“The idea of a unicorn space, it’s magical. It is the antidote to burnout. It is a necessary must-have, but it actually won’t exist until we claim it.” Eve Rodsky, the bestselling author of Fair Play, joins Zibby to talk about her latest book, Find Your Unicorn Space, and why a form of genuine self-expression is essential to living a happy life. The two discuss the research and data Eve collected to formulate her theories, the importance of balancing the trio of friendships, self-care, and unicorn space, and why protecting ourselves from burnout with passion is a life-saving action. Eve also shares how her new Fair Play Policy Institute intends to help our society reevaluate the value of gendered domestic labor and what else she plans to do to help women everywhere.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Eve. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” after Fair Play. Now you’re here for Find Your Unicorn Space, which is near and dear to my heart. I am over-the-moon excited about this book and have been talking it up a storm already. Welcome.

Eve Rodsky: Thank you. You’re the epitome of the framework. We’ll be able to do some lessons in unicorn space through examining Zibby’s life, by me putting words in your mouth. Wow, talk about a creativity revolution that you’ve sparked for the people around you. It’s exponential. It’s literally like math. It becomes exponential. I think that’s the beauty of this book. It’s not a, I don’t have time for this, as you say — we have time in common — the bottom of my to-do list, I can’t believe this woman’s asking me to squeeze another thing in my overwhelmed life. It’s the opposite. It’s that these are the big rocks. You put them in first. Then the sand can come in after. The big rocks are your own creativity.

Zibby: Prior to this book coming out, the one line I quoted a lot when people would ask me about, “How did you know you wanted to start all this stuff? What did you do?” I would talk about this interview I did with Dr. Amy Shah. I don’t know if you read her book. It’s called I’m so Effing Tired.

Eve: No, but I will download it now.

Zibby: It’s really good. Her theory was, when you feel like you have too much on your plate and you keep taking things off, that doesn’t make you happier. You have to add the right things on. I feel like that’s what I did for so long. I kept taking things off until I was left with, well, what is this? Really, I had so much I could’ve put on. I feel like that’s the crux of Unicorn Space. Maybe you should just outline what you even mean by that because you have a very specific — actually, I could just read this paragraph if you want.

Eve: Sure, please.

Zibby: You said, “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, an activity that you lose yourself in, that you crave to go back to when you’re away from it, that gives you pleasure outside of your work, your family, and your other obligations. It’s something you do just for yourself and because it brings you so much joy you want to share it with others.”

Eve: Correct. I think the beauty of Unicorn Space is that it’s really a question. It’s this idea of, what kind of life do you want? It’s an urgent question in a burned-out world, especially with what’s been going on with the global state of affairs the past couple years. This is an urgent question to say, do you want to be in a life where you feel alive and engaged and at the intersection of what we’ll talk about — the science shows the best intersection you could be at is the intersection of meaning and happiness. Or do you want to be what so many people now in my — the biggest longitudinal study of unpaid labor I have and over twenty thousand people in a CRM database that I’ve interviewed about dividing up domestic responsibilities, in that data, I also ask, what makes you you? How do you share it with the world? Not only did I get blank stares, but I got a data combination, Zibby, that none of us want to be. That was a combination of being overwhelmed and bored.

Zibby: Not fun.

Eve: I don’t want to live as overwhelmed and bored. If you don’t think this is important, if you think it’s optional, then you haven’t yet discovered the mental and physical aspects that this is actually lifesaving. It is lifesaving, especially what we’re going through now in a burned-out world. The last thing I’ll say about this in the intro is that I really wish, Zibby, that I could tell you that we’re in a state where a walk around the block can bring you back to yourself, or a dinner with a friend, but we’re really in a state — as my friend Greg McKeown calls it, we’re just two types of people. We are the ones who are burnt out. Then there are ones who know we’re burnt out. In that state, the antidote is not a walk around the block or dinner with a friend. It’s really this idea of being interested in your own life. While I can’t tell you how to do that, I can teach you how to find it. That’s really what the goal of this book is about.

Zibby: I’ve had so many people say to me, I wish I had a thing. I wish I knew what it was. What you said here too is like, you said, we should each ask ourselves, why did I stop doing what I love? You must have loved something at some point in your life. What brings you joy? I was talking to a woman I’m very close to. She’s like, “I don’t have my thing.” I was like, “What are you talking about? You spend hours calligraphing things. You put so much attention into a gift and entertainment. That is your –” She’s like, “Oh, no, that’s just something that’s fun.” I’m like, “No, that’s your superpower. You’re so good at that. It’s amazing.”

