I am not a genius. I have a genius.
This is a distinction that took me by storm when I was first introduced to Elizabeth Gilbert‘s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Pieces of this book were required reading in Dance Composition, a class that demanded more creativity than any business course could even imagine. One thing about business classes is that they indulged my perfectionist nature. You can ace a marketing exam or put together a well-researched media strategy that will knock your professor’s socks off. Creating a work of art with your body and the landscape around you can never be “perfect.” And this scares me.
Being able to separate myself from my creative ideas was a relief. And this separation of self and “genius” was only one of the ideas that I found helpful as I created performance art throughout the semester.
Because I aim to be a lifelong creator, maybe not in dance, but in writing and photography and other pursuits I have not yet discovered, I added Big Magic to my Christmas list this year. My grandpa (who I always ask for all the books I want, because he gives the list to his local bookkeeper who will order everything on the list if it’s not already in stock) delivered, and I’ve been working on this book most days at lunch. I first mentioned the book when I named it one the things that was getting me through winter.
The differentiation between being a genius and having a genius is just the beginning. Elizabeth Gilbert is a writer, and a successful one at that as author of the smashing success Eat Pray Love. After this success, she gave two TED talks on what led to her critical and commercial acclaim. This book is a continuation of those TED talks, and it remains just as casual and mind blowing as TED talks tend to be. Big Magic reads like a conversation, delivering thought-provoking and reassuring passages throughout.
I have passages starred from beginning to end, and I find myself introducing ideas from it everywhere from Instagram to Bible Study. Just 40 pages in, Gilbert reaffirms that “You can support other people in their creative efforts, acknowledging the truth that there’s plenty of room for everyone. You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” The first piece of this statement is something that I’m finding especially true here in Buffalo. The support and collaboration in the blogging and entrepreneur communities here is something I love to see both in my social media feeds and at networking events. The second is more personal, and possibly more important. While a growing readership is always nice, I’m focusing on making my goals for this blog about regular blog posts that are me. And that’s important.
Do you struggle being “original” enough to stand out? If not, please let me know how you do it. For the rest of us, Gilbert reassures us, saying “Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.” If being yourself is good enough for her, it’s definitely good enough for me. I also love Big Magic‘s focus on creating for your own reasons. I write this blog for me, and that’s okay, because “Your own reasons to create are reason enough.”
Gilbert offers such practical advice for fighting those periods of time when you just don’t feel creative. She talks about the practicality of working through these times doing something, anything. This is beyond helpful, as my real job becomes more and more writing-focused. Add freelance social media content and creative partnerships, and sometimes I’m just not feeling it by the time I go to write here.
This leads to another great point; creative pursuits aren’t likely to be your full time job. Even Gilbert had a full time job until after Eat Pray Love. It would be great to be an Instagram influencer who lived off freelance content creation and affiliate marketing. But my personal digital footprint is a labor of love, one that takes time and doesn’t pay. “People don’t do this kind of thing because they have all kinds of extra time and energy for it; they do this kind of thing because their creativity matters to them enough that they are willing to make all kinds of extra sacrifices for it.”
Putting in the time, writing regularly and sharing photos that are reflective of my thoughts and actions, is important, because that is all that is under my control. My success, as Gilbert points out rather directly, “[depends] upon three factors – talent, luck, and discipline – and I knew two of those three things would never be under my control.”
All of these gems, which are pushing me to work diligently on my creative pursuits, are sprinkled among personal anecdotes from the creative life Elizabeth Gilbert is living. She touches on the very real issue of depression among artists. She talks about how no work to too special to edit. There are times where writing could never describe real life, and times when writing is exactly what she needs to makes sense of reality.
While we should work and work and work towards exactly what we want, there are times when we are swept into furies of creativity. Those moments when you can’t write fast enough to get it all down, those huge waves of inspiration that come to you out of nowhere. They’re because of, Gilbert says, Big Magic. For those of us striving to live creatively, without fear or darkness, we must accept Big Magic when it comes to us, because we are not geniuses. We have geniuses.