Hani Hong and Andrew Hessel are two nomads who met in 2011. Andrew is a scientist, working to advance synthetic biology, and Hani is an out-of-the-box-thinking marketing director. They came to my Design the Life You Love Workshop in 2013, a few months before they got married. They sat side by side and were obviously very much in love. They were also incredibly open. They shared their insights and exercises not just with each other, but also with the other participants, which helped create an immediate mood of sharing and camaraderie among everyone. One of the most touching moments in the workshop came during the Heroes exercise. Inherent to any design process is the need to gather inspiration to be able to open up your point of view to different possibilities and find examples that represent your design values. The same is true when you’re designing your life. Heroes is about thinking about the people who influence us in one way or another and who have qualities we aspire to have. They help us to think creatively about our life using other people as our inspiration. Hani shared her hero, her mother, and told us the story of her mom who escaped Vietnam with her five kids all under the age of five, leaving her husband behind. Hani explained that the secret to her mom was “unconditional love”. I think at that moment, her mom became a hero to all of us present. They talked about having kids, living a bi-coastal life between New York and San Francisco, about Andrew’s ground breaking work, and Hani’s work that bridged design and marketing.
That was almost exactly four years ago and since then they’ve continued to design an original life for themselves. I talked to them about being at the workshop as a couple, their insights and AHA!s: what they learned about themselves and about each other, what their recommendations are to other couples who might be interested in the workshop, and how they’ve continued to design their life creatively, together as a couple. Their take on it is, if you can't sit down together and design the life that you love, you're in trouble!
HANI Somehow I'd seen information about your workshop either through you or on Facebook. And I wanted to try it because Andrew and I had been talking about where we wanted to go with things and about what we wanted, and it just seemed like the right timing for us.
We did the workshop in 2013 and we got married that July. So it was a few months before we got married. We already knew that we would be together. We were trying to have kids. We had been out to Cazadero, which is where we are now, and we both knew we loved it out here, in the woods. We talked about places we could live, whether it was getting a home in New York City or in San Francisco or outside of those areas. It was still all very up in the air with a sense of direction, but just not any certainty.
Going into the workshop together helped us sync up what we were each thinking—being able to draw what we saw as our future and seeing the things that were important to us and how those aligned. One of the things that has been really good for us about doing the class together was getting synchronized.
When a single person is doing it, they have a general idea of what they might want in life or what they might want to change, or redesign and they can't quite get that clarity until they go through the class and they're drawing out their bubbles and making their priorities. It's like saying something out loud. I think with us doing it, it was putting it down on paper and then sharing it and saying, okay, these are the things that we're both aligned on, here are the things that are a little different from each other, and then recognizing what is really important to the other person and being able to get alignment on those things.
ANDREW The strongest impression that I have is when we started to visualize it, I recall being pleasantly surprised that we were as synchronized as we were. Because you know we often talk about various aspects of our life, and we are pretty good at doing intentions, but this was really the first time we put it together as a package. And said, this is what we like and this is how we see ourselves as we move forward.
HANI Our communications have always been very open. So it's seems easy, but having it all in front of you and being able to view it together is what makes it different. Looking at the big picture and saying, here is what I drew and here's what you drew and look at how similar they are.
ANDREW We are exceptionally honest with each other. In fact other people might be surprised at just how honest we are with each other about our life and relationship. There are very few boundaries and a lot of that comes from how both Hani and I have been so independent for most of our lives. We are secure in who we are, we don't really have any masks. It can be pretty raw sometimes. But one of the reasons why we work is because when you get to the inner core of us, we are really, really, similar. That's literally how we found each other.
HANI I was traveling for six years. And I had just signed a two year lease for an apartment in New York City. Two weeks later I went to the TED conference in in Edinburgh. It was TED Global of 2011. We were both there at an evening event at the Museum of Scotland and I walked through the crowd and Andrew saw me and stopped and we talked. And for the next couple of days we talked, but we didn't actually get together until later that fall. I had contacted him and we were both very clear about our intentions. And so, he basically came to New York after speaking at Comic-Con and stayed ever since. That was it. It was all very easy.
When I met him he said that he was a nomad, he didn't live anywhere, he didn't have anything. The irony was that I was a nomad up until then. My aunts used to tease me all the time because I was getting older and I hadn't met anyone and I would say, Oh don't worry, he's traveling and I'm traveling and we just haven't met each other yet. And then we met. I believed in it.
ANDREW Everyone knew that I did not want to have children. I was very comfortable and secure in that until suddenly I met Hani and I realized, "Oh I'm going to have to eat so many words." (Laughter) And people still tease me about it today.
HANI I've recommended your workshop to friends who are in places where they're sort of at that fork in the road, where they're trying to decide what to do next with their lives. And we've actually mentioned it to other couples that we know. We really enjoyed going through it together.
ANDREW You know Hani has a design background. I have a different design background in genetic design. But I absolutely recommend your course because if you can't sit down together and design the life that you love you're in trouble. You won't be pulling on the same chords and leavers in your life to make it happen.
HANI For me, it's just fun to do together. You learn about each other, you learn about yourself. You know what it is, it's "Hey, let's just draw our dreams out together." Why wouldn’t you want to do that with your partner, right?
ANDREW And we actually designed the life we love! She is here playing with us.
HANI Her name is Ro!