Last summer, I came to a stark realization: I wasn't spending any time working on creative projects outside of work, because my creative project had become my work.
That was a big deal to me, because my identity has always been tied to creative side projects. When I lived in New York, I literally ran a side project for side projects called Side by Side, where I would invite people over to my apartment on Sundays, put on a big pot of chili, and we would work on our side projects sitting side by side.
The realization came to me during a Grand Council. My coach Seisei was leading our group through The Grand Retro exercise, and one of the categories on the retro is intellectual curiosity. I remember giving myself a zero and thinking, “Oh man.”
A couple weeks later I saw a tweet from Brian Chesky.
Later that weekend, I was catching up with my friend, Beverly.
Now, Beverly and I have been best friends since high school, when we were chemistry lab partners. We’ve worked on side projects together ever since. We’re constantly scheming on ideas. She's an amazing designer and illustrator, super creative, and has always been one the biggest supporters and cheerleaders of my artistic side. She sends me creative prompts in the mail.
I told Beverly about how I’d stopped working on creative side projects since starting The Grand. She answered back: “Why don't we just work on something together, just for fun? It doesn't have to be anything big. It can be a small side project.” I mentioned that I’d seen this Airbnb contest, and I asked if she wanted to submit an idea together for the contest—just as a creative prompt and starting off point. So, off we went, brainstorming as always.
Pretty quickly, we landed on the phrase “Bauhaus Bao House” and knew instantly that that was it!
For those unfamiliar with baos, we recommend this great Pixar short:
Growing up, my mom was constantly making baos — it was what I grew up eating for breakfast. Beverly also loved them, so my mom would make them for her too. Every time I go home, there's a tray of baos that my mom made waiting for me.
Bauhaus is a design movement, and also an aesthetic and an ideology that we've both always appreciated*. And we both really love puns.
At that point, we thought, why don't we just submit this idea? The first step was easy: write a little description and short essay of what this could be—that seemed like a fun and easy creative prompt as well, so we did that. I thought, “Cool, I did something creative this weekend,” felt satisfied that I was taking steps to improve my intellectual curiosity score, and thought that would be that.
A few months later, we made it to the next round: the design round. Beverly, as mentioned, is an incredible designer, and I’m a very visual person—so we had ourselves another creative collaboration prompt! I was pretty excited about making a Pinterest inspo board. We got to work and submitted that too.
And just when we forgot about it again, we made it to the final round — the technical phase. This round was a bit more of an “oh, sh*t” moment. We were definitely not technical architects, and we didn’t know anything about construction. That’s where my partner, Shane, who’d studied industrial design, stepped in and helped us put together a feasible technical project plan.
At this point, everything still felt like a conceptual creative project, where I was learning something new, stretching in an area that I had very little former knowledge about*, and fulfilling that intellectual curiosity dimension of wellbeing.
And then we were one of the 100 final winners, out of thousands of submissions.
It was incredibly exciting — but also incredibly stressful. The deadline to build was August 1, 2023.
As you may have noticed, it’s past August 1 today. And it's definitely not done.
I'm a product manager, but I've only ever worked with software — as you probably know, timelines in software are completely different from construction timelines. At first, I was feeling pretty frustrated that the city was taking so long with permits. I kept trying to figure out how to speed it up. I’d email my architect every day asking for an update.
At some point, I realized: I can't control this. This is literally outside of my wheelhouse. I can do nothing. I just need to accept this.
I went back and reflected on my original intention from Grand Council: work on something creative and fun. I realized that I needed operate from that place, instead of obsessing about logistics and timelines. I learned to give myself grace and compassion. I'm so late on this deadline and instead of letting it stress me out, I am accepting that I'll be late and I am asking for compassion.
I think in the past, I would've felt like a failure for missing the deadline. But now I realize: that is less important than the fun and creativity of it all. This project has helped me flex a whole new part of my brain that I have never used before in my life, completely separate from my work at The Grand, and that has been immensely gratifying.
Plus, I've never won a contest my whole life—not even scratch tickets. So the fact that I get this opportunity to work on a creative idea and get funding to do it? I'm so incredibly grateful. And I’m definitely a 20/10 on intellectual curiosity now.
Want to take the Grand Retro yourself? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a worksheet!
*Curious about Rei’s intellectual learnings? Read more here on what she learned about Bauhaus and construction.