Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Big Magic book

A Review by Molly Siebert

When I flipped through the pages of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love), I read the last page called 'In Conclusion' with great delight. I saw a connection to my late husband's work, The Survivor Personality. Here is what it says:

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 crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.
Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.
Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise — you can make anything.
So please calm down now and get back to work, okay?
The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.

The word "paradoxes" triggered my sense of connection. Those who knew Al and his work will know his delight at the discovery that very mentally and physically healthy people have paradoxical attributes and feelings and these contradictions are very healthy indeed. In fact, he claimed these attributes demonstrated flexibility. Many, many people came up to him after reading the book or after his workshops to thank him in establishing through his research and writings an environment or space where they could acknowledge and embrace paradoxes within themselves without fear — the fear of being mentally awry or not sane. In fact, to be proud of their paradoxical life knowing that a healthy dose of counter-balanced traits was a step toward resiliency.

Al acknowledged "survivors puzzled him at first" when doing his research. "They are serious and humorous, hardworking and lazy, self-confident and self-critical.... They are not one way or the other, they are both one way and the other" (TSP, p 30). In fact, he felt his research taught him "that the most resilient people in rough situations are those with a:

  • Balance between self-esteem and self-criticism
  • Blend of self-confidence and self-doubt
  • Positive self-concept open to accept the existence of flaws and weaknesses." (TSP, p 147).

I admire and take extreme delight in watching creative and artistic people at work or even at thought. Their sheer joy during their creative process is very beautiful and shines outward from their very souls for all to see. This connection from the creative, artistic soul to the world is a very special gift to behold in all its glory — along with its vulnerability.

Have you ever felt dread or fear in embarking on new and unfamiliar endeavor or creation especially when it is all or nothing? I am sure we all have experience such. At one time in my life, I remember voicing my thought aloud to anything in the universe that would listen stating my life was in their hands and I was just going to put one foot in front of other. I had the sense of walking along side my fear and knowing whatever the outcome, I could prevail. For me, it was moment of "I will overcome.... I can handle whatever comes my way" — a source of inner strength and knowing I could work on the situation. Strangely, there was a sense of release at that very moment and shortly thereafter, my life became better than ever before.

I shared this experience because Gilbert's book intrigued me where she states a belief that "my creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it.... Fear and creativity ... were born at the same time and they still share some vital organs" within her. She is of the belief that "when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process." Therefore, she will make space for it. "Heaps of space.... I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortably." She seems to think that the less she fights her fear, the less it fights back. "If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.... In fact, I cordially invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go" (p 24-25). To me, this is the very concept of paradoxical living embracing fear while yearning for success. After all Gilbert and I both agree that fear can spark creativity with immense intensity.

In her book, Gilbert's concepts include treating life as a 'devotional practice, act of love, lifelong commitment to the search for grace and transcendence...' to anything that 'calls to your heart and brings you to life' (, and "The pursuit for something richer, more textured and more varied" (p4). She acknowledges Poet Jack Gilbert has been influential in her work as a writer, teacher and person. They are not related. However, they both taught at the University of Tennessee. In fact, she took over his teaching position at the university. Hence a sense of deeper connection to his work by Elizabeth Gilbert.

In interviewing students and other teachers, she discovered and embraced Jack Gilbert's philosophy which included that you:

  • must risk delight,
  • live in uninterrupted marvel... because of delight... because of stubborn gladness, and
  • be brave. Without bravery... you will never know the world as richly as it longs to be known (p 6).

Gilbert believes "we are all walking repositories of buried treasures." She believes "one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings is to bury 'strange jewels' deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them" (p 8).

She says, "The hunt for the buried treasure is creative living.... It is the courage to go on the hunt to find our creative jewels is what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.... Living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear" (p 9), and "where success and failure become irrelevant" (p 259).

She asks, "Do you have the perspective to appreciate the value of your own joy? ... Take ownership of whatever makes you shine." Live "life as a devotional practice, as an act of love and as a lifelong commitment to the search of grace and transcendence" (

The feeling of joy and validation jumps through my soul when I see snippets of Al's work carried on in other works of personal discovery. I appreciate Elizabeth Gilbert's recognition of the success you can have with paradoxical attributes. There are further concepts to enjoy in her book — trust, persistence, patience — including the concepts of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (p 171) and Einstein's "combinatory play" (p 258). Her book is a quick and enjoyable read.

Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Riverhead Books. 2015.
Popova, Maria. "Big Magic: Elizabeth Gilbert on Creative Courage and the Art of Living in a State of Uninterrupted Marvel" on
Siebert, Al. The Survivor Personality. Penguin Group. 2010 © Al Siebert Resiliency Center
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Portland, Oregon 97207 USA

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