Eve: Yes, yes, yes times a million, I’ll just say.

Zibby: Right? You say in the book, a creative life is not a nice-to-have, but a must-have. I wanted to shout this from the rooftops because it doesn’t even have to be that hard to achieve. It’s just so important. You have all this time toxicity talk. Maybe tell a little bit about that and how it’s easy to come up with excuses not to do this.

Eve: Absolutely. Also, my books are triggering for a lot of people because they’re not just plans. I wish I could be sort of a pail-and-nail writer where I could just launch into the plan because there’s this assumption that you’re already going to have time for your creative life. My books are often triggering where you have to get through the first part to get to the plan. If it was so easy to distribute domestic labor, I could’ve just made Fair Play a card game. It had to be a book because of the overwhelm in the societal messages, especially for women, that our time is not valuable, that it’s infinite. It’s like sand. We should give it away. It’s our most valuable currency. Women are taught to give it away to others literally from the day we are born. We say things to women like, breastfeeding is free, when it’s really an 1,800-hour-a-year job. We gaslight women into believing their time is infinite. Then what happens is that it’s an hourglass. We only have twenty-four hours in the day, and so it goes to things that ultimately are not at that intersection of meaning and happiness. To get to the plan — I will get there — I do think about reflecting on, what happened to me?

At twenty-one, Zibby, I was going to be president and a senator because there’s nothing in the constitution that says you can’t be both, but I’m not going to give up my dream of being a Knicks City Dancer because going to Madison Square Garden is dream. Of course, it’s not that hard because I could just fly Air Force One in on Saturdays. MSG has a lot of twelve thirty games, so I could dance on the weekend and fly Air Force One back home to the White House. It is this fire. I was on fire. Then ten years later, your metaphor that I put in this book around being charcoal briquettes just smoldering, having that fire put out, you used that beautiful metaphor, what happened there? I realized that a lot of this is about naming because I think when you call it a hobby, a vanity project, as your friend with calligraphy did — oh, that’s just for fun. That’s not really important. We’ve taught women to devalue the time we spend on ourselves. I don’t mean commodified wellness like getting your hair dyed or taking a walk with your friend. You should be able to do those things. I’m talking about the active pursuits. Not reading a book, writing a book. I’m talking about not eating a pie, which is my self-care, but baking a pie. Not listening to a podcast, which is great — again, that should be the baseline — but starting a podcast.

That takes a lot more unpacking. That’s what this book does. It really unpacks these permissions. Why is it that it’s so hard for women to find that permission to be unavailable? I’ll argue that it’s really associated, at least in my mind, with this idea that — I remember when Zach was given to me, my first baby was given to me. The nurse, she handed him to me and said, “Here, Mom.” That same week, someone gave me a necklace. I put it on. It said “Mom.” Then I got to preschool. I sat in the circle of all these women. The preschool teacher said, “These women are going to be your best friends in the whole world. You’re going to be at their weddings, their bar mitzvahs. You’re going to be with them until sixth grade.” I looked down at my name tag, Zibby, and it said, “Zach’s mom.” I kept thinking, these women are going to be my best friends? They don’t even know my name. What happens when we are just defined as our roles?

Zibby: Wait, what happened with the preschool moms?

Eve: They still are my best friends. They are. I kept thinking, the irony that this woman thought these people would be my best friends, but again, I didn’t have a name tag that even had my name on it. I was like, hi, Anna’s mom. Hi, Mike’s mother. You will be a close friend of mine, but yet I don’t know who you are or your name other than being defined as the mother of this child. I think very deeply about the power of a name. For me, unicorn space is really important because it felt important to rename what we’re talking about here. The idea of taking up space for women is already provocative, but it doesn’t exist, like a mythical equine. It doesn’t fucking exist unless we reclaim it, we claim it. That’s why the idea of a unicorn space, it’s magical. It is the antidote to burnout. It is a necessary must-have, but it actually won’t exist until we claim it.

Zibby: Is there such thing as too much of a good thing, like if you get to burnout? I feel so exhausted right now.

