Big Magic

Summary Written by Brittnei Gaudio
"What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?"

- Big Magic, page 259

The Big Idea

Big Magic

"I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear."- Big Magic, page 9

The key to creative living is opening yourself up to inspiration. Inspiration is constantly on the look out for viable options, humans who are ready, curious and willing to explore an idea and adopt a new opportunity. This adoption is not without fear, but it doesn’t allow for fear to overshadow the process. “When people try to kill off their fear,” Gilbert says, “they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.”

The Big Magic approach itself could enlist fear in those outside of Gilbert’s target audience; the very concept that the creative process requires a deep belief in both magic and the magical can be unsettling. Although these concepts are often excluded from formal career coaching, with an open mind Gilbert’s explanation of our relationship with inspiration can prove to be a valuable thought starter:

“Ideas are a disembodied energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us… Ideas are driven by a single impulse, to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts than an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”

When an idea has found a suitable human partner, presumably you, it will try to wave you down on countless occasions, and if you don’t bite—it will move on. The urgency here is to open yourself up to those ideas. Limit your distractions, open your mind and prepare yourself for the next big inspiration.

Think you’ve got hold of it? The next step is to persist, create and trust.

Insight #1

Persistent Curiosity

"The question is not so much ‘What are you passionate about?’ The question is ‘What are you passionate about ENOUGH that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of that work?’"- Big Magic, page 150

Okay, so inspiration has struck. Now comes the work. Regardless of our level of connection with or the strength of our inspiration—there will always be challenges and obstacles that make it less desirable as time goes on. Instead of resisting or giving up, “a different way is to cooperate fully, humbly, and joyfully with inspiration,” Gilbert suggests. Grounding yourself in curiosity can be the key to persistence, as “curiosity is what keeps you working steadily, while hotter emotions may come and go.”

As a budding entrepreneur, paperwork and logistics may have you dreading kicking off, but stay close to your inspiration and the promise of curiosity can allow you to preserve through to fruition. Or, as an ambitious team leader looking to shake things up with an innovative project, forecasting the tough bits and the end goals can help create a road map that allows for sustainability and persistence.

Sound daunting? Give it a whirl, because “it’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.”

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Insight #2

Don’t be a Martyr

"Interesting outcomes are just awful outcomes with the volume of drama turned way down"- Big Magic, page 247

Creators of all types carry a reputation for martyrdom; the tortured artist, the tormented writer, and the perpetually overwhelmed executive. The danger of martyrdom is quite simply that it is a dramatic, dark and uninspiring place to be in.

Gilbert introduces an enticing alternative: the Trickster. Tricksters trust the universe, they are optimistic, sly, primal, and endlessly shape shifting. Embrace the Trickster and you’ll find the burden of success and the ultimate need for perfection will fade away, leaving you with the raw inspiration and the persistent curiosity to power through to completion. “Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work anyhow, because fierce trust knows that the outcome does not matter,” Gilbert explains.

While a fluffy and softer approach to creativity, Big Magic is quite frankly, inspiring. As it turns out, taking the rigorous and quantifiable nature of goal setting out of the equation leaves room for creative living, which can be a very productive place to be. We can all take a page out of Gilbert’s expose, trust in the process of inspiration, lighten up our own expectations, and loosen our definition of success—because when we do—magical things can happen!

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Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, as well as the short story collection, Pilgrims–a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the 1999 John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award-nominated journalist, she works as writer-at-large for GQ. Her journalism has been published in Harper’s Bazaar, Spin, and The New York Times Magazine, and her stories have appeared in Esquire, Story, and the Paris Review.

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