How I Thrive//

One Mom’s Mission to Bring “Fair Play” to the Home and the Office — Through a Card Game

Author Eve Rodsky has a genius solution to help women reclaim their “Unicorn Space.”

In her book Fair Play, Eve Rodsky talks about the concept of “Unicorn Space,” which the author tells Thrive is the “active pursuit of what makes you uniquely you.” Unicorn Space may be the time you’re devoting to your life’s passions (outside of parenting or work), but without a change in the division of labor inside the home, it can be impossible to come by for moms who take on most of the domestic burden and invisible work. “It won’t freaking exist unless you reclaim it,” Rodsky says. 

That’s where Fair Play comes in. Rodsky’s book, which is now a New York Times best seller, attempts to establish fairness and equality in a relationship with a card game. Using a figurative deck of 100 cards that can be distributed between a couple, each card represents a domestic duty — think: dishes, weekend meals, driving kids to practice, or “magical beings” (a.k.a. tooth fairy duty). 

The rules are simple: Each person in a relationship plays the cards they’re dealt. And whoever holds the card will own the task fully — that includes conception of the task (realizing that you’ll need to pick up groceries without being told), planning the task (making a grocery list), and execution of the task (purchasing and putting away the groceries). “When I was holding the full deck for my family, there was no time for my Unicorn Space,” Rodsky explains to Thrive. “But now that we’ve rebalanced, I get to go into the world and be a worker and a partner.” The author’s unicorn space, aptly, is rebalancing the gendered division of labor in the home. 

Finding your Unicorn Space, she says, is essential for long-term fulfillment. But it can be a challenge for women to claim, since so many of us are socialized to feel badly when we take time away from our partners and children. “I realized that half of this population is living without guilt and shame. And I decided I will never live with guilt and shame again,” Rodsky asserts.

Here, Rodsky shares the Microsteps women can take to find their Unicorn Space, and how the rules of Fair Play can transform the home and the workplace.

Thrive Global: What’s a Microstep you have for someone who wants to cultivate their Unicorn Space? 

Eve Rodsky: If they really can’t think of anything to get them started on finding their Unicorn Space, I’ll tell women to grab a notebook and write down just one thing that can advance your Unicorn Space. For example, I have a friend who wanted to play the ukulele and perform. And she wrote down a Microstep every single day to get there. First, she wrote down: Buy ukulele from Amazon. She said that was her hardest step. When I asked why, she said, “Well, it’s easier to think about it in my mind. But if it’s sitting there in front of me and I don’t do something with it, I’m going to feel upset.” And I said, “Well, maybe that pressure is good.” She used to play ukulele as a kid, so once she started, she was able to put those learnings back to practice. And by taking tiny steps, Microsteps, every day, that woman — similar to a lot of women in my book — ended up achieving her big goal. It all starts with that first step. 

TG: What’s your morning routine like?

ER: My morning routine used to be chaotic before my husband and I started implementing Fair Play. Now my husband, Seth, holds the morning routine card for my children. Which means that he gets them dressed, has them brush their teeth, has them do their hair and put on their shoes and socks. I hold the weekday meal — the breakfast card. So I make breakfast for the children and then we all sit down together to talk about our day. Our family mealtime is in the morning. So we do that for about 10 to 15 minutes, just checking in about our day, and then we head out. One of us takes our kids to school and then we start our workday.

TG: Why did you shift your “family time” from dinner to breakfast?

ER: We decided to shift our family mealtime to breakfast because my kids have different schedules in the evenings. We realized we were putting too much pressure on ourselves to connect at night. In the morning, we give the kids their schedule of what they’re doing that day, and I talk with Seth about which cards we’re holding for that day. It’s a time to check-in with each other when things are still relatively calm, and the whole day hasn’t yet been piled on us. We’ve found that breakfast time has been our greatest time to connect as a family.

TG: What about your nighttime routine?

ER: Seth and I do a kid split — so I put Anna and Ben to bed and Seth puts Zach to bed. Then, after they’re asleep, my nighttime routine is complete self-care. Every night, I read and I take a bath. It’s harder for me to read nonfiction when I’m writing nonfiction, because I want to make sure I’m maintaining my authentic voice. Often, I’m reading murder mysteries; I am obsessed with Louise Penny, who has a series of them.

