Book Club: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Courage

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This week we’re discussing part one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller, Big Magic: Courage

What are you afraid of?

Me? Well, a lot of things. Large, farm-dwelling arachnids (why are farm spiders so much bigger?), airplanes…loss of creativity…failure…disappointment. Like the list of reasons tallied on the pages of this month’s book club pick, my cataloged fears could go on and on, and I’m guessing your own, both rational and irrational, light and heavy, could also wend and wind for quite some time. The first section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic, delves into fear, the reasons for it, how it holds us back, and why some fear is good for us.

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I’ll admit, the first chapter of this book left me feeling skeptical. I’m a big fan of Gilbert’s writing but, especially after reading the more meditative and quiet M Train, Big Magic suddenly felt…too quick. ‘Courage’ read a bit list-like, a quick description of what life is like for many creatives and those who seek creativity and how fear can hold us back. It wasn’t until I made my way further into the book that I began to understand Gilbert’s motives for laying things out the way she has. ‘Courage’ is a primer, a reminder of the — often  ridiculous — barriers and expectations we impose on ourselves. How many times have you talked yourself out of pursuing a project because of a belief that it might not lead to anything? How many times have we failed to even begin a pursuit simply because we were afraid of what might happen? Believed that a curiosity wasn’t worth exploring simply because we thought we weren’t good at something?

As a former admissions counselor for a fine arts college, I encountered this kind of creative fear on a daily basis. While the students themselves had the courage to imagine themselves putting their love for art to practice for the rest of their lives, it was the parents and teachers of these talented students who were quick to point out that “oh, I can’t draw a straight line” or “I’m not creative like my child“. While the topic of this book certainly isn’t limited to art, this example is one I still encounter, long after having left the fine arts admissions game. As long as we tell ourselves to live in fear, as long as we convince ourselves we’re not talented in one way or another, we never will be. This is why I loved Gilbert’s example of her friend who decided to pick up ice skating after years of non-practice. This woman wasn’t seeking fame, she entered into this habit knowing she would never be an Olympian, but she tried, and she practiced. She pushed through her fear, acknowledging that it may still linger, and just did the damn thing. She found the thing that made her feel alive.

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What makes you feel alive?

It could be art.

It could be ice skating.

It could be base jumping.

As long as you live under the fear of failure or disappointment or any other thing that holds you back in “the realm of creative expression”, you may never discover the thing that gives you life.

Discussion questions:

– How has fear affected your creative life?

– When was the last time you overcame a fear? What was the outcome?

– Is there an interest or passion that you used to love — like ice skating — that you’ve since set aside?

– What would your letter to fear look like?

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Book Club: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Courage



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