Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert’s excellent follow-up to her TED Talk on ‘elusive creative genius’.

Gilbert talks at length about a poet who lived a fairly elusive life and held a position at the University which she took after he departed. She held the man in high regard, and latched on to a statement he made to a student that impacted her:

“One afternoon, after his poetry class, Jack had taken her aside. He complimented her work, then asked what she wanted to do with her life. Hesitantly, she admitted that perhaps she wanted to be a writer. He smiled at the girl with infinite compassion and asked, ‘Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.’”

Asking ourselves if we have the courage to create may be one of the most important questions we ever ask. Gilbert recognizes this truth, and shares a story from her teenage years of overcoming fear:

“Around the age of fifteen, I somehow figured out that my fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. I noticed that my fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. My fear was a song with only one note—only one word, actually—and that word was ‘STOP!’ I also realized that my fear was boring because it was identical to everyone else’s fear. I figured out that everyone’s song of fear has exactly that same tedious lyric: ‘STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!’”

Fear isn’t unique. It’s boring. It’s also not the only thing to overcome. Once we get over our anxieties, there are fresh anxieties waiting for us. If we allow ourselves to be creative beings, we then must recognize that creativity comes and go. Here’s how to live with that tension:

“If inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you, it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you. Don’t fall into a funk about the one that got away. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t rage at the gods above. All that is nothing but distraction, and the last thing you need is further distraction. Grieve if you must, but grieve efficiently. Better to just say good-bye to the lost idea with dignity and continue onward.”

Gilbert calls the art of allowing ideas to come to us ‘big magic’, and sees the concept of creation to be an important and unique part of our humanity. She challenges us to understand that we are all creative beings, born to make things:

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers—these are our common ancestors.”

We create because we are built to. Nothing more, nothing less. Here’s an ethos to hold onto:

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.”

Reminds me of: ‘The Artisan Soul’ by Erwin McManus.

Akimbo – The Grand Opening

Seth Godin has just started a new podcast, and the first episode is all about what it means to start and finish (link goes to the show notes).

Do you ever feel like the world isn’t ready for your idea? Remember this:

“Karl Benz, when he launched the car, did it in Germany where it was against the law to drive a car and there were no passable roads and there were no gas stations. He should have waited. Gutenberg, pioneer of movable type, launched the book when there were no bookstores and when no one knew how to read and when reading glasses were required but hadn’t been invented yet. He should have waited.”

A part of the problem in today’s world is that even if you are ready to start, it’s challenging to get your message out there. A part of that, in Seth’s opinion, is because we’ve focused so intensely on the ‘grand opening’ that we put too much emphasis on starting. We can look to the old fashioned carnival to see where this came from. A modern day advertisement is a continuation of the carnival barker. What’s the problem? Well:

“The goal isn’t to edify, to educate, to create an environment that you’re going to come back to again and again. The goal is to take your money and leave town.”

This type of marketing has taken over, and it isn’t helpful. Also not helpful, in Seth’s opinion, is launching something like a crowdfunding campaign early on:

“Kickstarter should be called Kickfinisher. A Kickstarter is the end of a multi-month or multi-year effort to earn trust and attention.”

Instead of focusing on a campaign or an opening, focus in on building fans. Then get better at making art, and make more fans as you do it.

That’s great advice.

Reminds me of: Kevin Kelly’s ‘1,000 True Fans

Hurry Slowly – Fanny Auger

Conversation isn’t about talking.’ Great insights from the author of ‘Treve de Bavardages’.

“Today the true luxuries are silence and time.”

The author argues that we see ‘luxury’ as money, as privilege, as riches—but that isn’t really true anymore. Certainly, we are living in a time of extreme wealth…so what is luxury, today. It’s how much time we have. It’s how much silence we are granted. Those are the rarities.

“Silence is a gift you offer to the other person. It allows the other party time to formulate his or her opinion.”

