Simulacrum for New Selves

There’s a blog post that describes Tom Bihn’s iterative design process. He talks about how he starts with an idea, but it is always with the notion that the first idea is never your best one. It has to be reality tested. He draws some sketches, does a mock-up, puts the dimensions into 2D modeling software, works on prototype halves, then he stuffs the bag with something and considers it over time. When the design is close to how he wants it, he shows it to other designers. He refines the design. After, he works on how best to consistently produce the product and the considerations that factor in beyond design. In the end, you have a great product.

Clearly, this iterative process is a good one for making products. It got me thinking would it work in other area, like in designing a life? What does it mean to design a life?

Like Tom, we have to have a vision of what makes for a good life. There’s no good answer to that question that works for everyone. As with bags, people have a wide variety of tastes. Standard aspirations tend to fall in line with either being wealthy, famous and/or powerful. In spiritual traditions, they tend to focus on how being poor, unknown and powerless can be fuel for spiritual development. But, it is also generally acknowledged that having too little of each makes it difficult to spiritually progress.

So, perhaps the good life is finding the balance, where we have enough money, recognition and ability to influence the world around us that we aren’t oppressed by our circumstances. At the same time, having too much of these things tends to be oppressive in a different way, forcing us to act counter to our interests or even of the interests of others. If you are a leader of a country, the role of leader leaves little room for anything else.

And, I think this points to something important. In order to change, we need to have the space to assume different roles, to try on different identities or practices.

To pick a trivial example, in some countries and in some historical periods, a mid-afternoon nap during the hottest part of the day or just as a cultural practice was common. However, in modern industrial society, where work is ruled by the clock, there is often no concept of a mid-day nap. You have a lunch or dinner break. You don’t have a siesta.

But, perhaps our lives would be significantly improved with a mid-day nap. Perhaps the timing of the nap, say sometime between 5 hours after we woke up from sleeping at night to sometime ending five hours before. What happens when naps are earlier or later in the cycle? How many of us have done any experimentation to figure out what works best for us?

The answer is that most of us are sleep-deprived because we prioritize other aspects of our lives over sleeping. We need to pick up the kids from school, go to school ourselves, go to two jobs with little time for anything else, or worse.

You could follow the same pattern for any activity you like: exercise, reading, cultivating our “third place“, meeting people and making friends, and on and on and on. Do we put the same kind of care into imagining our lives that Tom Nihn puts into imagining his bags? Imagine what kind of life you could live if you did.