Interview: Liz Danzico

Liz Danzico is many things: NPR’s Creative Director, Chair/Co-Founder of the School of Visual Art’s Interaction Design MFA, and dog lover. You can see her beautiful writing here (this is my favorite piece) and her tweets here. Our interview has been lightly edited for length. Thanks to lovely Nga for connecting us.

What kinds of things do you say yes to?

I say yes to things that I can add value to. If I feel like I have something to say, I’ll say yes. There are two smaller categories of saying yes. The second category is where I have no idea why someone’s asking me to do something and I’m curious. The third category is when you get introduced by another person. So, three categories of saying yes: Value, curiosity, and personal connection. But not every encounter has to have a purpose.

What kinds of things do you say no to?

I say no to things that I don’t feel like I can add value to. I say no to things that I don’t feel like I can learn from. The hardest part about saying no (or why we tend to overcommit or put ourselves in situations where we’re not learning) is because it’s an honor to be asked to do things.

Is there a lesson you have to keep on learning?

You continue to learn and need different things over the course of your life. You’re never staying in the same place. You have to constantly re-evaluate: what do I need to learn now? You learn different lessons over time. It’s a never-ending process. You continue on a curriculum of learning about yourself through your whole life.

Do you have a fight that you think is worth fighting? 

Balance is important to me, and I don’t say that word a lot in public. You can’t go to any talk I’ve ever done or any book that I’ve ever contributed to or blog post I’ve ever written and see a title or sentence about “balance.”

At the same time, I think everything I’ve ever publicly written that’s not about my profession has everything to do with trying to understand how to live a balanced life. How to not be busy, how to manage the world that we live in, and how to be happy and successful without compromising what you believe in or your personal life. That’s something I believe is worth fighting for, protecting, talking about, and working through.

When you’ve been knocked down, how do you get back up?

What makes things feel out of balance is when it feels like the world is taking from you, you don’t have any control over it, and you don’t get to take anything from the world that nourishes you. So, fit into your day one thing – and preferably more than one – that’s just for you, that helps you maintain a sense of yourself in the world, and that’s not just about the world taking from you.

So if you like to bike to work in the morning, don’t ever let that get compromised by people wanting early morning meetings. Or it could be little things like making your own lunch or bigger things like training for a marathon. Do one thing for yourself every day and do it consistently. Don’t stop until you feel like you’re balanced again.

What have those things been for you? 

I’ve been running in the morning since the mid-90s. When I say that, people say, ‘You must be so fast! How many marathons have you run?’ And I say, ‘No. I like to run, and I like to watch the sun rise.’ Several years ago, I figured out that I apparently practice ‘active meditation.’ I run to think about nothing. It’s the only way that I’m able to clear my mind. If I don’t do that, I feel unprepared to face the day.

What routines do you have that reward you?
I wear a variation on the same thing every day. (I have several pairs of the same pair of pants!) And for many years, I’ve been eating exactly the same thing for breakfast every weekday. Those routines free me so I can think about other things.

I was recently reading about strategies of financially successful people. They invest deeply in the one thing that makes them happy, and with everything else they spend very little. I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing. I really enjoy thinking about bigger problems—not [my clothes or breakfast]. Investing once in these small routines and getting those to a place where I’m happy with them allows me to be set up for the chaos or unpredictability that can happen.

What’s your favorite kind of apple?

Of the apples that are available to me on a regular basis, Gala’s my apple of choice.

What’s the best-kept secret about being an adult? 

When I was small, my mom told me this. We were talking about someone in the town I grew up in and I was remarking that something an adult did was odd, wondering why did he do what he did. I remember [my mom] turning to me and saying, ‘Liz, adults don’t know what they’re doing. We’re all just making it up as we go along.’

I was floored! The world to me worked in that the adults knew what they were doing and the kids didn’t. I think that’s the best-kept secret: we all know no one knows what they’re doing. It’s fun to know that. Because we can get away with a whole lot, meaning we can experiment and explore and be curious and try out a whole bunch of things, knowing that we all try to give each other that latitude knowing that nobody knows what they’re doing. We’re all just doing the best we can.

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