have a whole batch of emails from lovely, lovely people who were prompted into telling me their stories because I was sharing mine. I am often moved to tears by the responses I get.
I was featured in Marianne Cantwell’s Free Range Humans blog, which brought a whole load of people my way, and I chat regularly with her as well as making internet friends with a few others, such as Barbara Winter and Selina Barker.
The best thing in the world is getting emails from people who have been touched in some way by what I’ve written and shared. That’s powerful stuff! THAT is what it’s all about. Numbers, subscribers etc etc are all arbitrary, in my opinion.
How did your blog inspire your new business EliTrier.com?
EliTrier.com was built off the back of the roaring success that the Gratitude Project has become – when I discovered that people loved my wobbly drawings and found inspiration in my words and those of the people I was thanking, I had a bit of eureka moment.
It also inspired a book based on your blog posts, didn’t it? That must be exciting!
The book is the most exciting thing to happen to me, EVER! It’s due to come out in Spring 2014 and it is a real passion project. There’s going to be two versions to begin with – the first will be an interactive animated ebook; and the second will be a gorgeous full colour hardback limited edition. Not so much a book, as an experience!
You announced recently that, after some “moderate bullying” from loved ones, you are offering a series of one to one coaching sessions. Tell me more…
I am so excited about this. I’ve been doing ‘coaching’ informally for as long as I can remember but it never occurred to me that that was what it was – I just thought I was being helpful!
My friend Sam (who is gloriously bossy) gave me a earful when she realised that I was doing these sessions for people and not charging anything. Then when I spoke to my beloved and my family about offering coaching as part of my business, they all rolled their eyes at me and said, ‘Of COURSE you should be doing that.’ I just wish they’d told me sooner!!
So, I now run Instant Unstuckification Sessions which are an hour long and designed to get people over their most immediate hurdles, as well as a bit of brainstorming and idea generation. They’re great fun to do!
I also offer a month-long package called One Month to a Brighter Business which helps people sort their businesses out in a month – it really does what it says on the tin!!
There’s a word, which I repeat often to myself, like a kind of mantra. The word is ‘Ataraxia’, and it means ‘the peace that comes after a long struggle’. That’s the word that best sums up how I feel about doing my thing.
It’s the best, most blissful, perfect feeling in the world. Like finally coming home.
It’s like I was swimming upstream, against the flow, all my life, and then I just gave up and stopped trying. As soon as I did that, all of a sudden everything became so easy and peaceful.
What has been the biggest obstacle to getting to this point?
Myself. I never thought I was allowed to do this. Now, I’ve made it part of my job to show other people that they are allowed to do what they want to, as well. I try to lead by example and share my triumphs and also my failures (mostly my failures) so people can see that you don’t have to be specially anointed or chosen in any way to do work you love. You just have to keep doing it and sending it out into the world.
What are your plans? Will you still be doing this in 5-10 years’ time?
I hope that I continue to write and paint – I have myriad ideas for illustrated books, new courses, a retreat or two, collaborations, wild projects and life experiments (to write about, of course) and a range of stationery. Hopefully I can just keep playing and having fun and seeing what happens.
Other than that, I’d love to be able to connect with and inspire people all over the world to say bollocks to fear and let themselves play. And I really want to speak at both TED & WDS, as well as be interviewed by Jonathan Fields on the Good Life Project.
I have a long, long way to go but at least now I am loving the journey. And I know I am firmly on the right road. I don’t have to push, or try to force anything. I can just sit back, do my work, and let things happen.
Whatever it is that you want to do, just do it. Don’t even think about turning it into a business or ‘monetising’ (hate that word) it in any way. Just relax, do what makes you happy, talk to lots of people about it and see what happens.
If you don’t know what your spark is yet, you need to do two things, in my opinion. The first is to look backward to what you loved doing as a child; and the second is to try lots of new stuff. Always be learning and keep an eye on the stuff you do which lights you up inside. If you lose track of time, or you literally want to jump up and down with excitement, you know you’re pretty much there. Pay attention to how you feel.
What advice would you give to anyone who longs to be a writer or artist?
Write and make art. Do it every day. Share it with people.
Creating stuff and sharing it can bring up a lot of fear…
Fear’s job is to keep you safe. So, have a little chat with it. Listen to what your fear is telling you, and then gently but firmly tell it that you can manage and you don’t need its protection right now.
If that doesn’t work, grit your teeth, take three deep breathes and DO IT ANYWAY.
That may sound a bit glib, but personally I got seriously bored with being frightened of everything and limiting my life out of fear. So I told fear to bugger off, and just got on with my work.
I love that you told fear to ‘bugger off’! What about self-doubt? Any tips for overcoming this?
There’s always fear and doubt when you decide to do something that’s authentically you. By its very nature it makes you vulnerable. If you’re terrified, you’re on the right track!
The trick is to do it anyway. Keep your eyes on your work; create, ship, repeat; create, ship, repeat. It’s none of your business how it is received – you have no control over what people think. But, if your work is honest and true, the right people will find you, and love you.
And most importantly, ENJOY THE PROCESS!