by Mina Simhai

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

My “strange jewel” is a book. And yes, it’s buried deep. Yet I know it’s in there somewhere. It’s whirling around in my head, elusive as a quetzal in the Costa Rican cloud forest. It’s a nebulous concept at best, yet sometimes I hear the glimmer of the song clearly, so I know it exists.

What do your “strange jewels” look like? There’s probably a book, or a workshop, or a painting, or a zany adventure, or another creative endeavor in you, too. But how do we find them?

According to Elizabeth Gilbert, we need big magic to help us find the jewels. In her best-selling book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert distills the magical elements into courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity. No pixie dust here, my friends.

Big Magic is full of wisdom, most of which is unabashedly not based in scientific research. You can pick and choose what resonates with you. Here’s what resonates with me, in my quest for the jewels.

According to Elizabeth Gilbert, we need big magic to help us find the jewels. In her best-selling book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert distills the magical elements into courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity. No pixie dust here, my friends.

Sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to have a voice or vision because we fear we’re not “original” enough. In response to an aspiring writer who says, “I have an idea, but I’m afraid it’s already been done,” Gilbert replies, “Well, yes, it probably has already been done. Most things have already been done—but they have not yet been done by you.”

Rather than aspiring to originality, Gilbert advises we shift towards authenticity. We shouldn’t focus so much on whether it’s been done, but on doing it from our unique angle. When we embrace authenticity and allow ourselves to speak from that authentic place, we give ourselves permission to create.

In Big Magic, Gilbert describes the ups and downs of writing. While she encourages us to cultivate a relationship with our creativity that is like a hot, passionate love affair, she admits that sometimes it’s drudgery. And that’s okay, as long as we stay the course anyway. Describing her approach to writing, Gilbert says: “On bad days, when I felt no inspiration at all, I would set the kitchen timer for thirty minutes and make myself sit there and scribble something, anything. I had read an interview with John Updike where he said that some of the best novels you’ve ever read were written in an hour a day; I figured I could always carve out thirty minutes somewhere to dedicate to my work, no matter what else was going on or how badly I believed the work was going.”

No room for perfectionism here. Gilbert reminds us that “done is better than good.”
No room for excuses, either: We commit to the creative process, then we keep showing up. We choose once, then we cultivate a creativity habit. That’s how we find those strange jewels.

Reading her chapter on persistence led me to ask myself, How much time can I honestly say I’ve invested in writing the book that is my strange jewel? Very little. I spend a fair amount of time writing other things, and playing with and even teaching the ideas in my book. Those other things are good preparation, but they are not the strange jewel itself. So it’s no wonder that I don’t yet have a clear picture of what I seek. It’s not going to strike me instantaneously and flow out of me in a weekend of frenzied writing. It will be more like Gilbert’s experience with the kitchen timer; I need to show up each day and try, even if I don’t feel like it. We need persistence to live a creative life.

Gilbert describes fear as “a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.” And fear is the constant companion of creativity. “Your fear will always show up—especially when you’re trying to be inventive or innovative,” she writes. “Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into the realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.”

We need to figure out how creativity and fear can co-exist, because the fear’s not going anywhere. Gilbert offers her readers the beautiful metaphor of a road trip. Fear can come along for the ride, but it may not touch the steering wheel. So yes, we will be afraid. Fear is a natural part of the creative process, not a sign that we’ve taken a wrong turn. With courage, we learn how to let fear ride with us without letting it guide our choices.

Jewel Hunt
I’m giving myself permission. Permission to give my jewel hunt an honest try. It will take courage. It will take persistence. I’m done thinking about it, practicing for it, fantasizing about it, and coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t hunt. In fact, I’m dedicating myself wholeheartedly to the hunt. To do that, I near to clear space. So Monday, March 6, will be the last Book Club discussion I facilitate for WBI for now. While we are apart, I wish you successful jewel hunting!

Special Guest Syd Happ
Syd Happ, a New York–based artist, art therapist, muse, creativity expert, and CiPP4 graduate, will be the special guest for our discussion of Big Magic. Syd helps people heal through art and inspires people to live more creative lives. Please join us on Monday, March 6, at 7:30 pm ET. Mark your calendars! Here are the details you need:

When: Monday, March 6, at 7:30 pm ET
Conference Call Dial in: 323-476-3997
Conference ID: 218555#
Get International dial-in numbers at //

Mina Simhai earned her Certificate in Positive Psychology from the Wholebeing Institute, and served as a teaching assistant for CiPP4. She is also a recovering lawyer, yoga teacher and mother. Her latest project is bringing the tools of positive psychology to lawyers and others in the DC area and across the country. Her top strengths are judgment, love of learning, curiosity, love, and appreciation of beauty. Mina is an avid reader and looks forward to launching the WBI Book Club with you.