Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Book Review)

November 19, 2015

Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for her memoir turned motion picture, Eat, Pray, Love, has most recently ventured into self-help territory with her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear, released just this past summer.

From start to finish, Elizabeth is approachable, candid, and engaging, and that makes her all the more compelling. She communicates with you not as a wildly successful New York Times bestselling author bestowing magical words of wisdom, but as a pal you’ve met for a coffee and chat. Peppered with personal anecdotes involving Elizabeth’s life and some of the people she’s encountered in it, she never condescends, nor does she make wild claims that lack basis in your reality. In fact, you’ll recognize that many of her truths are rooted firmly in the universe.

BigMagicThe title may suggest otherwise, though, and even trigger some intimidation, especially for those who doubt their own creativity. Please, I implore you, don’t let those six words fool you. She’s trying to break down walls, not build them. So what does the title actually mean?

First off, what is creative living? Is the author suggesting that we all become creators of some kind, from writers to artists to figure skaters? No, not at all. Instead, Elizabeth is aiming to demystify creativity, which she believes is a remedy for the monotony of a boring life, along with one of the key ingredients to inherent personal joy. To her, creativity is one of life’s driving forces, but it’s not the only one. It’s certainly not an all-consuming entity that demands you drop everything you’re doing, quit your day job, and chase it endlessly. It is something worth taking a break from everyday life for, though, and it’s available to everyone.

Secondly, she isn’t suggesting that we should live our lives without fear. On the contrary, she acknowledges that fear and creativity are destined to coexist, even though fear is a decidedly boring road trip companion (Haha, you’ll catch on to the meaning of this soon enough…). Elizabeth’s plea is to not give fear the power to dictate your life and paralyze you, to not hold yourself back from realizing your potentially exciting life because you’re afraid.

What she’s talking about resonated so deeply with me, and there’s a particular passage so perfectly aligned with something I’ve been exploring this month:

What am I doing to adopt an abundance mindset?

In my call for November Nonprofit Blog Carnival submissions, I asked you the same question. It’s so perfect in keeping with November, with its emphasis on gratitude, isn’t it?  Check out how she has adopted an abundance mindset in relation to the innate creativity found in each and every one of us.

“And inspiration works with us, it seems, because inspiration likes working with us—because human beings are possessed of something special, something extra, something unnecessarily rich, something that the novelist Marilynne Robinson calls “an overabundance that is magical.”

That magical overabundance?

That’s your inherent creativity, humming and stirring quietly in its deep reserve. Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody “a creative person” is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the senses for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it.

If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know, we are all descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem solvers and embellishers—these are our common ancestors.

…Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us. Your very body and your very being are perfectly designed to live in collaboration with inspiration, and inspiration is still trying to find you—the same way it hunted down your ancestors.

All of which is to say: You do not need a permission slip from the principal’s office to live a creative life. Or, if you do worry that you need a permission slip—

THERE, I just gave it to you.

I just wrote it on the back of an old shopping list.

Consider yourself fully accredited.

Now, go make something.”

C’mon, how inspiring and invigorating is that, and how true?

Creativity isn’t only the spice of life, it’s the rhythm of it. Don’t you just want to shout it from the mountain tops, loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear? Elizabeth’s positive attitude includes an abundance mindset when it comes to creativity, and the puzzle fits together so seamlessly, from ancestry, to human design, to biological need. It makes total sense that as a species, we’re naturally inclined and designed to pursue creativity in some way, somehow.

I feel as though I’ve found a new friend in Elizabeth, whose voice filled my kitchen as I hung onto her every word, and I can’t recommend her book enough, whether you decide to read it or listen to it on Audible, as I did.

In our nonprofit community, I often hear words of lack from readers:

I’d love to do that, but we can’t afford it.

When I write donor-centered, I get push back at every turn!

I tried that, but our board won’t go for it.

I encourage you to read Big Magic before this month of gratitude comes to a close, and if you do, think about how it fits into your work life and your own abundance mentality. And be sure to write me and tell me what you think — I’d love to hear from you!

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