Eve: There is a happiness trio. I talk about that in Fair Play. I talk about that in Unicorn Space. The happiness trio really is friendships, self-care, and unicorn space. I want to use Zibby as an example. What happens when you actually start to live in your unicorn space exponentially if it becomes your — as Zach said to me, your avocation has become your vocation. I was like, wow, good vocabulary use there, Zach. What happens is that you forget the self-care and the friendships because it really can be all-encompassing, that flow state. It is addictive in a beautiful way if you know how to balance it with making sure that you carve in that haircut that Kyle gave you or just taking a walk with your dogs, that reflection time. The beauty of having some of that downtime, that self-care is that it actually informs your unicorn space. The idea of diffuse thinking is proven in science. We need diffuse thinking to come up with our next ideas, our new dreams. That’s often in the shower, on walks with our dogs, when we have some quiet. Yes, there can be. It is about having some balance. I want to talk a little bit about you because I think you do such a beautiful job of illustrating what I found in the data. There’s twelve expert disciplines in this book from behavioral economists to positive psychology to living in a happiness lab at UCLA to speaking to many different people and how they define well-being, and then of course, thousands of people that were already in my Fair Play research. That database, as I said, keeps growing and growing.

Again, this is not about privilege because I talked to people who mirror the US census. We’ll talk about how this works. You do not need economic privilege before you find your creativity. In fact, it’s often the opposite. The more our milestones get bigger, Zibby, we get smaller to fix them and to fit into them. That’s why, ironically, privilege and unicorn space didn’t correlate. Extrinsic milestones of what success looks like, the bigger house, the bigger car, the more kids, as you get more economic privilege, the more you’re taken off a track. You’re taken off track from your intrinsic motivation. That’s what I found. What Zibby does is the three Cs. I’m going to put words in your mouth. It’s a good way to illustrate. When you get through the triggering part of the permission to be unavailable from your roles and the permission to burn guilt and shame and the permission to use your voice and how to do that, you get to the program itself. The program itself is three Cs because I love my alliterations. That is curiosity plus connection plus completion. That’s the three Cs. The most important one is curiosity because when I would tell people, find your passion, or what’s your passion? people would look at me like they would want to stab me with a pen. I don’t know what my passion is. That’s such a terrible question. It’s too overwhelming. Everybody has something that they’re curious about. Not what my friend Stacey said. I’m curious about scrolling other people’s Venmo transactions. I’m not curious about that. I’ll give an example. Zibby’s curious about, how can I start creating more space for moms to have time to read?

Zibby: I thought you were going to say I’m curious about authors.

Eve: To me, it was an intersection. Yes, you’re curious about authors, of course. Also, it was a perspective, to me, or at least as I see it from an outside perspective, to understand that there was something missing and a lack where, like I said, I can add to. Instead of telling women, you don’t have time, so I will take things off your plate, you added. You said, okay, we’re going to start with added. It’s become bigger, of course, but this additive nature of, what would happen if I introduced ideas? You get curious about ideas. You read books about ideas. You start connecting with authors. Then you do something, which is the hardest C, which is completion. You started with one completion, which is — I’d love to hear about that first episode. Who was the first person who interviewed for your podcast?

Zibby: She was a girlfriend of mine from business school named Lea Carpenter who, at the time, had written one novel, Eleven Days, and has since written another novel and a screenplay and all sorts of good stuff. Yes, it was her.

Eve: Did you release that episode alone, or did you do a full series before you released that episode? Do you remember?

Zibby: Actually, to be honest, the first episode I released was me reading an essay I had written called “A Mother’s Right to Sanity” which had gone slightly viral on HuffPost, sixty-five thousand views or something overnight, where I said I just can’t deal with all of this stuff, all these expectations on moms. It’s not realistic. I don’t want to do it anymore. We don’t deserve this. I just wanted to shout it from the rooftops. That was my first episode. I released that. Then I started interviewing authors. She was my first author. That was my whole episode. I was like, ooh, that was fun. I guess I’ll try doing this once a week. That’s how it started.

Eve: Can we talk a little bit about the power to share that essay with the world in that first recorded podcast? How did it feel to put it out there?

Zibby: It felt good, but I didn’t think anybody was ever going to listen. I was like, I’m saying this into outer space. I was literally sitting on the side of my bed. I don’t even think I was standing or sitting. I was just perched talking into my phone for my first thing being like, I wonder if anyone’s ever going to hear this.

Eve: But you did it. Regardless of what you thought it would become, you had the courage to upload it somewhere where people could listen. I think that’s the through line, this idea that we don’t deserve, as my friend Amanda says, to live in a graveyard of unfulfilled dreams. She calls GoDaddy her graveyard of unfulfilled dreams. I write about that in the book. Every year when her GoDaddy renewals come, she’s like, damn, another unfulfilled dream. Damn, should I renew that?

Zibby: I have so many URLs. You have no idea. It is so stupid.

