Building Your Way Forward: Mind Maps, Odyssey Planning and Prototyping

Part 2: Designing Your Life Chapters 4, 5 & 6

The authors of the book Designing Your Life expound upon the most pernicious challenge of conducting a career search: getting unstuck. Feeling stuck or a sense of inertia is prevalent among individuals in career transition – whether their new status is due to choice or factors outside their control such as Covid-19. Acknowledging this reality is a critical first step toward getting unstuck, and Mind Mapping is a great technique to help accelerate this process. 

Why Mind Maps?

Mind mapping is a great way to unleash the power of creativity. I use mind mapping extensively with my clients and it is beneficial for most if not all individuals who are trying to open their thinking to a new construct such as a career strategy. Both the DYL book and workbook provide readers with step-by-step instructions on how to get started with the process.

Maps encourage boldness…they make anything seem possible.”

— Mark Jenkins

At its core, mind mapping is a form of brainstorming. And the first rule of any good brainstorming session is that no idea is a bad idea. There will be plenty of time later in the process to edit and synthesize. The idea right now is to open up your thinking to new possibilities.

Mind maps were popularized by British psychologist Tony Buzan. The process involves starting with a blank sheet of paper, lots of colored markers and one idea. Write the main idea on the center of the page and then start brainstorming related concepts using branches and assigning a color to each main concept or branch.

Chapter 4: Getting Unstuck

The DYL authors use mind mapping as a method to get the creative juices flowing. They suggest that we often hold disempowering beliefs that limit our ability to tap into our creativity. The mind mapping process is a great way to generate lots of ideas without feeling inhibited or pressured to come up with an immediate solution.

Whether you decide to use the traditional Buzan technique or the one outlined in the DYL book, the process is essentially the same: Start with your main them or topic then use branches or rings to link related topics or concepts. It is often good to set a time limit. Also, I generally recommend creating no more that 3-5 maps. The DYL authors suggest three that can be derived from the “Good Time Journal.” One map for aspects of your life that energize; one for aspects that engage; and one for those that result in a state of flow.

Mind Map Mash-Ups

Just like it sounds, the next step is to mash up your mind maps into a list of ideas that appeal to you. From these ideas, develop what might be a job title, description as well as a sketch or graphic representation of your concept. Another approach is to identify the core themes and develop a list of next steps.

Life design is about generating options.”

– Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

Chapter 5: Design Your Life with Odyssey Plans

At first glance, the notion of an odyssey might have a negative connotation. It sounds a bit far-fetched and nebulous. In reality, it can be a quite liberating process. According to the DYL authors, odyssey plans are the various careers or life plans that we can pursue to find success and fulfillment. In other words, there is not one singular path that me must take bullet when it comes to designing our careers.

Exploring Career Career & Life Options

Strong Assessment Inventory

One great resource that I use with clients to help them explore difference career options is the The Strong Interest Inventory The Strong assessment is ideal for individuals who are in career transition as well as those who are trying to determine a particular direction in life – whether it pertains to selecting a career or determining a college major. In addition, the Strong assessment can provide individuals with important insights as well as targeted resources for ways to research potential career choices, areas of academic study and avocation or encore careers.

The approach the DYL authors recommend is developing three possible life plans or options as outlined below.

Life One: Your current life or the ideas you’ve been nursing for some time. 

For some individuals this one is a given: I’ve always known I wanted to be (fill in the blank). For others, this may be difficult. At this stage of the process, I find that it is helpful to provide those in the second camp with possible data points from career assessments such as The Strong Interest Inventory

Life Two: The things you would do thing one were currently gone.

The Strong is a great assessment because it provides participants with several career options to pursue. I generally suggest clients explore 3-5 options. For this exercise, clients should explore their favorite choice in Life One and their second favorite in life two. 

Life Three: The thing you would do or life you would live if money were no object.

Think Robert Branson. If you had all the money in the world, what would you do? Have you always dreamed of opening a restaurant or living on a farm? Whatever your Richard Branson career might be, this is the stage in the process to shoot for the moon (or the farm)!

For each Life Plan, it helps to follow the steps provided in the DYL book and workbook, which include developing a timeframe, a title for each life plan, the question that this alternative life is asking, and a dashboard that includes gauges for: resources, how much you like this option, your confidence in the option and coherency.

