Book Reaction – Big Magic

Given that this is the Art of Network Engineering, I thought it appropriate to write about a book I recently finished, around creativity. Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert sheds some light on what it is like to live a creative lifestyle. To me, after going through this book, a creative lifestyle means consciously finding what interests you, both inside an outside of your career, and continuing to explore those interests. In my opinion, it is about finding what “makes you tick” as a person and spending time to do it justice. It might be easy as IT professionals to think that we do not need creativity to function in our careers, or maybe that there is not much room for creativity. There are protocols, standards, and documentation that we need to follow, so we don’t ever have to think outside of the box, right? Well, that just is not true. We constantly need to think of new and creative ways to integrate solutions and make technology fit our requirements. Network design is a great example of this concept. There are often many more ways than just one to design and implement a solution. We must take inputs of our requirements, business goals, scale considerations, and internal staff skill to architect the right solution. There are not always guidelines or tutorials to walk us through this thought and decision process. Believe it or not, we must get creative. I found this book interesting and helpful. It made me take an audit of how I spend my time and what I could do to better leverage and grow my own creativity. I would like to highlight some of the concepts of this book that resonated with me.

Creativity as a Means to an End
It seems natural for us to always want to try to get the most out of life. I don’t think there is necessarily an issue with that by itself, however, I think the problem is when we take that a step further. I think the issue here lies with only wanting to pursue creative ventures as a means to monetize or make a career out of the creative act. This can easily put a lot of pressure on you to be successful so that you able to support yourself, which could take some luster off of the creative pursuit. The author writes about examples of people quitting what interests them becuase they have not been financially successful, and how she stuck with writing even when she was not successful because she genuinely enjoyed the craft. In my opinion, she became a successful writer because she wanted to write, not because she had to write. Elizabeth Gilbert sees no shame in having a day job to support the creative lifestyle. In fact, she encourages it. This allows you to truly be creative because you want to, rather than relying on it to make a living.

Passion vs Curiosity
I often fall into the potential trap of having an “all or nothing” mentality. What I mean by this is that sometimes if I do not think I can maximize the benefits of trying something new and dedicate tons of time to it, I often will not even try. In other words, I seem to be pressuring myself to find things that I am passionate about, otherwise, what’s the point, right? After going through this book, I now see how that can be an issue. What I am doing is putting up guard rails around what I am willing to spend time on, and not allowing myself to adequately explore new things. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are two sides to this. If all I do is dabble in a million different things, I will probably never focus on anything. As with practically anything, a balance must be struck. What Elizabeth Gilbert suggests is rather than pressuring yourself to find a passion, allow yourself to be curious. Curiosity opens your mind up to new ideas and can even surprise you with what you may end up finding. An example she gave was that at one time she was curious about gardening, ended up starting a garden at home, which led her to research adjacent topics, and ultimately led to an entire book idea. Essentially, what I gathered from this was that we should give ourselves a chance by being curious.

Perfect is the Enemy of Good
While I do not think this exact quote was mentioned in the book, the idea was definitely there. It is easy to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do things right the first time and only be satisfied with something as close to perfection as possible. This mentality can easily lead to us never actually finishing a creation. When I decided to start a blog a few years ago, my initial thought was that “well, I’m not going to publish anything until my site looks good”, whatever that really means. However, I received some solid advice to just create, just get some content out there so I can practice and grow. Looking back, I fear that if I had not taken that advice, I may have never started writing, or at least would not have done as much as I have to this point. The author also gave an example of how she almost missed her first short story being published in a magazine. She had a story accepted, then due to budget constraints was told that she had to either cut out a percentage of the story, or it would not have been able to be publised in the upcoming edition of the magazine. Hopefully, it could have been published in its entirety in the next edition, but it was by no means a guarantee. After consideration, she put the work in to rewrite the story enough so that it could be shortened enough and could get published. Getting a story published at all meant more than waiting and maybe never getting the “perfect” story published. Let’s face it, perfection is an incredibly difficult, lofty, and frankly unattainable goal. What I mean be that is that we will always have room for improvement. Try not to let the goal of perfection keep you from creating something awesome.

This book gave me a lot to ponder. I think my biggest takeway, as you can probably gather from this post, is that I need to relieve the pressure. I put these lofty unwritten requirements on myself that I think keep me from reaching my full potential. I probably need to make more of an effort to get out of my own way. Making a conscious effort to allow myself to be curious and see where it takes me seems to be a good start. If you are looking for ways to approach your own creativity, I definitely recommend this book.

Featured image credit – Ricardo Esquivel

Published by Tim Bertino

Systems Architect passionate about solutions and design.

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