Harnessing Big Magic in Your Worklife

In times characterized by burnout and “quiet quitting,” revisiting books that combine practicality and inspiration can help make you feel understood. If you’ve felt less than motivated lately, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is the spark to revive your creative mojo and bring joy into your workday.

Journalist and novelist Elizabeth Gilbert published the well-received Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear in 2015. It’s a book infused with the author’s almost-magical understanding of an artist’s heart; Gilbert touches on all possible versions of trepidation and excuse-making that people face when stepping into the best version of themselves.

The author connects us through tales of her fears and her mystical perspectives. For example, her office at the University of Tennessee was formerly that of a man who shared her last name but no relation. She describes his influence that appeared right under her nose:

I found Jack Gilbert’s books in my office—the office that had once been his. It was almost like the room was still warm from his presence. I read his poems and was overcome by their grandeur and how much his writing reminded me of Whitman. (“We must risk delight,” he wrote. “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”) 

She became deeply curious about Jack Gilbert and probed some of his former students. Gilbert said:

He didn’t so much teach them how to write poetry, they said, but why: because of delight. Because of stubborn gladness. 

One of his poetry students recalls him asking her,

“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.”

It is as if Elizabeth Gilbert picked up the torch where Jack Gilbert left off, echoing his passion in the themes of her book.

Gilbert describes a creative life as “an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.”

Isn’t that the very thing burned-out workers and quiet quitters seek? Wouldn’t anyone like a happier, more exciting life?

Gilbert lists reasons people are afraid to be creative: someone else already did it better; my work isn’t important enough; I’m too young or too old; nothing ever goes well for me; something once went well for me, and so this next thing couldn’t go well, too. She dives into the need to release fear and allow yourself permission to enjoy the work process. For those suffering from imposter syndrome, she includes how to distinguish authenticity from originality, a skill that is also a permission slip to build on the work of others without feeling the pressure of inventing something entirely new.

Big Magic takes you through a journey not unlike any challenge a person working on a big project or new idea might face. You might get sidetracked, feel pigeonholed, or slip into the Tormented Artist stereotype.

Living Beyond Fear

Gilbert reveals what finally freed her from her fear penitentiary, realizing that “fear is boring.” In contrast, she describes the arrival of inspiration, “I felt a little sick, a little dizzy. I felt like I was falling in love, or had just heard some alarming news, or was looking over a precipice at something beautiful and mesmerizing but dangerous. That is what it feels like when an idea comes to you.”

Optimism shines through her understanding of risk and fear, and she gives a nod to “fairy dust” moments of magic that she describes as “something powerful and generous” that carried her along during difficult writing moments. The book covers grounds including persistence, trust, and Divinity.

The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

The often-surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.

A Vehicle to Rekindle Your Curiosity

The need for passion often guides many professionals. Yet, in Big Magic, Gilbert helps the reader make way for the underrated power of curiosity. Less daunting than the idea of a grand passion, curiosity can lead to unexpected, delightful discoveries in your professional journey.

Those sparks of curiosity could lead to your next big project or innovation. What tiny glimmers of interest have you overlooked in your job? Big Magic can help you remember the significance of playful creativity and curiosity in your work.


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