Eve: Same. Same. She talks about one of the things. I think it’s called Grief Biscuit, is a card company for grief, and all these beautiful things. Eventually, she may do them. I think the problem is there does become a passion gap where if you don’t attune to this — it’s like any preventative medicine. If you don’t attune to your body, it’s going to be harder to recover and to get back to health if you neglect yourself for ten years. This is what happens to women who are parents, partners, and/or professionals. Those are the three Ps that we prioritize. Then what happens over times is the fourth P, the passion, it goes. It wanes. We become the charcoal briquettes. We become shells of ourself. I became invisible in my own life as Zach’s mom when, as I said, I started off as a president plus a senator plus a professional dancer.

Zibby: Let’s go back to you. When are you running for office, Eve?

Eve: It’s funny you said that because I actually think Fair Play is its own political campaign. I actually just started the Fair Play Policy Institute, which I’m really excited about. That is going to be an operating foundation that I fund that is really working on the air that we breath. Fair Play and Unicorn Space are about women taking agency in their own lives but recognizing that that’s just part of the puzzle. We can’t stop breathing just because there’s polluted air, Zibby. Just because we don’t have paid leave in this country, and childcare, doesn’t mean you can’t have your partner playing more fair. Just because we don’t have the supports for you in our country other than being a parent, partner, and a professional, we don’t allow women to have uninterrupted attention for things they love, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push back and do those things, but it could be easier. That’s what the Fair Play Policy Institute is about. It’s looking at those systemic issues around valuing care so that eventually, an hour holding a child’s hand in the pediatrician’s office is viewed just as much value as an hour in the boardroom. When we have a society like that, then we bring our whole selves to the table. The idea of unicorn space is not so subservice, this idea that what makes you you and how do you share it with the world? is not a question where when I ask people that, they give me deer in the headlights. What the hell are you talking about, Eve?

Zibby: That’s really impressive. I love that. I still think you should run at some point. Maybe you’re working on that in the background.

Eve: No, I’m not. I will work behind to support female candidates. I love to support women in power. Women’s economic security is what I’ve devoted my life to in many different ways. To me, why this book had to come next was because this idea of finding more time, the time to do and to be and to ideate and to dream, even if you got that more time, what was really alarming me was how many women were saying to me, I would not know how to fill it. That’s a crisis in my mind. That’s a crisis of creativity. That’s a crisis of idea loss. It’s not okay. I will do my best not to allow that to happen to other women as the ghost of Christmas future where it happened to me. I do not ever want it to happen to you.

Zibby: The thing about your book that’s so great — it doesn’t happen that often where I read a book and I’m like, oh, okay, it’s so simple. The secret to happiness is so simple. Here it is. I felt like that a little bit with Joyful, I don’t know if you’ve read that, with Ingrid Fetell Lee.

Eve: Yes, of course. I love Joyful.

Zibby: I’m like, I just have to change my wallpaper. Oh, my gosh, I need some balls, different shapes in my life. I can change my car, and I’ll be happy. Then your book is like, you have to find what you’re passionate about. Then you have to put aside all the guilt and shame. Honestly, Eve, the scene where you burned guilt and shame on a piece of paper, burned, and then Seth called you when you were traveling and was like, “You know, the kids are really missing you,” and you were like, “No, no, no, I burned those things. You cannot try this on me,” I was like, this is amazing. You just have to stick to it.

Eve: It’s not rocket science except for that we live in a culture that doesn’t want it for us. That’s the beauty of what you’re doing.

Zibby: I don’t mean to diminish. I didn’t mean to suggest —

Eve: — No, no, no, not at all. It’s the opposite. It’s the same thing as Fair Play. It’s not rocket science to own a task from start to finish. We do it everywhere else. My Aunt Marin’s mahjong group has more clearly defined expectations than the home. You don’t bring snack twice, you’re out of the group. The idea of bringing clearly defined expectations to the home should not be rocket science. I feel the same way with this as well. The idea that you have time to spend on the active pursuits that make you you is actually not hard. What I want to say to people is that I think what the misnomer is, why I kept talk to you about the power of meaning, of reclaiming my initial — I started to put Eve back on and talk to my kids about the power of wearing an E. Do you know my name? Do you ask my friends what their names are, or do you just call them Jack’s mom? My kids started to ask women, what is your first name? Do you mind me asking? It was just a really beautiful awakening for us. There was science that showed what unicorn space is. It is the intersection of meaning and happiness. Why I think that’s an important distinction that I make in the book is because there is — this is spoiler alert. If you live in happiness labs, even the happiness experts will tell you that we misunderstand happiness. If you go out and say, I am pursuing happiness, it actually makes you more sad. Happiness has a place in our life. Like you said, it’s simple. It’s a clue. It’s a clue just like other feelings like jealousy or anger or resentment.

