3 things we learnt from our #BigMagic experience with Elizabeth Gilbert

#BigMagic by Elizabeth Gilbert

#BigMagic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This Tuesday, we went to listen to best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert speak about her latest book, “Big Magic” at the opening session of Seattle Arts and Lecture’s 2015 season.

We were lucky enough to get tickets, and be 2 of the 2,500 sold-out crowd at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall.

In addition to being in awe of how an author sold out an opening night (a rare incident!), we were deeply inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s message of courage, passion, and creativity.

We laughed with her, we Amen-ed at her (very many) eloquent wisdom, and we awwww-ed at the humanity she highlighted in everyone.

There were many moments in the evening when something she shared struck a chord – deep within.

In those moments, we tapped into a Universal shared wisdom. Like we knew it all along; and Elizabeth Gilbert was there to remind us what we’ve forgotten.

We didn’t want the night to end.

We wanted more.
We wanted to remember the reminders.
We wanted to share #BigMagic with our tribe.

And so after we’ve had time to integrate her words, the crowd’s reaction, and our experience; we sat down and let the words bubbled up from that deep place within.

Here are our three take-aways and their respective follow-up actions, inspired by our #BigMagic experience with Elizabeth Gilbert:

1) Fear is on your side.
Work with it and create a different outcome.

Fear is on your side. Work with it and create a different outcome.

We cannot have a discussion about Creativity without talking about its twin, Fear.

According to Elizabeth Gilbert (and her research, and the many scientists, anthropologists, and other really smart people), “Fear has been trained by evolution to hate uncertain outcomes.”

And so, anytime we embark on any creative journey that has no certain, guaranteed outcomes; which is to say every creative journey – Fear kicks in, shows you a mental image of being eaten alive by a hyena (remember that time you’d ventured into an unknown valley by yourself?) and tells you “we’re all gonna die!”

Because Fear wants to protect us, it does everything it can to steer us away from situations with uncertain outcomes.

Whether we like it or not, Fear is omnipresent.

And it’s gonna be with you like – forever. Heck, it’s in our DNA! So instead of fighting Fear (because whatever you resist, persists), you might as well invite it along for the ride.

In this case, the invitation came in the form of a welcoming speech addressed to Fear; which Elizabeth Gilbert reads aloud to Fear every time before she embarks on a project.

Some of our favorite lines (page 25 in Big Magic):

  • “I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously.”
  • “Dude you’re not even allowed to touch the radio.”
  • “But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you’re absolutely forbidden to drive.”

Not coincidentally, we had an in-depth discussion of Fear VS Intuition at a luncheon with fellow Wisdompreneurs in Seattle last week. There was plenty of charge in discussing fears. Afterall, it’s the second strongest emotion in the human species.

When it was our turn to comment, something in us urged us to share that Fear is a tool used by Intuition.

[bctt tweet=”“Not listening to Fear is like not listening to our Intuition.” #BigMagic”]

And by listening, we don’t mean obeying its primal fight or flight instincts. But rather, tuning in to what Fear has to say.

Like Elizabeth Gilbert, invite Fear to join you. Give it a seat.

Your Follow-Up Action:

Ask Fear: “Why are you here? Show me what I need to learn: what I did or did not do the last time round that resulted in an undesirable outcome? Show me how to evolve past our previous shared experiences.”

Essentially, Fear is on our side.

It wants to help us.
If you don’t like how it’s doing its job (like Liz Gilbert: “Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting.”), address it.
Come up with an empowering way for it to serve you.

Create together, a different outcome this time round.

2) You are entitled.
So state your why and claim your existence.

You are entitled. So state your why and claim your existence.

We love a bad rep being redeemed. In this case, Elizabeth was appropriating the millennial badass, “Entitlement” and putting it to good use.

This sense of entitlement is a privilege, an “arrogance of belonging”, that she urged all of us to cultivate. It’s not an egotistical declaration of “I’m the greatest!” but rather, a humbling act of showing up, saying, “I’m here.”

This entitlement, she said, is the only weapon we have to battle the creative terrorist who lives inside our minds.

The creative terrorist who asks, “Who the hell do you think you are?”

