Leadership Library Review — Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

March 2016

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead Books, 2015)

What are the big take-aways?

In the vein of “how to be the leader of your own life,” I highly recommend the earnest, amusing and insightful new book by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame).   In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert makes the case for following your curiosity wherever it inspires you to go, and offers tips for how to play through the fear of taking your next steps.

Gilbert writes:

Creativity is sacred,

and it is not sacred.

What we make matters enormously,

and it doesn’t matter at all.

We toil alone, and we are

accompanied by spirits.

We are terrified, and we are brave.

Art is a crushing chore and

a wonderful privilege.

The work wants to be made, and

it wants to be made through you.

While she doesn’t recommend you necessarily quit your day job, Gilbert argues that Big Magic wants to be channeled through each of us, and she tells exactly why we should let it.

Why do I like it?

I like the joyful embrace of experimentation that Gilbert encourages, as it is very similar to the “seriously playful” approach to leadership (and coaching leaders) that I’ve come to believe is the most effective way to work with the ambiguity and uncertainty that characterizes almost every important endeavor these days. A leadership coaching client of mine recently shared with me this brilliant passage from Joseph Jaworski’s book Synchronicity (p. 182) and I was struck by the organic nature of the interplay between leadership and creativity as he describes it, in terms not unlike Elizabeth Gilbert’s:

The conventional view of leadership emphasizes positional power and conspicuous accomplishment. But true leadership is about creating a domain in which we continually learn and become more capable of participating in our unfolding future. A true leader thus sets the stage on which predictable miracles, synchronistic in nature, can–and do–occur.

The capacity to discover and participate in our unfolding future has more to do with our being–our total orientation of character and consciousness–than with what we do. Leadership is about creating, day by day, a domain in which we and those around us continually deepen our understanding of reality and are able to participate in shaping the future. This, then, is the deeper territory of leadership–collectively “listening” to what is wanting to emerge in the world, and then having the courage to do what is required.

In my view, all good leadership – at home, at work, in the community, in crisis and in thriving – is inherently creative and brave and miraculous. (For more about Jaworksi, see my review of his wonderful Source, previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library.)

In what situations would this be useful?

I notice that I have been recommending this book more and more often to leadership coaching clients who feel “stuck” or “in a rut” in some aspect of their lives: they are thirsting for some enticing juice to fuel a change.

The change can be very subtle. One of the joys of Gilbert’s book is that it deals efficiently and compassionately with nuanced-but-life-determining subjects like shame and spirituality, which many leaders tend to shy away from intentionally engaging with, especially in terms of their professionalism and career trajectories. For example, one of my leadership coaching clients to whom I’d recommended the book rather inventively structured the agenda of our recent session around the titles of Big Magic’s chapters: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity. Not everyone would identify – or admit they identify – with asking for that agenda. I prefer to ask, Who’s agenda is that not?!

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

Free-associating here, I think reading Big Magic would pair well with doing anything that you love, and anything that brings you out of your pointy grown-up head and into your child-like wonder at the vastness of the universal web you’re part of: revisiting favorite books, listening to or writing songs that make you laugh and/or cry, playing with kids, dancing, going to the movies, attending a live performance or sporting event, traveling, and doing old or new hobbies of all kinds (whether you’re any “good” at them or not!).

This book pairs well with fun. What are you doing for fun, these days? What do you do only because it’s fun? How could you do more of that?

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2 Responses to Leadership Library Review — Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

  1. Pingback: For Leaders, What Does “Planning” Look Like Now? | Susan Palmer Consulting, LLC

  2. Pingback: Nature, Human Nature and Leadership | Susan Palmer Consulting, LLC

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