I went to my favorite bookstore yesterday (Chester County Books) and found two remarkable books: Rules of the Red Rubber Ball and The Not So Big Life. (Link to Amazon here) Red Rubber Ball is a small book that would be easy to overlook on a shelf; the not so big life book attracted my attention because it’s written by one of my favorite architects, Sarah Susanka. These books might seem worlds apart from their titles alone, but they share more than just my passing interest.

The Rules of the Red Rubber Ball makes my list for the imagined and oft contemplated New Media School. The author, Kevin Carroll, has had a fascinating life, starting out with few if any advanatages other than believing in himself, and ending up becoming an athletic trainer to the Philadelphia 76’ers, and working for Nike, before staring his own consulting business. The Red Rubber Ball for him symbolizes his early love of the playground and sports. The playground became a center, a keel for Kevin, a place of escape and place to dream. In the book he asks provocative questions about what is our “red rubber ball”-

  • What Would you do for free?
  • What Activities Enthrall you?
  • What in life do you find irresistable, a source of inspiration, a reason to get out of bed?
  • What Dream Do you Chase?
  • What Topics Do you Love to Discuss and Ponder?
  • What is your Primal Source of Joy?

And from these questions (There are even tear out sheets so you can take these with you….I suggest you do…) identify your Red Rubber Ball. Once you have it, Kevin offers additional advice key to getting to the point where “the source of your play become[s] your life’s work so much so that no one- not even you- will be able to tell the difference between to two”.

I’ll talk about this more in future posts, but for now, let me say the happiest and most successful people I know follow this rule- the difference between their work and their play is virtually indistinguishable.

Sarah Susanka’s book, “the not so big life- making room for what really matters” took me by surprise on the shelf. Sarah is by far and away one of my favorite architects of all time, along with Robert Stern, dean of Yale’s School of Architecture and the designer of houses and vistas that fill dreams. Sarah’s books on home design and architecture are about making the most of small spaces, but also lean towards an esthetic of “less is more”.

In a day where square footage in new homes seems more important than design and comfort, the idea that excellence can come in modest packages appeals. In fact, when we bought our house three years ago, we moved to a slightly smaller house than the one before, but its design and architecture made me feel at “home” more than I ever did in the one before. I now know what I long suspected- design and use of space counts for so much more than palatial square footage in terms of making you feel “at home”- a place of rest, rejuvenation and inspiration.

Susan has taking this theory from architecture and translated it into life lessons. From the book flap:

Most of us have lives that are as cluttered with unwanted obligations as our attics our cluttered with things. The bigger-is-better idea that triggered the explosion of McMansions has spilled over to give us McLives. For many of us, our ability to find the time to do what we want to do has come to a grinding halt. Now we barely have time to take a breath before making our next call on our cell phone, while at the same time, messaging someone else on our Blackberry. Our schedules are chaotic and overcommitted, leaving us so stressed that we are numb, yet we wonder why we can’t fall asleep at night.

[Sounds like I am speaking to any number of my New Media Friends. Looking at Chris Brogan’s blog, just to pick on him as one of many convenient examples, and you see someone whose life is filled with excitement and travel, yet I worry in a motherly/sisterly way about the stress all this connectedness can cause. (It’s hard not to feel like family in our rather insular world).]

The book goes on to use Susan’s thoughts about uncluttering homes and living better by restructuring what we have, as metaphors for the rest of our lives. This is why I can’t wait to delve into this book further-what happens if we decide we have enough, and use what we have to its maximum, than always aspiring to “more”?  Do we know when enough is enough?  Do we know what really matters in our life? Do we know how to use time effectively, and live in the now?  Or are we constantly chasing the elusive “someday” without doing anything today to make someday a reality?

As I’ve gotten older, I realize that today is the someday I thought about in college.  Today is much different and unexpected from the someday I imagined years ago, yet it’s special and remarkable in ways I couldn’t have predicted.  It’s exciting and fulfilling, but I also know if I don’t take time to appreciate the Now, I won’t realize what I already have.

There’s a great temptation to try to “outrun” your problems.  Change jobs.  Move.  Change spouses, significant others, accusing others of holding us back.  But guess what?  Like Buckaroo Bonzai said- “Wherever you go, there you are.”  All the rest is merely a distraction  from yourself.

So the take home point from this overly philosophical post is that you need to be centered and comfortable with you before you can be happy.  Happy is not a destination, but a state of being, and it comes from within, not from outside.  You can’t outrun yourself and your personal demons, so as tough as it is, confront them.  Cope.  And know that you are good enough, right now, if you can only take the time to see what is, rather than what might be in the future.  We need dreams, goals and aspirations, but to create that path to the future, you’ve gotta start today with what you have.