I think I can learn from this. I often find myself jumping to insert my ideas or thoughts into a conversation, but silence shouldn’t be fought. It should be embraced. What would happen if we all granted a little more silence to fill our time with others?

”People are craving to be listened to. Consider it a gift to the other person when you keep your phone in your bag.”

I would love to see our culture shift towards understanding this on a large scale. When you put your phone a way and ignore an incoming text or call, you aren’t doing a disservice to the person on the other end, you are doing an extreme kindness to the person that you’re in the room with, right now.

Reminds me of: ‘Island’ by Aldous Huxley.

The Tim Ferriss Podcast – Tim O’Reilly

An interview with the founder of O’Reilly Media and author of ‘WTF?

“I’m like the Cookie Monster. When given the option between a cookie and anything else, I’ll take the cookie.”

A great question to ask yourself when trying to figure out what ignites your passion. “What’s my cookie?” This seems to be key, especially for a polymath.

“When we change the rules, what happens to the people who played by the old ones? A lot of what’s broken is this layering of ideas that change, but change incompletely.”

When an idea changes incompletely, how can you fight for justice, or force more complete change?

“Sometimes it’s hard to write documentation on something that isn’t working correctly, but that’s when documentation is most needed.”

It’s easy to feel like something can’t be done when a flaw is out of your control. It’s harder to step up and fix the flaw.

“Debugging a computer shows you the difference between what you intended to do and what it actually did.”

Interesting to hear someone speak about the world through the lens of programming (and quite well!) I imagine this will become more and more common in the coming years.

Reminds me of: The recent clearing of marijuana convictions in San Francisco.

Discipline Equals Freedom

Jocko Willink’s ‘field manual’ to living.

“When negative people talk behind your back, ignore and outperform. They’ll focus on what I’m doing wrong, I’ll focus on what I can do right. When you look around and realize where you are and where I am, you’ll realize you have nothing to talk about. Outwork and outperform.”

Great reminder that the obstacles that most often stop us are self-imposed. Humans are incredibly resilient, and as such, anything that’s stopping you can be overcome.

“Stress is generally caused by what you can’t control. The worst thing about incoming artillery fire is that you can’t control it. You have to accept it. If it’s something you can control, that’s a lack of discipline and ownership. Get control of it. Solve the problem. Relieve the stress.”

“Discipline is the way.”

Reminds me of: ‘Tribe‘ by Sebastian Junger

Hurry Slowly – Tyler Cowan


The Quiet Dangers of Complacency’ from the author of ‘The Complacent Class

“Apps like Yelp stop you from walking through a neighborhood and exploring. It makes intuition almost underrated.”

I’d like to try and rely more on my intuition when I travel. As a huge user of apps like Yelp (and more and more, Instagram) when traveling, I’m sure that there’s so much I miss because I’m making a beeline to the thing that got 400 5-star ratings. That’s complacency.

“The purpose of moving is self-transformation“ – James Jasper

As time goes on, people are becoming less likely to move to a new state for opportunity. That seems backwards.

“Complacency is in many ways extremely pleasant and people like it.”

The thing that keeps you scrolling on Twitter or Instagram instead of doing something is the same force which has much larger ramifications on your life. The reason that it wins? You like it.

“We say we’re busy, but things like social media are what’s making us harried. That’s not true busy-ness.”

I am often guilty of this. How many days have I felt frenzied, only to write my todo list down and realize that I could get to it all in a few hours? The ‘harried’ feeling comes from the noise, not the need.

“Change will lead to insight more often than insight will lead to change.” – Milton Erickson

Love this quote. I need to read some Erickson.

“Music is much less culturally central than it used to be. Same as movies. Social media is obviously more central, and encourages complacency. So does television, they stick with a series even if it isn’t great. It also keeps you in the house.”

I think this is worth chewing on. How do you make art in a culture of complacency, that’s not only popular but incites change?

Reminds me of: ‘The Inevitable’ By Kevin Kelly