We are awash in TV show and Magazine articles about designing elegant spaces. Homes are taken from rundown and frightening to elegant and sophisticated in a few weeks. Load bearing walls are taken down, French doors and windows are added, and dream kitchens emerge from what was once wasted space. I imagine living in these amazing spaces, entertaining friends and living a life that is graceful and tasteful. And then I remember my 150 pound drooling Newfoundland, my snow or mud caked hiking boots, and all those books and knitting projects, not to mention friends who are more casual classy than urbane and refined. And I like them that way.
But designing an elegant life does not require thousands of dollars and a construction crew, or even a shopping spree. We do not need to wear pearls and the current style. Rather we need to shift our point of view and create a life that is pleasingly ingenious and tailored to our desires. True elegance, according to Isabella Rossellini, is the manifestation of an independent mind. Elegance is a life designed to impress ourselves, not our neighbors.
The notion of elegant design captured me during a leadership course many years ago when a presenter mentioned elegance as a unique way to assess our leadership style. However she provided no definition, explanation or process. Her passing comment has haunted me for years. I found myself wanting to fashion all the elements of my life and career around this notion, without, as usual, any idea how to set a course and navigate this transformation.
I have to admit that it was a pattern of loses that finally acted as a compass on this journey. It started when my first career abruptly ended and I desperate need to start another one, which took several years in graduate school. Over time I have lost houses and pets and loved ones and my credit rating, all of which helped me discover the opportunity deconstruction provides. Endings and loss gave me the space to create what made my heart truly sing.
And then, as so often happens, I discovered a book on the design process, and one of the first steps was subtraction. Letting go of emotional and physical baggage opens up spaces in our lives. We stand taller and walk more fluidly when we are not weighted down with regrets, old hurts, and things that we never use. Now if I bring something new into the house, something old has to go. Bought new jacket? Toss the one that is ragged and torn. Now I only wear clothes that I feel good in, most of which were purchased at resale prices. I own less and feel richer and have a style all my own.
Empty spaces are seductive and draw us in. How lovely to have a life that seduces me into new adventures and ways of being. Elegant seduction exists in the paradoxical space between mindfulness and spontaneity. I mindfully create openness and am spontaneously drawn deeply into new opportunities.
And all of this has a sense of symmetry to it, another element of elegance. The notions and boundaries and patterns, and yes clothing that I discard are remnants of a life that no longer fits. The choices I make manifest from my hidden passions and desires, taking shape as a piece of living art.
Elegance that is not based on fad or outside judgements, is sustainable. It is an organic expression of who I am, in part because it flies in the face of career standards and accepted measures and popular beliefs. This type of elegance is a statement of my spiritual and emotional courage, and my willingness to live life as an art form. I am designing my life to impress myself, not the world around me.