Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life
A well-designed life is a life that is generative – it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.”
— Bill Burnett & Dave Evans
The authors clearly articulate what motivated them to write this book and teach this class to students at Stanford University. Both authors are professors at Stanford at the school of design. That’s right, they are both designers by training. Their perspective is authentic and refreshing. There are a few commentaries I take issue with, but overall, I think their advice and process are outstanding.
And despite the fact they teach college students, I think their approach is applicable for adults who are grappling with issues such as unemployment, career transition, or determining what to do next after they have completed their “official career,” also known as an encore career.
You can order to book online at Amazon or through the DYL website. It’s a really terrific resource and offers several tangible steps to jumpstart the process of determine what you want to do with your life. They encourage prospectors to be open, curious and willing to experiment. One concept that resonates with me in my work is what the authors call “bias for action.”
Bias for Action
The concept of bias for action goes hand in hand with experimentation. Try some things, see what works for you and revise when necessary. The problem is that we all seem to think that we need to have all the answers when we start. On the contrary. The best strategy is to start with questions, experiment, and reframe problems as opportunities.
For example, if you are out of work why not use this time to explore a variety of careers path. Consider learning a new skill that has been difficult for you in the past. I had one client who was inexperienced with Excel, yet it was a requirement for many of the jobs within her field. I suggested she use her new-found free time to take an excel class online.
Finally, the authors point to the importance of asking for help. I sometimes refer to this as “accountability partners.” Determine who are the people in your life who can help you along the way, provided you candid feedback and moral support when the going gets tough.
One suggestion I would add is that this process is not linear in fashion and it may require moving back and forth between the steps. In addition, you can combine these steps. For example, be insatiably curious when you are asking for help! Your niece might the best person you know who can help you set up a Zoom conference with one of your colleagues. Don’t be afraid to be creative about who you enlist to help you in this process.
You are here – as in you are not where you wish you were or where you
think you should be.
—Bill Burnett & Dave Evens
Chapters One – Start Where You Are
As hard as it may sound, we can’t change the fact we are where we are and not where we wish to be. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the serious nature in which you might find yourself. Instead, acknowledge it, set a space for it, and work on strategies to deal with the stress of issues such as unemployment by taking care of your heath (meditation, exercise), surrounding yourself with positive people, and treating your job search like a job. Because, guess what? It just might be the most important job you have right now.
The authors describe their version of the dashboard for life, which consist of four elements: health, work, play and love. For each element the reader needs to self-evaluate their current situation on a scale from zero – meaning the tank is empty; to full where your tank is full; and anywhere in between.
So, for example, if you have just retired or recently exited the workforce, your work gauge might be lower than when you were working full-time. Work can include unpaid work such as volunteering or caring for children or elderly relatives
To help jumpstart your thinking, they have published a workbook that is a terrific companion piece to their book – https://www.amazon.com/Designing-Your-Life-Workbook-Framework/dp/1524761818. In addition, they off the dashboard and other worksheets on their website for free at www.designyour.life under the Resources tab.
Wheel of Life, Wheel of Business
Two additional resources that I use with clients are the Wheel of Life and the Wheel of Business depending on circumstances. The wheel looks like a pizza pie and has categories such as Career, Money, Personal Growth, etc. and can be customized based on an individual’s circumstances at work or in their personal life. Samples of the Wheel of Life and Wheel of Business are available in the book “Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life” by Laura Witworth, Karen Kimsey-House, Henry Kimsey-House, and Phillip Sandahl.
Designing Your Life Dashboard: How full or empty is your tank?
For each of the four elements of the dashboard, it is your job to determine how much fuel you have. Is your work tank full but your love tank is empty? Have you focused so much on your health that you are obsessing about your physique but leave little time for play? Try not to overthink your responses. Come up with an estimation for your dashboard. Remember, you can always modify the dashboard later and no one is “grading” your work. Repeat this exercise for the all four categories of the Designing your Life Dashboard: Work, Play, Love, and Health.
Still stuck? This is where you can enlist the help of one of your accountability partners. Ask them for input. I remember when a colleague of mine was commenting on how she was missing out on so many aspects of her children’s lives. She then went on to say that she was routinely working 90 hours a week. It wasn’t hard for me as her colleague and friend to recognize that her work tank was beyond full while other aspects in her life such as health and play were woefully empty.
All sailors know, you can’t sail a course in one straight line – you tack according to what the winds and conditions will allow.
– Bill Burnett & Dave Evans
My parents were avid sailors and try as they might to teach me to sail, I never mastered the mechanics of tacking, but I did marvel at the beauty of it when tacking allowed us to get to our destination. I do love to sail – as long as I am a passenger — and I love maps, compasses, and guides. They are tools to help us when we are lost or when the seas seem rough and unforgiving.