We could almost feel every single person in the auditorium sucking in their breath, as if we’ve all been punched in our bellies.

The question had hit a nerve.

We introduce ourselves as “spiritual teachers and soul mentors, disguised as master storytellers.”

When people ask us, “So what is it that you do?”
The terrorist interprets it as: “See?!? You’re supposed to pick one thing! Not 3! One should only be a master at one! Now people don’t know what is it that you do because they’re so confused by all your fancy roles. They’ll think that you couldn’t decide. They’ll think that you’re just a jack of all trades and master of none!”

When people praise us, “It’s so wonderful that you’re so enlightened/aware/wise at such a young age!”
The terrorist goes: “Ah ha! Told you you’d give yourself away someday! Now people think that you’re too young too inexperienced to teach or mentor! Wanna-be! Imposter! Fraud!”

Essentially, the creative terrorist in our minds is demanding, “Who are you to be spiritual teachers, soul mentors, and master storytellers you say you are???”

If we let it, the creative terrorist will come up with destructive, demeaning, and deprecating thoughts to bind creativity like a hostage.

Please, don’t.

Elizabeth Gilbert told us, “Strip the question of its tone.” And it simply becomes a question.

Who are you?

Your Follow-Up Action:

Answer the question at face value. List down who you are:


… Keep going.

Claim the existence you’re entitled to.

And then listen. Listen for a better question.

Such as: Why?

Because it’s not so much about who are you to do what you do; but rather, why do you do what you do.

So take you out of your self-absorption, state your why, and claim your existence. In other words:

[bctt tweet=”“Take your shoes off, stand on the ground and say, I’m HERE.” @GilbertLiz”]
3) Sometimes you have to sacrifice the good.
Make room for the GREAT.

Tay and Val at TEDxWWU

During the Q&A session at her talk, someone asked a question about something. We don’t remember either. But we remembered Elizabeth Gilbert’s answer:

“What is the one thing I can do today that will be GREAT? Do that. The good will have to wait.”

She then went on to talk about how most people lead good lives. We fill our time with good things – the right things, the responsible things, the routine must-be-done things.

Then we forget about the GREAT things.

The things that make our souls ignite. That make our eyes sparkle and our hearts sing. The things that we’re immensely grateful and excited that we get to do.

And she asked us to make room for GREATness in our lives.

We shared something similar in our TEDxWWU talk. We talked about the “right” path so many of us are goaded towards because we want safety, we want acceptance, we want to be good.

Where we came from in Singapore, good comes from the Chase for the 5Cs. In this hard-work chase to be good, we gave up the GREAT.

Some of our GREAT things include:

Writing cards
Painting (with our hands)
Random acts of kindness
Sharing stories with friends and family over home-cooked meals
Exploring coffee shops, tea houses, and grocery stores
Watching the sunset by the beach
Waking up early to catch the sunrise, and then going back to bed
Singing to music we don’t really know the lyrics to

It’s human nature to be good. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with good. In fact, good’s… well, good.

And sometimes you have to sacrifice the good; and make room for the GREAT.

Your Follow-Up Action:

List down your GREAT things.
Pick one and do it today.
In fact, do 1 GREAT thing a day.

“The good will have to wait.”

Elizabeth Gilbert at SAL on #BigMagic

Were you there at the talk? Have you read Big Magic? What were your take-aways, your aha-moments?

We’d love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below and share your #BigMagic experience.

  • Share with us: What was one follow-up action you took and what were your results/realizations?
  • Share this article on social media and tell your friends: What was one follow-up action you found most useful and why? Tag us @taynval; we’d love to connect on social media, too!

In the spirit of GREATness, 5 lucky readers will get a complimentary ticket ($350 value) to the upcoming Be GREAT! conference that we’d be speaking at. Simply leave a comment and share the article ;)
With Big Love & Big Magic,

4 Comments on “3 things we learnt from our #BigMagic experience with Elizabeth Gilbert”

    1. taynval

      Thanks Brandi! Which was your favorite? Or is there something that you really resonated with? Wanna know! :)

  1. Peace

    I like surprising people, birthday parties, small notes on their windshields, and hi-five attacks. Hi-five attacks are underrated in this world.

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