Top Bartender Alexis Brown’s Current Obsession: “The Courage to Create” by Rollo May
After a serious car accident, Chicago bartender Alexis Brown read “The Courage to Create” by Rollo May and credits it for helping her to recalibrate her career.
Last summer, Chicago bartender Alexis Brown decided to take a solo trip to Tulum, Mexico. With her 30th birthday approaching, she was looking for clarity and what better way to find it than soaking up the sun and catching up on a growing stack of unread books?
At the top of her reading list, was a book that had been gifted to her earlier in the year, The Courage to Create by Rollo May.
“It’s not a bartending book or anything that talks about making cocktails,” says Brown. “[The book is] basically about seizing the courage necessary to preserve our sensitivity, our awareness—like what type of space do you need to be in mentally and emotionally to create more impactful things for the world? And understanding what courage is, what creativity is.”
One of more than a dozen books written by May, an American existential psychologist, The Courage to Create was first published in 1975. In it he discusses how breaking routine and facing fears can help people to find creative courage—a message that particularly resonated with Brown at the time of her self-described “sabbatical” in Mexico.
“I got into a bad car accident in March,” says Brown. “That made me rethink some things. I started questioning why [it happened to me], to try to take the lesson out of it and reevaluating what I was doing before. Truthfully, I was overworking myself. I was saying yes to everything and doing everything.”
While her leg and ankle healed, she was unable to pick up her regular shifts at The Drifter bar and couldn’t get around very well. “I was like, ‘Well, I just want to read.’ I think someone purchased [The Courage to Create] off my Amazon wish list,” she remembers. “It was pretty random.”
But she didn’t get a chance to check it out until a few months later, when she embarked on her trip—and the timing could not have been more perfect.
“Reading it I felt so tied to what I do every day—working with people and understanding people and their needs and making our spaces and environments more inhabitable,” she says. “I bought like 20 copies of it and I’m giving them away to my closest friends.”
Since her trip, she’s begun to reevaluate how and why she does certain things, and to look for more efficient or impactful practices where possible.
“The book kind of helped me in that I’ve been more intentional with what I’m doing,” says Brown. “Maybe my calling isn’t to stand behind the bar for 10-hour shifts. But maybe, taking all of my experiences and the knowledge that I have and giving it back to people who may be interested in getting into the industry but don’t know how to maneuver or navigate through it, is what can be most impactful.”
The concepts laid out within May’s book aligned with the progressive non-profit Causing a Stir, which Brown co-founded in 2017. The organization has the goal of making the bar industry more inclusive and accessible to those in underserved and underrepresented communities. That includes providing programming and opportunities in areas like Chicago’s South Side, where Brown first entered the industry.
“My work with Causing a Stir has always been philosophical in a way,” she says. “I took a lot from this book, and I think it will put things into perspective for anyone who is a creative or giving something back to the world.”