When was the last time you were creative?
What did you do?
How did it feel?
Can you remember?
Unfortunately, for many of us, creativity is not something we pursue on a regular basis. And there are countless reasons for this.
Maybe we’re convinced we’re “not the creative type.” Perhaps we’ve been told our “talents lie elsewhere.” Maybe we’re afraid of how other people will respond. Or maybe, we’re afraid of failure.
For whatever the reason, rather than daring greatly (to borrow Teddy Roosevelt’s powerful statement), and live a creative life, we hide behind what’s comfortable, familiar, and safe.
Rather than experimenting with those ideas blossoming in our mind, fulfilling our curiosity, and taking time to explore the ever-enticing question, “what if…” we go about our day to day doing what’s “expected.”
We quiet those creative ideas, push them to the back of our minds, and tell them to “wait for a better time.”
How to Live a Creative Life
This past week, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear; it was one of the few times in my life where writing has stopped me in my tracks. (Literally, I was listening to the audiobook while walking Bruno.)
Gilbert’s perspective on creativity, courage, and putting yourself out there hit home so strongly, that upon finishing the book, I immediately started it again.
If you’re not familiar with Gilbert’s book, let me give you a quick rundown. (As a side note, if her name sounds familiar, that’s because she’s also the author of Eat, Pray, Love.)
Big Magic is all about how to live a creative life. But for Gilbert, creative living is a very broad definition. She doesn’t strictly mean putting on a beret, quitting your day job, and dedicating your entire life to oil painting. (Though if this is what you want to do, by all means – go for it!) Rather, she focuses on fostering “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear.”
She encourages us to dig deep, to find “courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you,” and to share them with the world.
And whether you’re looking to become an expert in Mesopotamian history in your 80s, learn to figure skate at the age of 40, or dedicate your life to writing in your 20s (all examples from the book, by the way), Gilbert says, “go for it!”
But she doesn’t stop there. She also offers strategies on how to do so.
Live a Creative Life
In order to embrace “Big Magic,” and live our most creative lives, Gilbert explains that we need to approach each day with courage, passion, curiosity, and persistence.
We all have creativity blossoming up inside of us. And that creativity is eager to make its way out in the world.
Unfortunately, since creativity is often seen as superfluous, selfish, or unnecessary for us “serious-minded” working-folk, we’ve been conditioned to ignore, push away, or otherwise “scare off” that creativity.
Well, here’s the deal. As Gilbert so wisely explains, creativity is “your birthright as a human being.” In other words, not only are you encouraged to create, but you’re entitled to do so.
At the same time, however, Gilbert also provides the critical reminder, that “you are not required to save the world with your creativity” either.
Simply put, embrace your creativity. Let it shine through. Get excited about new ideas, and chase them through the rabbit holes of curiosity.
But whatever you do, don’t take your creativity too seriously.
As Gilbert explains, for many of us, (though there are exceptions) living a creative life is not a dangerous or life-threatening act. Nor does it warrant the “tortured artist” persona that seems to go hand in hand with many famous creatives.
So lighten up. Play with your creativity. Have fun.
As I mentioned above, this book made me literally stop in my tracks. I was walking down the road after our latest Nor-Easter, sidestepping piles of slush and snow with Bruno, and I stopped right there on School St. I needed to fully process the words coming through my earbuds. (Much to the annoyance of Bruno, who was eager to chase a squirrel a few driveways down.)
Like Gilbert, I believe we are all inherently creative. And like Gilbert, I think we all need to live a creative life. But because of my battle with perfectionism (read more about that here), and my fear of judgment once I let down my guard, I’m scared to move forward. I freeze up.
I’m afraid to share my creative work – more specifically, my writing – for fear of it being “not good enough.”
You see, much of my career consists of writing. In fact, my tenure depends not only on writing but also publishing. A lot.
And while I knew this objectively going into the career, I did not realize how difficult it would be to receive critiques (and more specifically, harsh criticism) from others.
So once I got up the nerve to submit my first book manuscript or article to an editor, and I received harsh feedback or outright rejection in return, it took a toll on my confidence.
I took it personally.
I figured if I failed once, that meant that I probably wouldn’t succeed anyway. So what’s the point? I might as well throw in the towel. (Damn you, perfectionism.)
Have you ever felt that way? If so, know you’re not alone.
The Lightning Bolt
As Gilbert reminds us throughout the book, rejection is not a failure. You simply cannot let someone else’s opinions of your own work crush your enthusiasm. Why?
Because the only person who matters on your journey of creativity is YOU.
If you face rejection, or your work gets critiqued by a higher up, try to learn from it. (YES, I know this is incredibly difficult. I’m still working on it, too. But I believe it is possible.)
Can you find any value in their feedback? Great! Then take it with grace and improve your work.
Don’t agree with their comments? Then perhaps they missed the point of your project. Leave those comments behind and move on.
Remember, this is your project. And when it comes down to it, what you think is what matters most.
The Importance of Objectivity
But you must also remember, Gilbert warns, not to treat your creative endeavor like “your baby;” once you put your work out there in the world and it gets criticized (let’s face it, it probably will; we can’t please everyone), you need to let that criticism go.
If you treat your creativity like your child, however, or you see it as an extension of yourself, letting go becomes nearly impossible.
This piece of advice was another wakeup call for me.
You see, when I go after something – I go at it with 110%. I dive in with all the effort and passion and excitement I can muster. And I think this is a good thing.
The challenge comes when I can’t separate myself from the project once it’s complete. When I pour hours, weeks, months, and years into a project, it feels like it’s a piece of me.
So when that hard work is deemed “not good enough,” it feels like I’m not either.
But after reading Big Magic, something shifted. After reading about Gilbert’s own rejection letters, and the way she would – that very same day – put that rejected work in a new envelope, seal it up, and send it off to the next editor, something clicked.
As silly as it sounds, I realized I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one who’s been told ’no.’ In fact, it happens to everyone.
Of course, hearing “no” never feels good. And I know I’ll still get sad, upset, or disheartened with nearly every rejection.
But I’ll also do my darnedest (do people even use that word anymore?) to remind myself that rejection is not a failure. It’s just time to try again.
Persistence is key.
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” (pg. 41)You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures. - Elizabeth Gilbert #bigmagic #creativity #creativeliving Click To Tweet
Let’s Do This
So are you ready to live a creative life? Are you ready to muster your courage, discover your passion, and finally start creating? Let’s do it! There is no-one holding you back.
In her book, Gilbert explains that many of us feel like we need a permission slip to explore our creativity. We feel like we need someone to tell us “it’s okay” to pursue those dreams. So I echo Gilbert today:
Here is your permission slip. Start exploring. Discover your passions. And live the creative life you want.
To help you with this big step, I’ve created a workbook, which dives into the ideas of courage, curiosity, excitement, and dedication. Download that here and start living more creatively today!
Additionally, I highly recommend reading Big Magic. I really can’t praise this book enough. Gilbert speaks through stories, anecdotes, and personal experiences, in an easy, approachable voice. She is captivating, honest, and funny. And if this post rang true to you, then I think her book will speak to you strongly as well.
Finally, Gilbert has a wonderful podcast called Magic Lessons, which I talk about more in depth in my post, 4 Podcasts You Need in Your Life. I highly recommend checking out her work there as well!
How do you live a creative life? What challenges do you face in your creative pursuits? Do you have any suggestions on how to overcome challenges of fear, self-consciousness, or doubt? Have you read Big Magic before? Let me know below. I’d love to hear from you!