Learning How to Live Creatively, Without Fear


In the review of the book written by Elizabeth Gilbert, Shakespeare Sim shares her thoughts on how Big Magic is an inspiration to discovering one’s life direction, in finding joy and to sprout towards creative action- of doing what makes you happy.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s name is inseparable from the wildly popular ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, an unabashedly self-confessional memoir of a woman’s recovery from turbulent life events — divorce, financial insecurity, and reflections on personal worth and identity, I must admit that I fell in love with her writing style. Gilbert is humorous, delightfully conversational, and acutely observational. She is warm, inviting, and an excellent communicator. It is this very reason that prompted me to pick up her most recent book, Big Magic, at a point of time in my life where I was contemplating a common but monumental question that plagues every student on the verge of becoming a young, working adult: what do I want to do with my life?

Now, Big Magic certainly did not provide me with sudden, astounding revelations about my life’s purpose, nor was it the answer key and how-to guide for creating the next artistic masterpiece. Rather, the book is an episodic account of the author’s own creative experience, interspersed with stories of her friends’ ventures and a fascinating retelling of her brief research into theories of creativity. The proposition of the book is simple: Everyone should live creatively. In order to live a more fulfilling life, creativity has to be expressed, not suppressed. Anything can be regarded as a creative expression, as long as it makes you aware of your own joy, regardless of age and circumstance. Whether is it poetry or pottery, ballroom dancing or going to the gym, Gilbert gives no definition and regards all these as possible creative expressions. She writes: “Three mornings a week, Susan awoke before dawn and, in that groggy hour before her demanding day job began, she skated. And she skated and skated and skated… that’s what I call creative living.”

While such a broad definition might sound abstract and vague, Gilbert’s encouragement is aimed at helping readers live creatively, not necessarily by “pursuing a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts”, but “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear”. To Gilbert, creativity lies in making the choices that make you happy, and anyone who finds fault with your right to express that, whether is it your inner critic or disparaging remarks from others, should be set aside. While reading Gilbert’s interpretation of creativity, I was encouraged but also had my doubts. Based on her loose definition, I was naturally tempted to make the case for binge-watching K-Dramas or eating myself to death as a creative exercise. But that would be self-destructive and asking for too much. I understand her authorial intent: Gilbert simply wants to nudge everyone to discover their own creativity and purpose; anything could be creative as long as the activity is inspired by personal interest and provides the individual with joy and wonderment. More often than not, we assume that creativity is a ‘gift’ and ‘talent’ only reserved for the ‘real’ artists. We forget that we too can create, and as cheesy as it might sound, perfection and results are not always the be-all and end-all; the process is as important, if not more important, than the end result.

I am aware that such a statement might sound annoying and cliché to some of us who are after ‘practicality’ and ‘quality’. But here is my suggestion: We should enjoy the process of striving and give it a little more credit. Most of the time, it is the journey that helps us be clearer of our long-term purpose and calling. In Singapore’s competitive and demanding social climate, these encouraging quips to live creatively and not be held back by fear, are sometimes just what we need to hear. So whether you want to take figure skating lessons, paint, or build model airplanes, this book wants to help you do that and chances are you will be rushing out to cultivate your art as soon as you turn the last page.

So how do we live creatively and not be held back by fear? In the chapter on fear, Gilbert shares about her childhood in which she was terrified of everything from the telephone to board games to the judgement of others. She suggests that we speak and reason with our fears: “Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do… but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way… Dude, you are not even allowed to touch the radio.”

Often, fear is irrational and unable to respond to reason. We shrink or get defensive in the face of fear. But what I found helpful was this: Gilbert points out the need to learn to deal with our fear, because fear is always going to be there. We might as well learn how to handle it. Even though the methods to deal with fear in the book are debatable, they are still encouraging and delightfully humorous to read. But my biggest takeaway from the book is to go ahead and create anyway, even when we fear. We still retain our ability to choose differently even when fear points us to the safest, most predictable route. Perhaps, the key to discovering our calling and sense of purpose is to simply take action, explore our interests, and just do it.

Written by Shakesphere Sim

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Fear is only an inhibition to one’s fullest potential. Want to discover your calling and purpose in life? Take action now! Just like Shakespeare, a Lit Major turned UX designer on her first job out of University; you can take charge and design your life! Join us at MAD At Work to explore and ideate on possibilities for your future ! Click here to find out more- https://boldatwork.sg/new-index-1/#events-1

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