What I Learned from Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Creativity is one of the greatest joys enabled by living a simpler life. By consuming less, there is room to create more. Yet leaving my corporate job to embark on a creative life is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I deal with fear on a daily basis: What if no one likes my blog? What if I left my security and stable income for a dream that won’t happen? These are just some of the thoughts that pass through my mind each and every day.

So, I decided to pick up Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) as it seemed like the perfect read for this stage of my life. I was hoping it would give me strategies to reduce my fear and clear my path to living a creative life without all of the anxiety that comes with it.

Well, if you’re reading this book to try and erase your fear, unfortunately it won’t do that for you. The first thing I learned from reading this is that you can’t get rid of your fear. But, let me explain: Gilbert talks about the difference between fearlessness and courage. Fear, she says, will always be there – it’s part of human nature and instinctively keeps us from doing dangerous things, like jumping off cliffs.

Courage, on the other hand, is doing something despite being faced with fear. I was discouraged – it seemed like this book might not hold the answers I was looking for. But, throughout the book Gilbert drops some wisdom based on her own experience as a writer to help creatives push past fear. Here is a summary of the key ideas in Big Magic that I found most meaningful.

I am entitled to exist and express myself.

I agree with Gilbert that humans by nature are creative beings. We all have the capacity and often the drive to create, and it is our right to do so if we want to. Don’t let anything ever make you feel like you have less right to express yourself creatively than anyone else – whether that be because you think they have more talent, better ideas, or any sort of leg up on you. You are just as entitled as anyone to create what you love and put your work out into the world.

Don’t worry about being completely original.

There’s always a reason not to do something. A common one when it comes to creative work is that it’s been done before, and you’re just copying something else. Gilbert says yes, it probably has been done – but not by you. No matter what, whatever you create will be original because it will have your unique flair.  You’re the only you and the way that you create something will make it original.

Everything has a downside.

Unfortunately, everything sucks some of the time. Gilbert calls this “choosing your preferred flavour of shit sandwich“. This is especially true for someone like me who tends to focus on the negative side of things (I’m working on it!) But it’s true, there’s always a downside to anything that you do in life. My previous career had me stressed, but the benefits were financial security, great coworkers, and feeling successful, to name a few. In my new line of work, I get to be creative and do what I love every day, which is amazing.

But it comes with its own downsides, too. I’m stressed about how I’ll make money, wondering if I’m doing the right thing, and half the time have no idea what I’m even doing. Some days I just don’t feel motivated or I feel like I’ll never be able to accomplish my goals. Gilbert says you just have to be willing to put up with that and the downsides will be worth trudging through if you’re doing what you truly love. For me, the pros outweigh the cons and I’m willing to put up with the downsides of this career choice if it means I get to live what I believe is my true life’s purpose.

big magic

Perfectionism is a form of fear.

Gilbert calls perfectionism “fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat.” I’d say that I’m a perfectionist (thanks to my Virgo side), and I agree with Gilbert that it’s not a good thing. It makes me afraid to put something out there that I’m not 100% happy with, or that I don’t feel is perfect. Well, guess what – nothing is ever perfect and it’s much better to put something out there that’s pretty good as opposed to never putting it out there at all. You can dress perfectionism up all you want, but what it really boils down to is just fear. And if we listen to that fear, we’ll never get around to creating anything or sharing our gifts with the rest of the world.

Fear indicates an opportunity for growth.

Fear can actually be a good sign. It’s an indicator that something exciting is around the corner or that something big is about to happen. Thus, Gilbert says, it’s the worst time to quit when things start to get hard. Going outside of your comfort zone creates the most opportunity for growth. When things get hard, instead think to yourself, “Here’s where things get interesting.” Pushing past difficult times can be a hugely rewarding experience. Challenge yourself and welcome fear when it comes, as if you can beat it, you’ll come out stronger on the other side.

Doing what you love is never a waste of time.

Gilbert says to simply do what you love to do. At least then you will know that you have tried and have no regrets, whether you’re a huge success or no one ever knows your name. This is exactly the approach I took when I decided to turn to writing this simple living blog full-time. When I wonder if I made the right choice, this helps me because I am doing what I love and in no way can that be a waste of time – it’s worthwhile it in its own right.

Life is short, so just do it.

If there’s one thing to take away from this book, it’s this: Everything is temporary, so why not? As far as we know, we only get one life on this planet, and it’s over in a flash. I don’t want to look back on my years and have regrets or wonder what if? I’d rather try, screw it up, and know one way or the other, because at the end of the day, who cares? Life is short and so it really doesn’t matter if you fail over and over again. The world will go on. But if you never try in the first place, you’ll never succeed.

Final Thoughts

Big Magic offers some useful advice and has given me a few good mantras to think of when I’m feeling afraid or discouraged. Its wisdom can apply to any type of creative work. Gilbert focuses on writing books because that’s her craft, but I was able to apply some of her principles anyway to my own work writing a blog.

I do have some criticisms about the book which echo what others have said in their reviews. Mainly, Gilbert’s delivery is sometimes off-putting. A lot of it is about her own experience, and you have to dig to get the nuggets of wisdom. Drawing on her own experiences makes sense, but it often comes across as self-serving and egotistical. Furthermore, I disagreed with a few of her points; for one, she says you should never make a career out of a creative passion, as I have done. I found her two sentences at the end of every section for emphasis, like they’re the most profound ideas you’ll ever hear, a bit tiresome.

That said, Big Magic serves up realistic, often witty wisdom on having the courage to live a creative life and how to deal with the inevitable fear that comes along with it. I rate it 3 out of 5 stars and would recommend it to anyone who has ever felt afraid to create something in their life.

Read Big Magic

Big Magic is available on Amazon, at bookstores, or from your local library.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear*

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What I Learned from Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

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