Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Time is something we all have equal amounts of: 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, and about 8,760 hours in a year.
Yet there are many factors that influence how we spend our finite amount of time, including work and home responsibilities, personal interests and societal expectations. Eve Rodsky, author of the best-selling book Fair Play and the upcoming book Find Your Unicorn Space, told me in a previous Forbes interview that time bias may be a big factor for women being pushed out of the workforce during the pandemic due to increased caregiving responsibilities. “We know that a non-Latinx white man is getting paid about double of what a Latinx woman is paid for an hour of work,” Rodsky said. “We know that mothers get a five to 10% pay cut for each child they have, while fathers get a 6% pay bump per child. That’s inherently a time issue, where we're valuing someone's time more than the other. From my research, while we can measure the time bias based on unequal pay, the most insidious place I saw this time bias was in the home.”
In her soon-to-be-released book, Rodsky is on a mission to help women reclaim permission to be unavailable from their roles as partner, parent or professional and take uninterrupted time for creative pursuits. She has dubbed this as “unicorn space,” and says it’s not optional, but critical for mental health, happiness and even longevity. Other research has found that creative pursuits can combat burnout and make you better in business.
I (virtually) sat down with Rodsky again to talk about the research behind her new book, what unicorn space is exactly—and what it is not—and how to reframe some of the toxic time messages we’ve been told.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Eve Rodsky, author of "Fair Play" and "Find Your Unicorn Space"
Holly Corbett: Why did you decide to write Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in A Too-Busy World?
Eve Rodsky: “I interviewed hundreds of people for my research, and what I heard often from women was, ‘I lost my permission to be interesting and interested in my own life.’ I found that extremely profound. It's not something I wanted to write about, but the theme kept coming up that women don't have permission to be unavailable from their roles. For mothers and caretakers, we’re often told by society to spend the majority of our attention and time on our kids, because they don’t stay young forever. We are taught our value lies solely in the roles we play.
All of this messaging keeps us from spending sustained attention on things that we love and, God forbid, if it's unpaid. Those pursuits are extremely important, yet they aren’t valued. I wanted to make sure that people understood the importance of being interested in their own lives.”
Holly Corbett: How do you define ‘unicorn space?’
Eve Rodsky: “It might be helpful to start with what unicorn space is not. When I ask people what they would do with a sustained hour of time where they weren't interrupted—and I told them they cannot vacuum the floor or take care of their kids—I would often hear three things. The first is that they would spend time with a friend. That's adult friendships and it’s really important, but it is not unicorn space. Second, I would hear something like, ‘I want to just touch the sand, take a walk with my dog, take a breath.’ That's self-care, which is also important, but that's a more passive pursuit.
The third thing I would hear would fit into the category of more active pursuits. I heard, ‘I would crochet my Harry Potter dolls, work on new ideas for my podcast or finish my Japanese pottery.’ The active pursuits were so interesting to me. They’re sometimes dismissed as a hobby or vanity project or any of those terms that we use to diminish the active pursuit of creativity in any form that makes you who you are. That’s why I call it unicorn space: like the mythical equine, it doesn't exist—especially for women—unless we reclaim it.
Unicorn space is not a one-off spin class. It's not a drink with a friend. It's not a date night. It's really the active pursuit of what makes you you, and how you share that with others.”
Holly Corbett: Being creative isn’t necessarily about doing something artistic. So what makes an active pursuit creative?
Eve Rodsky: “I think many people define creativity as something that has to do with the arts alone. What we find in the research is that these active pursuits, which you may have heard of as the ‘flow state,’ require uninterrupted attention for things that you love, whether it's training or a race or trying new recipes for a dinner you're hosting or knitting a scarf as a gift.
That doesn't happen for women, especially for caregivers in the pandemic who are being interrupted every three minutes and 42 seconds on average. I ask women to assert equal time choice over their lives as our male counterparts do. There's a lot of rigor that's required when you do something creative. I want women to believe that they have permission to be unavailable to enter a flow state. It doesn't mean the activity is easy or always fun. It takes a lot of effort. For example, I'm not in a flow state all the time when I'm writing a book, but sometimes I am. Sometimes you get into that flow state where you lose track of space and time, but you need to give yourself uninterrupted time to get there.”
Holly Corbett: What are some of the biggest things holding women back from feeling like they can be unavailable from their roles?
Eve Rodsky: “The three things women were telling me they were lacking, regardless of economic privilege, are at the intersection of identity, happiness and creativity. Society has sold women a bill of goods in the form of milestones to pursue, whether it's a diamond ring or having children or getting to the C-suite, in order to be happy. Yet there is often a loss of identity and a lack of happiness in the externally-focused milestones that they were pursuing. There was a definite feeling that it's selfish to focus on creativity or that you should wait until later in life, such as in retirement.
I think the most important thing to tell you from the research is that creativity is not optional. The way I'm describing unicorn space is literally linked to your mental health, your longevity and your redemptive narrative for how you heal. It's a very important skill to cultivate. It's a practice. I am fighting for a society where we all have this time choice.”
Holly Corbett: So would you say that creativity is a pathway to happiness that many of us may feel like is missing, especially during the pandemic?
Eve Rodsky: “In my research, I’ve found many people think they need to pursue happiness for happiness’ sake. I'm here to tell you that it’s guaranteed to make you sad. There is nothing wrong with meditating or writing in a gratitude journal, but I think what unicorn space is telling you is that happiness is a clue. Creating unicorn space is an ongoing practice where you're listening to clues about what makes you who you are, and what brings you joy. Many of us have tried to find happiness in external things that society deems important, such as our roles or our appearance or how much money we have—but those things ultimately don’t make us happy.
If we can start focusing more internally on finding what brings us real joy, and then sharing those things that come from inside us with the world, everything changes. This sharing with others or community aspect is so important. When I asked people during my research about when they felt happy, every single one of them said it was when they were sharing with other people. If you love yoga for example, stop focusing only on perfecting your headstands and become a yoga instructor. Sharing who you are and what you love with the world is at the root of happiness.
What I say to people who are intimidated about where to start is to uncover your values. Everybody has values. When you can reconnect with your internal values—rather than the external values of society—it becomes a roadmap for curiosity. I love the word curiosity so much more than I love the word passion. Not all of us have a passion, but all of us can be curious. Permission to be curious about and interested in your own life is the greatest gift we can give ourselves, and each other.”
Article originally published in Forbes.