My first grown-up journalism job was a two-year internship at The Providence Journal. One important thing I remember about the experience was that there was an editor who told his small staff, myself included, to take one day a month to disappear from the office.
Not a day off, but a day to think. Maybe we’d drive to the beach and brainstorm ideas while looking at the ocean. Perhaps we’d take the bonus day to people-watch at the local library.
I remember how much that gift of a day meant to me back then — a boss’s acknowledgment that being better at my job might mean taking time away from deadlines to let my mind wander. I bet the day was even more important to the reporters in the office who had kids and other responsibilities.
That “thinking day” came to mind as I read Eve Rodsky’s new book, “Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too-Busy World.”
For those who haven’t heard of Rodsky, here’s some background: she studied at the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School, and then, after working in foundation management at J.P. Morgan, founded the Philanthropy Advisory Group.
In 2019, after researching and, according to Rodsky’s website, “interviewing more than 500 men and women from all walks of life” about who did what in their households, she released a book called “Fair Play,” mostly about how to divide the work, and the invisible labor that often falls to women, especially those who share homes with men. She wrote about how identifying tasks and reassigning responsibilities can create more time for happiness.
Reese Witherspoon chose “Fair Play” for her book club, and it became a big bestseller. “Find Your Unicorn Space,” published Dec. 28, is the follow-up — because if you have free time for yourself, Rodsky wants to make sure you use it well.
Rodsky starts her sequel by defining what she means by unicorn space. It’s essentially the time (and sometimes physical space) we need to be creative. And creativity, she says, leads to happiness.
To be clear, this is not like many of the recent self-help books I’ve read that focus on rest and just sitting, mindfully — something I still don’t know how to do, or even want to do. Unicorn space is also not about having a hobby.
She writes, “So if it’s not a hobby, a vanity project, or a distraction — what are we talking about, exactly? I’m referring to the active and open pursuit of self-expression in any form, and which requires value-based curiosity and purposeful sharing of this pursuit with the world. Whether it be creating art, expanding your knowledge within your area of expertise, or developing a new skill, I’m talking about an activity that you lose yourself in.”
Rodsky tells us that COVID-19 hasn’t done much to change the division of labor in many homes, which is why part of the book is about making room to do creative things.
“Perhaps it was too optimistic to hope that men, without much of a choice but to stay home during a global pandemic, would retire the tired, ‘I’m not home to help,’ argument. But no. A substitute claim slid right into its place.” (That claim being that remote work was in the way of everything else.)
Those with long family to-do lists should find these chapters helpful.
I will admit that when I started reading, I didn’t think there’d be much in it for me because I’m a single person who, despite family and work obligations, can find time to be creative. I have not had to answer to one child during this pandemic.
But I got plenty out of Rodsky’s chapters about defining and choosing creative projects, and about how to make sure they feel satisfying and not burdensome. I thought about Witherspoon specifically while reading this. She’s an actress who became a producer, a brand owner (of the clothing line Draper James), a book club magnate, and a booster for other projects by women. I imagine that some of her projects were once in her “unicorn space,” and are now massive time-consuming jobs.
Not that someone like Witherspoon doesn’t have staff to help.
(This seems like a good time to mention that Rodsky does address money in this book, and who has time to do what. She says people she interviewed who had less money were often better at making time for creative endeavors. Also, few people said money was a barrier to them doing something they loved.)
Rodsky herself admits that writing “Fair Play” had been her own unicorn space project, and now it’s part of her career. Many of the examples in her book are about women who found extra time, excelled on their creative path, and now have added ... yet another job. I was so fixated on this — how to do creative work without turning it into obligation — that I asked for an interview with Rodsky, and she gave me a call.
I told her that sure, it’s a fun idea to say, hey, I’m going to write screenplays in my so-called unicorn space, but what if they don’t get produced? What if it’s just another thing on the list of things I could do more of and better?
She reminded me that her book outlines three C’s of creativity: curiosity, connection, and completion. We’re supposed to connect with others about our projects. Her research showed that sharing work — finding like-minded people (think: people swapping recipes online) — brings joy. That means just talking about screenwriting with other writers can help my brain. Taking a dance class and learning some specific moves with a group would work too (if I liked to dance).
The thing that hit me hardest was the last C, the part about completion. She said the whole idea is to finish a project so that you can lose yourself in the next thing.
“How do you get to not be in a graveyard of unfulfilled dreams?” she said during our talk. “... What I realized was — it was so interesting — the word that kept coming up over and over again was not ‘perfection.’ It wasn’t that [something] was sold. It was that it was complete.”
When we hung up, I flipped back to the section of the book about carving out time — so I can get the screenplay done. And learn how to play Richard Marx songs on a keyboard so I can entertain at parties after the pandemic is over. That’s on my unicorn list too. It’s going to be incredible.
“Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too-Busy World,” by Eve Rodsky, Putnam, $27.
Meredith Goldstein writes Working on It, a column about self-help books, with Christina Tucker. She also writes the advice column Love Letters. She can be reached at email@example.com.