“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
I loved this book so much. I read it years ago and still talk about it with people often. It’s a book about creativity, which means some people might dismiss it, if they don’t consider themselves a creative but as Liz says in the book: “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.” And as far as I’m considered if you are an entrepreneur you’re highly creative or at least you need to be.
There are two main ways this book has influenced me. The first was a huge insight I had around fear. Realising that we don’t get to eradicate fear and more to the point, fear is always going to shout the loudest precisely when we are about to create something, anything. The question then becomes how can we continue to show up and create in the face of our fear?
Liz answers this question beautifully with her analogy of a road trip. She says this:
“It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too. In fact, I cordially invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go. I even have a welcoming speech prepared for fear, which I deliver right before embarking upon any new project or big adventure.”
You can watch a video of me below reading the welcoming speech she mentions. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it as it just might change the way you see fear forever. It has me.
There are many other big ideas and aha moments I got from this book. One other that stands out is the idea that women, more than men, are prone to perfectionism. She says this:
“Perfectionism is a particularly evil lure for women, who, I believe, hold themselves to an even higher standard of performance than do men…too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism”
I’ve definitely witnessed this in my work with many female entrepreneurs but reading Gilberts’ words on the subject were powerful and affirming. When we are more aware of this propensity, we can take measures against it. I definitely have benefited from taking the “wild leaps” Gilbert says she wishes more women would risk taking.
The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
What I loved most about this book is how adeptly Pressfield puts into words what most of us experience when we try to access our creativity. He calls it Resistance with a capital R and in his straight-from-the-hip style he shares with us how we can win battle against our own resistance.
It’s in this book that he first introduces the concept of turning pro and in the context of our creativity, simply put, means getting to work. As he states in the book:
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
Why is this so important?
Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious begins to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose…
When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favour in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
He covers meaty topic like procrastination and fear and has something smart to say about it all. This book isn’t so much thought-provoking as it is action-provoking. What it helps us to do is have a heightened awareness of the existence of Resistance and the lengths it will go to to keep us small. If you know that your inner game is keeping you from truly contributing to the world, then consider this book because as Pressfield says: “Creative work is….a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
This is the book that I read most recently and it’s been a total game-changer for me. In it, Newport argues that ‘deep work’, one of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasingly rare. In a mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice he convinces us not only of the merits of deep work, in terms of both professional output and personal fulfilment, but of the dangers of the increasingly dIstracting and informationally overwhelming world we live in.
“Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction…[it] will make you better at what you do, let you achieve more in less time and provide the sense of true fulfilment that comes from the mastery of a skill.”
There are so many big ideas in this book that I will have to dedicate a whole blog post just to the concept of deep work, but I want to at least give you a flavour of how great this book is.
After doing a really great job, in part 1 of the book, of convincing us how important a skill deep work is, in part 2, Newport shares with us 4 rules to follow to get better at this important skill. #1 Work Deeply, #2 Embrace Boredom #3 Quit Social Media and #4 Drain the Shallows.
I know, I know! Quit social media!? I feel you but don’t worry, in this chapter Cal teaches us several ways to take healthy breaks from social media and to be more selective in our use of it. He argues that most of us have adopted an “any benefit” approach to choosing which social media tools to use, meaning that we rarely consider if the benefits of using the tool are worth the costs of doing so. So for example, if we join Instagram just because it’s fun to be on social media but then scrolling through countless images becomes our main form of procrastination, was the benefit really worth it? Food for thought indeed.
In rule #1 Work Deeply Newport teaches us about the importance of downtime and says: “downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply.” and he gives us plenty of ways to ensure we take effect effective breaks. One of my favourite ideas from the book is that of a strict work shutdown ritual to conduct at the end of your working day and you can see the one I wrote and printed out for my office below.
I don’t manage to do this everyday. Sometimes my 2 year old gets home from nursery before I get a chance to do it and his cries of “Mama!” pull me away from my computer quicker than a hand touching hot coals. But when I do get the chance to do my shutdown ritual, it feels so great to leave behind my work, knowing that everything is taken care of and ready for me to start the following day knowing exactly what needs to be done.
Essentially that’s the beauty of this book for me, this idea that when we work, we really work, we go deep and refrain from the shallow and when we stop working we really switch off and think about anything but work.
I love these 3 books, each has shaped my approach to my work and my creativity as an entrepreneur. Gilbert has influenced how I handle my fear, Pressfield my Resistance and Newport my distractions. Have you read any of these books? If not, has reading this post inspired you to pick any of them up? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.
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