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Why we should ditch the PTA — and find our 'Unicorn Space' instead

Bestselling author Eve Rodsky says it's important to find an active pursuit you share with the world that’s separate from your daily roles as a parent, a partner or a professional. Here’s how to get started.
Author Eve Rodsky says a "Unicorn Space" is an active pursuit you share with the world that is separate from your daily roles as a parent, a partner or a professional.Helen Alderton / Getty Images

By the time Renée Brinkerhoff turned 56, she had raised four children—and forgotten herself. To reclaim her childhood love of travel and adventure, Brinkerhoff purchased a car, hired a navigator and mechanic, and entered La Carrera Panamericana, a road race that travels through 2,000 miles of Mexican terrain. She had no previous experience.

Brinkerhoff and her navigator won First in Class.

In her new book “Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too-Busy World,” author Eve Rodsky referred to Brinkerhoff as an example that it’s never too late find the activity that makes you uniquely you— otherwise known as your “Unicorn Space.”

Rodsky (bestselling author of “Fair Play”) is certainly not talking about finding a “hobby,” a word that she associates with occasional “nice-to-have” activities. Rather, “Unicorn Space” is an active pursuit you share with the world that is separate from your daily roles as a parent, a partner or a professional. Finding that space, she said, is vital—especially right now— amid a stressful global pandemic.

“Everyone thinks they’re going to be less busy in three months,” Rodsky said. “But you can’t wait. You can’t wait until things calm down, because in this society, nothing will calm down.”

Bestselling author Eve Rodsky.
Bestselling author Eve Rodsky.Avia Rosen

Rodsky’s co-host for her “Time Out” podcast, Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, a physician who focuses on stress, resilience and burnout, said that “Unicorn Space” can make a difference for our overall well-being: “Creativity has real and measurable health benefits for the brain and body to improve our mental health and reduce our stress.” Rodsky said that “Unicorn Space” can help us start to flourish in our daily lives.

For example, on the day that Rodsky spoke with Know Your Value, she had just finished an Instagram Live interview with Reese Witherspoon, allowing her to pursue one of her “Unicorn Spaces”—which just so happens to be talking about “Unicorn Space.” Immediately after the Instagram Live ended, however, Rodsky got a call from the school nurse saying that her son was just struck in the ear with a pen. Rodsky finished talking to Know Your Value while driving to school to assess the situation. Because the Instagram Live was outside her everyday roles as a parent, a wife and a writer, Rodsky said that those 20 minutes of “Unicorn Space” can serve as an umbrella or shield that can protect me from the more mundane parts of my day, preserving my creativity and mental health.”

But how can you possibly find “Unicorn Space” when every day feels like a race from start to finish?

What exactly is “Unicorn Space”?

Rodsky stressed “Unicorn Space” is not a hobby, a vanity project or a distraction. In her book, she explains that a "Unicorn Space" is:

  • A value-based curiosity (your “what”)
  • With some type of goal (your “when”)
  • Which includes intrinsic motivation for achieving the goal (your “why”)
  • That you share in some way, shape or form with other people (your “where”)

Your “Unicorn Space” could be playing a team sport after work, making baked goods to share with neighbors or joining a book club. In short, Rodsky said it’s all about finding “activities or active pursuits that make you come alive, that allow you to lose yourself in the activity that makes time feel different.”

If you are stuck in the daily grind of working from home or caring for kids, you may think that “Unicorn Space” is a luxury afforded only to the wealthy in pre-pandemic times. But Rodsky found that people with financial privilege had a more difficult time tapping into their creativity than those with fewer resources. And a good portion of her book was written after March 2020, when many of the people she interviewed were struggling to carve out “Unicorn Space” while also acting as essential workers or supervising remote school. In fact, she said it’s “Unicorn Space” that can give your mental state the boost it so desperately needs when times seem bleak.

How can you even begin to find your "Unicorn Space"? Try these three C’s.

First, Rodsky recommended that you get curious. She said that our brains are “wired to be idea factories,” and that we should start paying attention to the things that make us feel interested and excited to learn more. By giving ourselves “permission to be unavailable” from your roles as a parent, partner or professional, you can start to carve out headspace for curiosity and creativity.

Next, you want to make sure that your “Unicorn Space” leads you to share it with the world through connection. There are multiple reasons for sharing your “Unicorn Space” with at least one friend. “You are 65 percent more likely to get something done if you have an accountability partner. When you have a success partner—someone who does an activity with you—you have a 95 percent chance of getting it done,” said Rodsky.

Lastly, you want to make sure your "Unicorn Space" is complete, which in this case means doing the activity over and over until it becomes a ritual or habit. Rodsky cautioned that “completion” doesn’t mean becoming such a skilled painter that you have a piece on display at a museum. “Completion” could just be snapping a photo on your walk to work each day and sending it to a few friends.

In her book, Rodsky referenced Stephanie Hockersmith, a stay-at-home mother of two, who started her journey to finding her “Unicorn Space” by simply baking a gluten-free pie and entering it in a local competition. With two competition wins in hand, Hockersmith began leveling up her skills by creating gluten-free recipes and designs inspired by books she loves. Hockersmith began sharing her creations online, and her Instagram account, @pieladybooks, now has 63,000 followers.

Don’t let fear stop you.

Many women are familiar with the “motherhood penalty,” the earnings gap between men and women who are raising children; the gap continues growing until the oldest child reaches the age of ten.

Curiously, Rodsky found a similar 10-year pattern in the hundreds of women she interviewed for her book. She noticed that by the time moms had kids in fourth grade (or roughly 10 years after these women became mothers), women who had put their own talents and interests on the backburner in service of their families reported higher rates of “restlessness, sadness and identity loss.”

“It’s not your fault,” said Rodsky. “Society does this to us. But if we’ve fallen into being complicit in our own oppression—that we’re ‘Zach’s mom,’ that we don’t matter, that the people around us only know us from the PTA and arranging playdates—that’s when the moms of fourth graders woke up and said, ‘Wow. I don’t know who I am anymore.’”

Rodsky called the feelings of overwhelm and boredom that these women were experiencing “a lethal combination.” She urged women to preempt those negative feelings by finding their “Unicorn Space” now, before they reach that 10-year mark. Rodsky hopes there would be more and more communities of women who would follow their passion and say, “’F---- the PTA. Let’s start a rock band! Let men take on the PTA. We’ve done 100 years of PTA and we’re good.”

As for Rodsky’s own Unicorn Space…

Speaking to people about “Unicorn Space” has been one of Rodsky’s "Unicorn Spaces," but it’s not the only one. Because she used to dance—and once auditioned for the New York Knicks’ City Dancers—Rodsky decided to follow her own advice and pursue her “Unicorn Space” —dance.

“There’s all these things in my brain that prohibit me from wanting to go back to ballroom or hip hop because I know I’m not going to be as good as I once was,” Rodsky said. “But a ‘completion’ for me was signing up for a beginner jazz class at Broadway Dance Center and completing the online recital.” Rodsky and her cousin are also learning TikTok dances, enabling them to work within their “Unicorn Space” (curiosity) while being together (connection) and sharing their product with their family and friends (completion).

Not sure how to start to find your “Unicorn Space”? Rodsky advised to start small: “The smallest step to get started is asking yourself, ‘What is the most important thing I’m doing today?’ And one time—just one time—this week, make sure it’s outside your roles as a parent, partner and professional. Just one day when you can say that the most important thing you’re doing today is outside these roles.”