If you’re feeling resentment all the time when you’re with one person, what is that clue telling me? If your heart’s pounding when you’re with a person, what is that clue telling me? If you’re in a flow state where you did your podcast with your friend and, wow, I was perched on a bed in a squat — I would not be able to do that because my quads are not that strong. Wow, that hour went really fast. Understanding, oh, I felt happy doing that. I think what you did, Zibby, which is important to recognize, the completions behind you, you kept on iterating and building on those clues. I think there’s seasons for things. You talk about that. You had a terrible COVID, but it didn’t mean you say, I will abandon what I love to do. No, you say, that’s my fucking umbrella. I’m not an inspirational quotes person, but I do love that Vivian Green quote. Life is not waiting for the storm to pass. It’s learning to dance in the rain. I don’t want to drown in the rain. I need a fucking umbrella. Unicorn space is an umbrella. It is something that they can’t take away from you. They can’t take away that episode from you even if the shit is literally hitting the fan. For so many of us in the past two years, it has. It is our way back to ourself. It’s our remembrance of who we are. It’s our sanity. It’s our fire. We can’t let that burn out. Back to the meaning and happiness, if you understand that, that it’s essentially, as we just said, that it’s your umbrella, then you can recognize that there is happiness without meaning. That is scrolling Instagram. How to Break Up from Your Phone is a great book, Catherine Price who talks about that.

Zibby: Yes, I love her.

Eve: It’s, as my friend said, scrolling people’s Venmo transactions. It is binge-watching Netflix. There’s drinking wine. There’s places for hedonic happiness, but those don’t create meaning. Then there’s things that have meaning without happiness, which in my life is parenting. I’m not happy, and most people are not in the data — when I got donkey-kicked in the face with Anna the other day, I was like, there’s meaning in raising you, but I am not happy right now. The idea of being able to find those places at the intersection of meaning and happiness, they almost always correlate with these active pursuits that are based on your values-based curiosity. Curiosity plus connection plus completion, that’s the intersection of meaning and happiness. Like you said, it’s not rocket science. We can get there. It’s just about clearing the freaking path because we know we have that permission to do it.

Zibby: This is such a perfect ending to — not ending, but it’s coming full circle, what your book is relative to what I’ve been trying to create. What I always say at the end when people are asking me about it is, if we don’t make time for these things, if we don’t make time for all this stuff, what is life? What are we living? What are we getting out of all of it? It’s tongue and cheek. This is what you’re saying. We have to.

Eve: I love that so much. I will say that in — my day job is, I work for families that look like the HBO show Succession, as you know. I work on their family business and their family foundation succession. Even when I talk to the matriarchs and patriarchs about legacy and we’re talking about really hard things, sometimes I’ll hear in their quiet voices, Zibby, is this all there is? I have the fifty cars and the twenty homes. Is this all there is? It makes me so sad. I do feel like extrinsic milestones have sold us a bill of goods for what makes us happy. It’s not saying that those aren’t important pursuits, but I think when we get stuck conflating the two, that’s the biggest problem.

Zibby: Have your clients call me. I will tell them how to start a podcast. We’ll see what happens. You never know.

Eve: Thank you, though, for having the courage to find a curiosity, to share it with the world, and to complete, complete anthologies, to have other people, help them complete, to completing your podcast. It’s one of the best, most nutritious leisure time I have as my self-care. Like I said, doing a podcast is different than listening. As my self-care, your podcast is my self-care because what it allows me to do is — one of my values, my favorite values, is education and knowledge. It allows me to still feel like I can consume all of these authors when I don’t have the time to read all of their books, but here are their ideas, is been really impactful for me.

Zibby: Awesome. Eve, so funny, we started with me copyediting or whatever a little passage of your book years ago. Now this has all blown up.

Eve: Can I just say that to you? Zibby’s acknowledged in Fair Play because when, in 2017, no editor would listen to me and I was having a hard time getting any traction — people were like, why would anybody ever want a book about housework and childcare? That sounds so terrible and boring. Zibby, you took a chance on me as an editor or a spiritual friend. You gave me the courage to say, these are fun. Here’s my edits. I really appreciate that you did that for me.

Zibby: It’s great. It’s just so fun to watch. Amazing. Eve, thank you. I’m sure I’ll see you soon. I’m excited. Congratulations.

Eve: Happy holidays.

Zibby: Happy holidays. Bye.

Eve: Bye.



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