A year ago today — June 17, 2012 — was a day I’ll never forget. It was my husband’s first Father’s Day. But I digress.
The morning of this June 17, I left Jon and our 7-month-old at home for some quality daddy-daughter time.* I was on my way to a three-hour workshop by industrial designer Ayse Birsel that had reeled me in by its title alone: Design the Life You Love.
“Life, just like a design problem, is full of constraints — time, money, age, location, circumstances, etc. You cannot have everything,” Ayse said. “If you want more, you have to be creative about how to make what you need and what you want co-exist. This requires design thinking.”
It’s part of the human condition that we try to be good at too many things. Ayse herself is an immigrant from Turkey who lives and works in NY, has children and maintains a commuter marriage between here and Dakar. But was I understanding this correctly, that with a tweak in our thinking, we actually CAN do it all?
Please go on.
There’s a three-step method to this madness. In step 1, we split our life into pieces. In 2, we change our point of view. In 3, we use our new POV to put those life pieces back together in a new way — a strategic, more thoughtful way. Like if Martha Stewart came into your house and rearranged everything. It would just look better. And there would probably be cookies in the oven.
Step 1: Deconstruction
The first step is to break your life into pieces. I was amazed at how after I did this, I was looking at an incredibly accurate list of what’s truly important to me. I love my list. Make this list up of only what matters to you, no one else — start each one with “my.” “My writing, my baby, my husband, my upbringing, my education.” Break it up as granularly as you want. Also important: There are no weaknesses in this list. You are strong.
Step 2: Point Of View
There are multiple exercises for defining and then shifting your point of view on your life, but these two stand out most to me. They’ll make even more sense in Step 3. They are:
Dichotomy Resolution. Consider what you want and what you need. How can you reconcile the two? For example, what you want is a vacation, but what you need is to save money. Consider how you might get to a vacation destination without breaking open your piggy bank. Could you travel for work — or get a different job where you can? Could you volunteer for a cause? Could you purchase something on your trip that you could come home and sell for a profit?
- Hierarchy Shift. Take the example of the Dyson Airblade. In traditional fans, rotating blades are the means to an end of moving air. But a hierarchy shift in the design process removed the presupposition of using blades at all. The goal of a fan is to move air — in what ways can that be done? Imagine that blades aren’t even an option.
Step 3: Reconstruction
To use a David Sedaris metaphor: On the gas stovetop of life, Work, Family, Friends and Self represent the four burners. If we turn one off, the other three burn brighter. Even more so if we turn off two.
For example — a single person won’t be particularly obliged to Family, so he’s able to be really good at Work (80 hours a week), Friends (party on, Wayne) and Self (run every morning). For a full-time mom, Work in the traditional sense is out and Family takes center stage, and we can only hope she leaves room for Friends and Self.
For many of us, Self (mental space and/or physical health) gets left by the wayside. And at busy times in life, Friends can be forgotten.
Ayse gave this example of her own life’s restructuring:
Note the plus sign here — this is where my friend Emily and I gave each other a look of wonder during the workshop. Epiphany. Ayse fits friendships into her busy life by making it a point to work with her friends! She bluntly said that she often doesn’t have time at all for friends she doesn’t work with. And that’s OK, because all her core needs are met. She’s good at four areas of life because she’s combined two priorities into one. It’s an idea that’s so simple, yet so profound.
“Figure out how 1 + 1 = 3 for you,” she said.
If family is important but far away, can you find a way to travel there for work? If work keeps you away from family, can you change your job and work together? If it’s hard to squeeze in both exercise and spending time with friends, can you exercise with friends?
I sketched out multiple takes on my own reconstruction. At the time I had a baby under a year old and was still figuring out how much she needed me, how much I needed her and how much that would affect my work — a work in progress.
To this three-part structure, I’d add how important the cherry on top really is. My parents both worked, and they both made Work and Family their top priorities. But if they’d added a cherry on top — more time with friends, or spent on themselves — perhaps their focus on family could have been even richer. In Ayse’s example, Work+Friends is #1 because her success at Work feeds her success at Family.
This exercise brought light to so many areas of my life. At the time I was working part-time at Storenvy, working with my husband. He works really long hours, so it made me appreciate combining work and family, getting to spend more time with him. It also made me realize how I could orient my job to best serve my skills. It made me realize how important it is to me to have friends who work in the same industry as I do (and not feel bad for spending less with those who aren’t). It made me think of my co-workers in a different way, embracing them as friends in order to make the most of the relationships I build in the office. And on and on.
The lessons in this workshop are ones that will stick with me the rest of my life. I can’t tell you how much I’ve referenced them myself, and how much I’ve shared them with friends. It’s amazing how empowering this strategic perspective on life is. Don’t like the way something’s going? Change it. Redefine it.
Make 1 + 1 = 3.
*But back to Father’s Day. Before I left that morning, I told Viv how her dad likes his eggs. He never did get his breakfast in bed, though. But don’t worry, I took him out for a feast afterward — a brunch of chicken and waffles, plus the kind of rambling inspirations that really stick to the ribs.
Later this week, I’ll be making a big announcement — it’s the manifestation of how, over the past year, I’ve redesigned my life! Such a far cry from where I was when I took this workshop. It’s crazy. And very exciting.
How about you? Do you need a redesign? Or do you already love your life?