After a devastating divorce left her broken and alone, Elizabeth Gilbert did what many people in difficult situations have dreamed of doing. She packed her bags, booked a plane ticket, and took off on a yearlong quest of self-discovery. She chronicled her transformative journey in Eat, Pray, Love, her 2006 best-selling memoir that continues to spark conversation today.
One of the comments Gilbert says she hears most from her readers is some variation of this: "I would love nothing more than to do what you did, to drop everything and run and to go on a quest and to travel around the world and find my true self, but I can't because I have A, B, C, D, E obstacles," Gilbert says in the above "Super Soul Sunday" clip.
"I've struggled over the years to figure out how to answer that when they say, 'How can I go on my quest when I'm in that situation?'" she tells Oprah.
Gilbert finally got her answer during a book signing in Washington, D.C., when a woman shared an inspiring story with her. She told Gilbert about her mother, a traditional Irish-Catholic woman who grew up in a very restrictive household in the 50s. "She got married at 18, had five kids in a row," Gilbert says. "And when the oldest was 10 and the youngest was two months, her husband left her and never came back."
At 28 years old, she was left to raise and provide for five children by herself. "And she had to figure out how to hold that family together," Gilbert says. "And she did. I don't know the details of how she did it, I just know she's heroic."
"But she did something else, too," Gilbert continues. "Which is that she made a decision, that very day that she realized that he was never coming home, that her life was not always going to look like this. This much sorrow, this much oppression, this much poverty. And she made a promise to herself that someday she was going to see the world."
She found an empty coffee can and stuck it in her closet where her kids couldn't see it, Gilbert says. "And starting on that very day that her husband left her, she put $1 in that coffee can, and started a practice every day, $1. No matter what it took to get it."
Though it wasn't easy, she always managed to scrape and sacrifice to put that $1 away. "It took her 20 years until all those kids were grown," Gilbert says. "She never touched that money. She just added to it coffee can after coffee can after coffee can. And when the last kid was out of the house, she cashed in the coffee cans and bought herself a ticket on a freighter ship and she sailed around the world alone, as she had always promised herself that she would do."
The message, Gilbert says, is that while you may not be able to start your personal Eat, Pray, Love quest at this very moment, you can start planning today. "Get your coffee cans going," she says. "Take the long view if you need to. But don't give up on that question in you about the world and your place within the world. Take whatever time you need, but make your plan and begin today."
Still feel like something is holding you back? Gilbert says many women feel they need permission to honor their own lives -- but you don't.