TG: The game of Fair Play is focused on the home, but it seems like the strategies can translate into the workplace, too. How do you see that coming to life? 

ER: If you apply the strategies of Fair Play to your workplace, it means you own your sh*t from start to finish. It does not mean that you’re doing everything and it’s all piling up on you. A  good workplace is based on three things: Explicitly defined expectations. Knowing your role. And fairness and transparency. If those three things are introduced into an organization, it’s transformative for that organization.

TG: How would you recommend someone suggests implementing the rules of Fair Play with their manager?

ER: First, let’s think about the opposite of Fair Play. The opposite of Fair Play is walking into your boss’s office and saying, “Hey, what should I be doing today? I’ll just wait here until you tell me what to do.” That would never fly in the modern workplace. So when you bring Fair Play up with your work manager, it’s a conversation around values and expectations. For instance: “Let’s talk about my expectations. I would love to have a 10-minute meeting with you every week, so we can check in together about my expectations and your expectations and to make sure we’re meeting each other in the middle.” 

TG: What tips do you have for delivering feedback? 

ER: Number one: No feedback in the moment. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely was an expert I interviewed for Fair Play. And we talked a lot about emotional cascades, when you’re spiraling. What happens when you’re communicating during an emotional cascade? You may say things like, “Fine, I’m never taking out the trash again.” And then do you hold to that? If you say, “I’m not going with you to Disneyland,” then do you not go to Disneyland? Do you stubbornly hold on to poor decisions because you’re holding onto what you said during your cascade? Don’t give feedback in the moment. Schedule a check-in time, whether it’s with your boss or with your partner. That’s where you’ll talk best — when you’re both calm, and you’re not experiencing an emotional cascade. Let’s say your partner fails his trash card. When you notice the fail, instead of saying, “Hey, why didn’t you put the trash bag back in the liner?” — which men see as nagging — just write it on a list that you can deal with later. You’ll get relief later on, and it will lead to better behavior change from your partner. It is always better to talk when there are no emotional cascades.

TG: What do you see as the most effective way to respond to a mistake? 

ER: The most important way to respond to a mistake, because we all make them, is to carry through on your mistake. If you forget the helmet and the bag with your child’s bat for little league, you say, “My bad, I was owning extracurricular sports for this week. I forgot the equipment. I’m going back home or I’ll figure out a place to purchase it or I will borrow it from her friend for the day.” You carry through on the mistake in the best way you can, and that shows that you actually care about the task you’re doing. We’re all going to make mistakes. But if you’re doing your best, and you show your supervisor or your partner, that yes, you made a mistake but you’re willing to follow through on that mistake and take it to its logical conclusion, then I see most managers and partners being able to forgive.

TG: Switching gears a bit. What’s the weirdest self-care strategy that you swear by? 

ER: Oh, I’m fond of children’s cereal. I love to eat a bowl of either Lucky Charms, Captain Crunch, or Fruit Loops every night before I go to bed. Children’s cereal reminds me of my childhood. I’m a typical ’80s child — latchkey kid, single mom — so we ate cereal for dinner. 

TG: What are some effective steps you take to work through your stress when it comes? 

ER: I think about a time in my life when I’ve had a similar stressor and how I got over that. When I went yesterday to give a speech to 2,600 women, I was thinking of the first day of the California bar. I remember thinking: This is going to be a marathon. How am I going to get through three days of taking the California bar? But I did it, and I did it well. So then, as I prepared to give this speech, I knew that I had the skills to do something else that was really hard.

Another thing I do is call a “spiritual friend” — a.k.a. someone who wakes you up when you’re asleep or a person who stays with you on your journeys from start to finish. There are people who have been with me on my journey of Fair Play from start to finish, and there are also some who have come in along the way who have become amazing spiritual friends. So I call on one of them when I’m starting to feel stressed.

TG: Another odd question. If you can remember, what’s something you’ve dreamt about recently?

ER: There’s one, and it’s a typical stress dream. At least once a week, I dream that I’m at Harvard, and I get called into the registrar’s office, and I can’t continue law school because I forgot to take the necessary undergrad classes. And so I always end up thinking, “Oh my God, I’m an adult and I have children. How am I going to go back to undergrad to go finish these three courses?” And the whole dream just plays itself over and over again. Same dream every time. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

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