If you’ve ever created anything visual (a piece of art, a presentation, a book, staged a room, etc.) you know the importance of negative or white space: the space between and around elements that either draw the eye and the mind to an object, a word, an image (known as active white space) or let the eye and the mind rest amid busyness (known as passive white space).
Consider the following: White space is what allows an object within it to exist at all.
Read that again. I’ll wait. It’s a powerful idea.
If white space is what allows something within it to exist at all, I can’t help but wonder what this says about our existence within our excessively busy, crowded, connected, and cluttered lives and minds where there is little to no white space. I’m not the first to approach this topic; Michael Harris discusses the impact of constant connectivity in his book The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection.
Think of all the other things we fill our lives with: work, appointments, meetings, kids, kids’ events, pets, workouts, love, errands, chores, fun, family, vacation, dates, mail, bills, creating, friends, hobbies, planning, worrying, ruminating, hoping, wishing.
Good things, some. Wonderful things, others. Necessary and unavoidable things, perhaps.
Think now of the collective impact of all that busyness and business above, accruing over time, multiplying of their own accord, filling our precious empty white space: We blur. We get muddled. We get frazzled. We become indistinguishable from the noise around us.
Where is the white space in our lives that allows us to exist at all within the space of our lives? And what happens when it isn’t there?
For me, what happens is I get grumpy, mentally fatigued, punchy, and downright joyless.
As a very clear Myers-Briggs introvert who has chosen a line of work that involves regularly working with groups, facilitating, and doing one-on-one and pair coaching—a line of work I love and that brings great meaning to my life—I and my husband recently felt the detrimental impacts of not enough white space in my work life. Over the last few months, I’ve struggled to juggle competing priorities (my need for time to myself with my desire to be available to my colleagues and clients to help them and to do the work I love). The result is that I filled my calendar with meetings, workshops, and classes to meet the needs of others and took a jackhammer to the solo down time I had blocked for myself. Thus, I created a workday and workweek schedule where I have little to no time for my drained, exhausted introvert to recharge and recover so I can not only do the work I’m called to do but more importantly so I can go home happy, energized, and ready to enjoy whatever comes rather than ready for a nap or otherwise shut down.
Enter the importance and downright necessity for me of leaving white space in life.
We don’t all need the same type or amount of white space, but we do need it. For me, it’s solo time at work with limited interactions or maybe even a routine day or two away from work built into my schedule.
Where does the picture of your life need white space so the image can clearly and beautifully exist? Where do you need white space to rest and recuperate? What does rest look, feel, and sound like to you, your family, and your partner or spouse?
Find that for yourself and leave a little healthy emptiness in your day.