SMART Objectives

Another method that I use with clients for vetting career options or objectives is the SMART acronym. “S” stands for Specific: the options you are exploring should be specific. Vague concepts are hard to visualize, quantify and articulate. The life option should also be Measurable. Try to come up with metrics that can be associated with your idea. It is easier to evaluate options if there are metrics that can be developed. The “A” stands for Attainable or Action, as in bias for action. “R” is for Relevant. And finally, “T” is for Time-bound. A visual timeline can often be helpful. I generally suggested a timeline of 3-5 years.

Accountability Partners: Your Life Design Team

Share your ideas with trusting others who will give you candid and constructive feedback without derailing your ideas. It helps to provide your accountability partners with ground rules – their job is to listen carefully, reflect on your ideas, and offer empathetic support. At its core life design is about generating ideas and options.

Networking & Prototyping Conversations

The purpose of prototyping is to explore your options via hands-on experiences. This will require that you interact with others. And while in-person interactions are ideal, prototyping conversations can be done through virtual platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Facetime.

Also known as networking, prototyping conversations take upfront preparation and should never be thought of as job interviews. The objective is to learn more about the careers you have identified in your life planning exercise. Books such as “What Color is Your Parachute” have recommended the value of networking and provide greats suggestions for how to do so successfully.

Who are you Going to Call?

Here are some suggestions for successful Prototyping and Networking conversations.

  1. Do your Research: Learn as much as possible about the careers you have identified that interest you. A great resource for researching careers is the ONET database – published by the Department of Labor.
  2. Start with your Contacts: This can include church groups, LinkedIn contacts, former work colleagues, classmates, professors, neighbors and fellow alums. The career advising office of your alma mater is a great source for providing contact information for fellow alums.
  3. Ask Good Questions: See recommendation #1. You want your conversations to reflect that you actually know a great deal about a given career. You don’t have to be an expert but do show that you have taken the time to learn as much as you can about a given career.
  4. Follow-up: Be sure to follow-up with a thank you note. Email is fine – but be sure to get the person’s contact information. Also, ask for permission to connect with them on LinkedIn. This is a great way to stay connected as well as build your LinkedIn connections.

Life Design Interview Conversations

Here are guidelines for the conversations you are embarking upon.

  1. Get the person’s personal story – people love to share why they selected a particular career and how they got into their current industry. This is good information that you can use in your follow-up message (see step 4 above).
  2. Ask if you can meet virtually if a face-to-face meeting is not possible.

Chapter 6: Prototyping

The purpose of prototyping in the design process involves hands-on experiences or models that the provide a proxy for the actual job or career. When it comes to designing your life, prototyping experiences will allow you to learn via a direct, hands-on experiences thru internships, job shadowing volunteering, or a scaled-down version of the career and life plan. If in-person experiences are not possible, draw upon web-conferencing and virtual experiences.

Argyris and Schön

The groundbreaking work of scholars Argyris and Schön explored the concept of transferring knowledge from an expert to the learner. The focus of their original research was the relationship between practicing architects and their trainees. In the Architecture field it has long been the requirement that newly minted architects apprentice under the tutelage of an experienced practitioner.

Argyris and Schön’s research resulted in numerous insights such as the role of mentors, internships, and even prototyping experiences. The idea is to allow the apprentice to learn by trial and effort. A & S developed the concept of double loop learning where the learning incorporates what they have learned in subsequent iterations of a particular skill.

The DYL authors cite the following examples of prototyping experiences:

  1. Conversations with people doing something you might like to do – via a networking or Life Design Interview
  2. Job-shadowing professionals you’d like to emulate
  3. Volunteer work or unpaid internships
  4. A scaled-down version of the career you envision (e.g. launching a blog versus working for the New York Times).

Enlisting Resources

If networking interviews and prototyping experiences seem daunting, this is a good place to enlist the help of others. Many community-based career resource centers offer help in this area for a reasonable fee. Other great resources include the career placement and alumni relations offices of your alma mater. They have access to helpful information, and most will gladly help their alums with job search endeavors. 

Another great resource are colleagues from previous work experiences – even if they were in a different field. They might have ideas, suggestions and contacts that they are willing to share. 

Finally, there are professional associations for most if not all careers. Many of these associations have websites, newsletters, job boards, and even networking sessions for individuals in the field as well as those wanting to learn more about a particular field or career.


  • Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
  • The Designing Your Life Workbook: A Framework for Building a Life you can Thrive in by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
  • Website –
  • Theory in Practice, Argyris & Schön 
  • What Color is Your Parachute? By Richard Bolles.

#arygis #careertransition #covid19 #doublelooplearning #mindmapping #networking #schön #SMARTobjectives #stronginterestinventory #zoom

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