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Creative living beyond fear

Whenever I fawn over Elizabeth Gilbert, one of my favorite authors, I feel obligated to insert a breathy disclaimer that goes something like this:

“Eat Pray Love the movie is like an artificial sweetener while Eat Pray Love the book is like golden Turbinado cane sugar sprinkled in a bowl of blueberry oatmeal. The first may sell out at the box office, but the latter will feed your soul. No offense Julia Roberts – you did the best you could.”

Yes, it’s true: I think Liz Gilbert is a fiercely feminine, fiercely wise, creative force who I wish I could have on speed dial. But until I get her digits, I’ll have to keep buying her books and adding them to my Kindle shelf. The latest addition to my Gilbert collection is her newest release and “Big Magic” has become my favorite class in creative wizardry.

The Time Elizabeth Gilbert Whispered in My Ear

I raised my arm 50 feet high when Elizabeth Gilbert called for the question portion of her book reading on a freezing February night in suburban Minnesota. In an auditorium crammed with Eat Pray Lovers, I was determined to make a connection with the author I had so long admired from afar. Liz pointed and paged through the audience questions, telling about her new Brazilian husband and offering recommendations for picture-perfect travel destinations.

She answered trite question, after shallow question, after ridiculous question, somehow skimming over my 50-foot high hand and the intent stare I shot across the bow. Before I knew it I was in line with my tattered paperback waiting for her signature and mourning my lost opportunity to ask her my one burning question: “I love you TED Talk on Creativity and I’m wondering, what advice do you have for a young writer struggling under the pressure to create something new in a crowded & competitive world?”

As I passed my book into her hands, I decided to reject her rejection and quickly blurted my question out before her PR manager could shuffle me away. “It’s pretty much all in my TED Talk,” Gilbert said, in a dismissive voice that suggested she’d been worn out by this audience of housewives and homebodies.

I scooped the signed book under my arm, and turned to walk away when I heard: “Wait! Come back.” So (obviously) I did. And I let this best-selling super star author draw me close to her, cup her hands around my ear, and whisper:

“There’s a treasure inside of you calling out for you to say yes.”

As I walked away, a few warm tears prickled in my eyes, not because I love a good chick flick, but because I knew unequivocally that Elizabeth Gilbert was right and that it was time I got on board with my own creative impulse.

Top 3 Takeaways from Big Magic:

Big Magic is both a manual and a manifesto about creative practice, one that is apt for creative professionals, writers, artists, and anyone with a twinge to innovate on any scale. She concocts a delicious mix of personal stories with lively prose and divides the book into six parts: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity.

#1 – You have a genius, you are not a genius.

Before you take offense to that statement, let me explain. Gilbert traces back the cultural concepts of creativity back to the ancient Greeks & Romans, during which time creativity was understood as a force external to the artist, not intrinsic to. She explains that it’s the difference between being a genius and having a genius. We are therefore not entirely responsible for our creative failures nor our creative successes.

Believing that we are collaborators with and not sources of creativity lifts the weight of the world off our shoulders, allows us to take ourselves more lightly, and gives us permission to create freely because it takes our worth and our ego out of the equation.

#2 – Keep fear in the car – but don’t give let it drive.

Creativity and fear have to find a way to peacefully coexist if we’re ever going to get on with the work of bringing authenticity and innovation into the world. Creativity sends off all manner of psychological security alarms, opening us up to uncertainty and by doing so, it activates fear. If you kill off fear, you kill off creativity. 

Therefore, if you’d like to take a journey with creativity, you’re going to have to make room in the car for fear. But before it climbs aboard, you should set a few (non-negotiable) ground rules. Fear will never step into the driver’s seat, it will never speak up to offer suggestions, and it will never interfere with creativity’s leadership. It will sit in the back, twiddling its thumbs in silence. Why? Because the goal is to create a life “that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

“Fear is a deeply ancient instinct…but it isn’t especially smart.” 

– Elizabeth Gilbert –
Author of “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”

#3 – Ideas are fickle houseguests.

This is where Gilbert takes off her shoes and starts doing a tree-hugging hippy dance through the forest, but it’s worth observing her steps because I’m pretty sure she’s on to something grand. She describes ideas as “disembodied, energetic life forms,” that are capable of interacting with humans, and driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. 

Ideas float around and search for human partners willing to “work like a farmer” to bring them into the world. Ignore the idea and it will leave you, mistreat it and you risk ruining your reputation and never finding another muse willing to work with you again. You can politely decline an idea’s offer of collaboration, or you can say ‘yes’ and dive in with your whole heart. 

And, I couldn’t wrap up without leaving you with my favorite snippet from the entire book:

“I want to live the most vividly decorated temporary life that I can. I don’t just mean physically; I mean emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. I don’t want to be afraid of bright colors, or new sounds, or big love, or risky decisions, or strange experiences, or weird endeavors, or sudden changes, or even failure.” 

– Elizabeth Gilbert –
Author of “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”

And now, nearly 5 years after our initial meeting, I know that that’s something Liz Gilbert and I have in common. I too believe in living a courageously creative life and applying that sacred sense of innovation to whatever arena is in front of me. But I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised, can’t you see the family resemblance between us?

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