Chapter 2: Building a Compass
The focus of this chapter is helping the reading articulate what is the purpose of work, life and how those two very important elements might be out of sync. There was a time in my career when I, similar to my colleague, was working 80-90-hour weeks. I had a young child at home and my husband was traveling a great deal for his work. My workview was to have a challenging career as a Vice President, but my lifeview was to be a participatory mom after having my first child at 38.
My work and life were completely out of sync. My compass was broken. I made drastic changes that meant leaving my corporate career, starting my business, working on my Ph.D. and working from home so I could spend more time with our 4-year-old daughter. It required a lot of sacrifices from a monetary perspective, but it is a decision to this very day I am glad I made.
Tough Questions Can Lead to Insightful Answers
Some of these questions may be hard to answer. This is where you can enlist the help of a friend, relative or mentor. For example, if you are finishing your degree, you might be working to pay for tuition. On the other hand, if you are a parent raising small children, you may need to work to provide for your family. There are no right or wrong answers.
Also, remember that your answers can be aspirational. For example, I want to work to make a difference in this world is a perfectly fine answer. If you your life, your career and your compass. Make it speak to who you are and what you think you want to do with your life.
Finding Your True North
It’s a big world out there. How on earth can we decide which direction to go and where is our true north? In addition to the DYL books, workbook and worksheets and there are several great resources that I recommend. Two of my favorites are Discovering Your True North by Bill George and the companion workbook entitled The Discover Your True North Fieldbook: A Personal Guide to Becoming an Authentic Leader by Nick Craig, Bill Georg and Scott Snook. These two resources are especially good for senior leader so individuals aspiring to obtain a leadership role.
In addition, there is a terrific book by Martha Beck entitled Finding Your North Star: Claiming the Life You were Meant to Live. Martha is a guest contributor with a standing column in O magazine. Her work has a broad appeal and is especially directed to women.
Another great resource that has been available for many years and is applicable to all audiences is What Color is Your Parachute? By Richard Bolles. Even if you have read it before, it is worth a re-read and there is a new version out for 2020. You can download the Ebook for $12.99 through Google play.
Chapter 3: Wayfinding
The authors define wayfinding as the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination. Explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Captain Cook, Jacque Cousteau were wayfarers: they launched challenging journeys and didn’t always know their destination. Fortunately, wayfinding for your career search doesn’t involve building a ship or invading native populations hostile about your arrival – or your return as was the case of Captain Cook.
Wayfinding in the DYL construct involves what the authors define as engagement and energy. Engagement can also be thought of when an individual is in the flow. Think of Michael Jordon leading the Chicago Bulls to 6 championship titles. Or Simone Biles winning yet another Olympic Gold medal in gymnastics.
Zone of Proximal Development
Another related concept to being in the flow is the “Zone of Proximal Development” – ZPD, which was developed by Lev Vygotsky in the early 1900s. Originally trained as a lawyer, Vygotsky shifted his focus to psychology and human development. The Zone of Proximal development is when the conditions are right, and the individual is prime for a learning opportunity – also known as learner readiness or being in the zone.
The concept of flow was developed by a more contemporary scholar, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – also known as Doctor C. People in the flow – like Michael Jordon, or Simone Biles – experience absolute engagement in the task or activity at hand. It is as if time is standing still and they have complete clarity about what to do.
Adding Energy to the Equation
The authors contend that some activities energize us while others can be draining. Seems like a simple concept, but it sometimes may not be apparent how to determine the difference between the two. The goal is to uncover the things that bring us joy and those that such the life out of us. Another way to look at it is to determine those activities that when we are engaged in create either positive or negative energy.
The Good Time Journal
The way to determine your energy and engagement levels is to keep a daily journal, what the authors call a “Good Time Journal.” Keep a list of each daily activity and rate your level of both engagement (Lo to High) and Energy (Negative to Positive). You can find examples of the Good Time Journal in the book and workbook. In addition, there are blank worksheets available to download from the website (see link below).
- Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life” by Laura Witworth, Karen Kimsey-House, Henry Kimsey-House, and Phillip Sandahl.
- 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 – designyour.life
- Discovering Your True North by Bill George
- The Discover Your True North Fieldbook: A Personal Guide to Becoming an Authentic Leader by Nick Craig, Bill George and Scott Snook
- Finding Your North Star: Claiming the Life You were Meant to Live by Martha Beck
- Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Lev Vgotsky
- What Color is Your Parachute? By Richard Bolles.
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