I met my dear friend for lunch yesterday, and we spent the afternoon looking back on our lives–the ups, the downs, the mishaps, the adventures–as dear friends are wont to do.
Things started off well-enough. We both agreed that, on average, we had done pretty alright. She’s a stylist and designer. I’m a teacher and writer. But pretty soon our stage-four comparisonitis kicked in, and the conversation turned to regret–that evil, green-eyed monster–mine over the unrelenting pressure I had put on myself to strive and accomplish (to the point of exhaustion), and hers over the (seemingly) airy and unremarkable life she had led, a life where the milestones were “invisible” to a culture that rewards only the material.
“Ugh, but you’ve done Sooo much! And I’ve done nothing!” she said.
“What do you mean you’ve done nothing?” I countered. “You have a design business and a coaching business, you’ve built a beautiful home and a large and loving family. You are happy (mostly) and have clear skin and look like a million bucks every time I see you. You’re not grumpy. You’re not burnt out. You’re not bitter and cynical and ornery like me,” I said. “What more could you possibly want?”
“Yes, but everyone has those things. That’s trivial. It all just fell in my lap. I just drifted into it. As I am drifting now. I have no plan, no big goal I’m going after. I’m just floating through life.”
Me: Yes, but . . .
She: Yes, but . . .
And the twain shall never meet.
The world is divided into the Drifters and those who are Driven.
Drifters are often (although not always) creatives, folks who allow the universe or the muse to take the lead. They can look disorganized and purposeless, but they seem to end up at the party any way.
The Driven are easier to spot. They are wild-eyed and fidgety, and cannot bear to “waste” even a second of the day on rest and relaxation and (dare I say it!) fun.
What they share in common, though, is a sense of unease–the feeling that something is not quite right with how they are “doing life.” At least the ones who are woke or waking up.
And the truth is they are right.
Either extreme is (ultimately) unsatisfying because we feel unbalanced, out of control, as if we have somehow neglected, rejected an entirely different/polar part of ourselves–like a ghost limb–there, but not there.
So what is one to do? What is the answer? How do we get out of these dissatisfying patterns?
Design, of course!
This 3rd D, Design, brings together the other two–the free-flowing exploration of the Drifters and the keen focus of the Driven.
This is what we all want. Integration. A life that is at once purposeful as it is free-form, a life that encourages both consolidation as well as curiosity.
We want to be able to step back and say, Ah! Look at what I have built!
But we also want to, then, lift our eyes to the horizon and ask, What next?
There are many ways to look at Design, but most would agree that the main principles of Design, good design, include: Balance, Proportion, Pattern, Emphasis, and Unity.
In art, this is the principle of distribution of weight of the different elements of the work–objects, colors, texture, and space. So, too, it is in the Design of a life. The parts must be in balance–either symmetrical or asymmetrical–in order for it (us) to feel stable. Balance is essential to maintain equilibrium, to “reconcile opposing forces.” A life out of balance feels harsh, unsuccessful.
The human body is typically the standard measurement of proportion. We judge the appropriateness of the size or scale of an object in a composition relative to the size and scale of the human body. Hands that are too large a print that is too small, can both create a sense that something is out of proportion. Our lives are the same way. When the parts do not relate well with each other, when one aspect is out of proportion with the rest, there is a break down of life design.
This is the repetition of an element or object in the composition, a device that suggests movement and takes the viewer’s eye across the artwork. Patterns imbue the work with rhythm and flow, they create predictability and order in a composition. And in life. Much of the ease, much of the arrangement in a life comes from pattern. Patterns keep the beat.
If Pattern serves to regulate and lend a sense of continuity, Emphasis provides a point of focus and interruption. It dominates the field, without sacrificing coherence of the whole. It is the center (if one must have a center), the purpose of the work. It is the stand-out, the element that captures the viewer’s attention. And so it is with life. A well-designed life must have an emphasis, a heart, that draws the attention, a purpose for existing.
When all elements are in agreement, when no individual part sticks out, the design is considered to be in harmony, complete, unified. This is the main goal of good design–the bringing together of all the elements into a whole. A whole that is better than the individual parts. A whole that exists simply and specifically as a result of unity.
This is what we want. A well-designed life.
How, then, to incorporate these elements of good design into a life? How do we reconcile the tension between overwork and overindulgence? How do we maintain balance, proportion, pattern, emphasis, and unity? How do we make the parts whole?
I think it must begin with Unity.
If we keep Unity as the guiding principle, the captain of the ship, then we can make adjustments to the other elements as needed.
Life too boring, too Patterned? Then maybe it’s time to bring in Emphasis–a purpose, a focus, a dominant element.
But what if the problem is Balance? Too much Yang, not enough Yin? Then maybe it’s time to consider, re-consider, which elements are pulling more forcefully in one direction and not the other. What is askew? What needs a neutralizing force? Maybe it’s keeping the Sabbath. Maybe it’s saving the wine for weekends. Maybe it’s selecting the one most important project and letting the rest slip away to other worthy leaders. Maybe it’s time to get off the treadmill (literally) and get a good night’s sleep.
And we get to choose. That’s the whole point. We are the artists, the makers. We need not Drift or be Driven. We can always Design.
If you enjoyed reading this post and would like to get more like this delivered directly to your inbox Click Here