Feeling Overwhelmed and Bored? Read This.
The author Eve Rodsky on the burn-out crisis, why it’s so hard for women to spend time on themselves and her new book, “Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too-Busy World.”
- Written By
- Liz McDaniel
Consider this a missive from what the author Eve Rodsky would call my Unicorn Space. In her follow-up to : A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live), Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too Busy World, Rodsky defines Unicorn Space as “the active and open pursuit of self-expression in any form.” Mine happens to be writing and I’ve recently stepped back from my regular editing gig to focus on just that. (A serious privilege I am trying not to squander.) I have determined to use the time my children spend in school to write, nothing else. I even moved my desk to my unfinished attic to avoid the all-the-things-that-need-your-attention-now zone that is my kitchen counter. And yet, this is how my day went: I took my children to school, I walked the dog. I sat down to write. I worked for half an hour before realizing that it was Wednesday, not Tuesday, which meant that my oldest daughter had tennis after school. I had forgotten to send her tennis racquet. After emailing to see if there was one she could borrow (there was not), I was back in my car before lunch, retracing the 20 minute drive back to school to deliver said tennis racquet. On the way home, I wondered what we would have for dinner and decided to make a quick stop at the neighborhood grocery for a few things. I filled a little hand-held basket until it was so heavy I had to actually put it down in the produce section and go back to surrender to the full-size cart. I waited in line, paid, drove home. By the time I sat down to actually write it was 2pm. (I should note here that my husband did pick-up so I would have time to finish this article.)
My point is, it is hard to make the time, even when you’ve already made the time. Even when you’ve recently interviewed Eve Rodsky and made a vow to give yourself permission, to burn guilt and shame, even when you can still hear her saying, “Domestic encroachment will get you every time.” That’s why I’m so excited to share this conversation –– on why it’s essential (but so damn hard) for women to take the time they need for active, creative pursuits, why we are so far beyond the need for a walk around the block or a drink with a friend and what we can do instead.
Why Unicorn Space and why now?
Creativity really thrives in constraints and times like this. Because what happens in moments of extreme burn-out like the one we’re in now is that people realize that what they’ve been told, like to take a walk around the block or grab a drink with a friend, is not going to solve the burn-out crisis. We’re in an extreme period of disruption and this idea that having it all means doing it all, it just doesn’t serve anybody. It doesn’t serve our society. It doesn’t serve our mental health or our physical health, our longevity. We often see in periods of great disruption increases in creativity and that’s 100% what I found during my research.
I want to reference something that you said in your interview with Zibby Owens on her podcast Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books, because I found it so interesting and I think it will resonate, unfortunately, with so many people. Can you tell us about learning that women are both bored and overwhelmed?
Yes! Initially, so many people said to me that they were drowning. So for this book, I wanted to go back and unpack what that meant, and the two words that came up most frequently in my interviews with women were “bored” and “overwhelmed.” What a terrible combo. So if people think that Unicorn Space is a “nice to have,” they’re completely missing the point. Because what’s the opposite of living a life that you’re actively engaged in? To live a life where you’re bored and overwhelmed? No. I don’t want anyone living that type of life.
And why is this active engagement so hard for women in particular? Can you tell us a little bit about the solution you offer in your book?
I love all of the creativity and productivity books I reference in my book, but they just assume that you’re going to have an hour for deep work, or for this pursuit that you already know without understanding the implications that there’s a whole society conspiring against women keeping our identities. So what I think has been the hardest as I really unpacked creativity is hearing women tell me about these hurdles again and again, even in just carving out ten minutes a day for themselves. I knew I had a creativity plan to share but I couldn’t launch into that without addressing the hurdles. The top three: number one was no time, I definitely don’t have permission to be unavailable for my roles. Number two was even if I do have permission to be unavailable, I feel incredible guilt and shame when I take that time. And the third was, if someone did have permission to be unavailable and they didn’t feel guilt and shame, they still told me that they had trouble asking for what they needed. So I really had to address those three hurdles first.
There is a reframe when it comes to guilt and shame in the book. Can you share that?
I really wanted to change the whole dynamic of how we treat guilt and shame and I needed two things to get into that mindset of letting it go. As you saw in the book, it was working with experts that I love, like Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler who had that beautiful guilt reframe where instead of saying “I feel guilty because,” you say, “I made the choice or decision because.” But more than that, for me, it was a ritual. It was a ritualistic burning that I had to do to really talk to guilt and shame and to burn it. That was my favorite part of the book to write because I never thought I’d get to write this anywhere about this day in my life, where I had this burning piece of origami paper, but it was really fun to write because it’s almost hard for me now to conjure up guilt and shame around my work or leaving my kids. It’s there but it doesn’t affect my decisions anymore and it’s been very exciting to watch that change in myself.
I am going to use that because I have this weird guilt around picking my children up when it’s dark out…thank you, daylight savings.
That’s it and you deserve that time to write. Domestic encroachment will get you every time. You will feel guilty because society has done that to you and convinced you that your time should be spent on others. That is what we’ve done to entire generations of women, we’ve basically said this is on you to make it work and if you don’t it’s your failure and your responsibility alone. This is what we’re fed everyday of our lives, but there is power in understanding that this was designed to keep you small.
So let’s assume we’ve given ourselves permission to be unavailable, to burn guilt and shame and to use our voice. Can you tell us what Unicorn Space actually is and what it is not?
The mental health and longevity gains come from two things, the combination of the active pursuit plus the sharing. An active pursuit could be a soul cycle class but it doesn’t have the sharing, but if someone tells me they’re a soul cycle instructor or joining a writing group where you’re sharing and building community, that’s active engagement. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s being in active curiosity. It’s not going for a run or cleaning out the junk drawer. When I can see the combination of active curiosity plus a connection with others, and then completing something. That’s the hardest part for so many women. As my friend Amanda says in the book, “I live in a graveyard of unfulfilled dreams.” We want to avoid that.
Why is the intersection of happiness and meaning so important?
Here’s the dirty secret: if you pursue happiness, you’re going to be more sad. And that’s why I want people to retire saying to their kids, I just want you to be happy. Substitute in, I want you to be curious. I want you to have connections, I want you to complete something, those are better things to say than I want you to be happy. The truth is that happiness serves the best purpose as a clue that you’re on the right path.
Unicorn Space ends up being a place where you’re intersecting the feeling of happiness with meaning. They often correlate. But there are times where we’re happy without meaning, that’s hedonistic pleasure, being on a beach, dancing at a nightclub. And there’s a lot of meaning without happiness for women, that’s mostly caretaking. But when you can find an activity that is both, where you feel that clue of happiness and there’s meaning attached to it, that’s Unicorn Space.
What would you say to the mom who is working from home and her children are unexpectedly home-schooling and her partner is also working from home, and all hell is breaking loose, to convince her that pursuing her own creative needs is essential? And what’s the first small step she should take in that direction?
I’m not here to tell you to go tomorrow to sign up for hiking the South Pole, that’s not where we are at this point. It’s the recognition that if you don’t have an umbrella, you’re going to drown. This is literally linked to your ability to exist. People who are living at the intersection of meaning and happiness, their inflammatory markers go down, they live longer, they have better relationships. That’s what we all want. So grab a journal and a pen and just start writing down somewhere on a post-it, I deserve permission to be unavailable from my roles, start with unpacking the things that keep us small. You deserve that permission.
Liz McDaniel is a freelance writer and Contributing Editor at Maisonette. You can follow her on instagram @lizmcdanielwrites.