Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Designing Your Life BOOK CLUB

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.  Knopf. 274 pages. 2016

My wife Tammy and I are reading and discussing this book this summer. I first heard about it from the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. This week we look at the Introduction of the book:

  • In the United States, only 27% of college grads end up in a career related to their majors. The idea that what you major in is what you will do for the rest of your life, and that college represents the best years of your life (before a life of hard work and boredom), are two of what we call dysfunctional beliefs—the myths that prevent so many people from designing the life they want.
  • In America, two-thirds of workers are unhappy with their jobs. And 15 percent actually hate their work.
  • In the United States alone, more than thirty-one million people between ages forty-four and seventy want what is often called an “encore” career—work that combines personal meaning, continued income, and social impact.
  • Your well-designed life will have a look and a feel all of its own as well, and design thinking will help you solve your own life design problems.
  • 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.
  • We decided we were going to partner to bring a new course to Stanford, to apply design thinking to designing life after college—first to design students and, if that went well, then to all students. That course has gone on to become one of the most popular elective classes at Stanford.
  • How do I find a job that I like or maybe even love?  How do I build a career that will make me a good living?  How do I balance my career with my family?  How can I make a difference in the world?  How can I be thin, sexy, and fabulously rich? We can help you answer all these questions—except the last one.
  • Designers love questions, but what they really love is reframing questions.
  • A reframe is when we take new information about the problem, restate our point of view, and start thinking and prototyping again.
  • In life design, we reframe a lot. The biggest reframe is that your life can’t be perfectly planned, that there isn’t just one solution to your life, and that that’s a good thing.
  • The reframe for the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is this: “Who or what do you want to grow into?”
  • When you think like a designer, when you are willing to ask the questions, when you realize that life is always about designing something that has never existed before, then your life can sparkle in a way that you could never have imagined.
  • Here’s the big truth: there are many versions of you, and they are all “right.”
  • We suggest you go out and get a design team right off the bat—a group of people who will read the book with you and do the exercises alongside you, a collaborative team in which you support one another in your pursuit of a well-designed life.
  • Designers don’t think their way forward. Designers build their way forward.
  • Work can be a daily source of enormous joy and meaning, or it can be an endless grind and waste of hours spent trying to white-knuckle our way through the misery of it all until the weekend comes.
  • The five mind-sets you are going to learn in order to design your life are curiosity, bias to action, reframing, awareness, and radical collaboration.  Most of all, curiosity is going to help you “get good at being lucky.” It’s the reason some people see opportunities everywhere.
  • Try Stuff. When you have a bias to action, you are committed to building your way forward.
  • Reframing is how designers get unstuck. Reframing also makes sure that we are working on the right problem.
  • When you learn to think like a designer you learn to be aware of the process. Life design is a journey; let go of the end goal and focus on the process and see what happens next.
  • 80 percent of people of all ages don’t really know what they are passionate about.
  • Passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause.
  • A well-designed life is a life that makes sense. It’s a life in which who you are, what you believe, and what you do all line up together.

Chapter 1 – Start Where You Are:

  • Design thinking can help you build your way forward from wherever you are, regardless of the life design problem you are facing. But before you can figure out which direction to head in, you need to know where you are and what design problems you are trying to solve.
  • Problem Finding + Problem Solving = Well-Designed Life
  • In design thinking, we put as much emphasis on problem finding as we do on problem solving.
  • Deciding which problems to work on may be one of the most important decisions you make, because people can lose years (or a lifetime) working on the wrong problem.
  • These are all gravity problems—meaning they are not real problems. Why? Because in life design, if it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem.
  • People fight reality. And anytime you are arguing or fighting with reality, reality will win.
  • Even in the face of daunting realities, you always have some freedom you can exercise. Find it and take action there.
  • The key is not to get stuck on something that you have effectively no chance of succeeding at.
  • We want to give you the best shot possible at living the life you want, enjoying the living of it, and maybe even making a difference while you’re at it.
  • The only response to a gravity problem is acceptance. And this is where all good designers begin.
  • That’s why you start where you are. Not where you wish you were.
  • In order to start where we are, we need to break life down into some discrete areas—health, work, play, and love.
  • It’s impossible to predict the future. And the corollary to that thought is: once you design something, it changes the future that is possible.

Chapter 2 – Building a Compass:

  • What is the good life? How do you define it? How do you live it? Why am I here? What am I doing? Why does it matter? What is my purpose? What’s the point of it all?
  • You need two things to build your compass—a Workview and a Lifeview. To start out, we need to discover what work means to you.
  • A Lifeview is simply your ideas about the world and how it works. What gives life meaning? What makes your life worthwhile or valuable? How does your life relate to others in your family, your community, and the world? What do money, fame, and personal accomplishment have to do with a satisfying life? How important are experience, growth, and fulfillment in your life?
  • Our goal for your life is rather simple: coherency. A coherent life is one lived in such a way that you can clearly connect the dots between three things: Who you are, What you believe, and What you are doing
  • Living coherently doesn’t mean everything is in perfect order all the time. It simply means you are living in alignment with your values and have not sacrificed your integrity along the way.
  • A Workview should address the critical issues related to what work is and what it means to you. A Workview may address such questions as: Why work?, What’s work for?, and What does work mean?, How does it relate to the individual, others, society?, What defines good or worthwhile work?, What does money have to do with it?, What do experience, growth, and fulfillment have to do with it?
  • Your Lifeview is what provides your definition of what have been called “matters of ultimate concern.” It’s what matters most to you and addresses questions such as Why are we here?, What is the meaning or purpose of life?, What is the relationship between the individual and others?, Where do family, country, and the rest of the world fit in?, What is good, and what is evil?, Is there a higher power, God, or something transcendent, and if so, what impact does this have on your life?, What is the role of joy, sorrow, justice, injustice, love, peace, and strife in life?
  • Anytime you’re changing your situation, or pursuing a new thing, or wondering what you’re doing at a particular job—stop. Before you start, it’s a good idea to check your compass and orient yourself.

Chapter 3 – Wayfinding:

  • Dysfunctional Belief: Work is not supposed to be enjoyable; that’s why they call it work. Reframe: Enjoyment is a guide to finding the right work for you.
  • Wayfinding is the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination.
  • What you can do is pay attention to the clues in front of you, and make your best way forward with the tools you have at hand. We think the first clues are engagement and energy.
  • Feeling bored, restless, or unhappy at his job, and what exactly he had been doing during those times (the times when he was disengaged). Excited, focused, and having a good time at work, and what exactly he was doing during those times (the times when he was engaged). Michael was working on what we call the good time journal.
  • When you learn what activities reliably engage you, you’re discovering and articulating something that can be very helpful in your life design work.
  • Flow is that state of being in which time stands still, you’re totally engaged in an activity, and the challenge of that particular activity matches up with your skill—so you’re neither bored because it’s too easy nor anxious because it’s too hard.
  • Flow is one of those “hard to describe but you know it when you feel it” qualitative experiences that you’ll have to identify for yourself. As the ultimate state of personal engagement, flow experiences have a special place in designing your life, so it’s important to get good at capturing them in your Good Time Journal.
  • Flow is something we should strive to make a regular part of our work life (and home life, and exercise life, and love life…you get the idea).
  • It’s no wonder that the way we invest our attention is critical to whether or not we feel high or low energy.
  • Some activities sustain our energy and some drain it; we want to track those energy flows as part of our Good Time Journal exercise.
  • Here’s another key element when you’re wayfinding in life: follow the joy; follow what engages and excites you, what brings you alive.
  • Work is fun when you are actually leaning into your strengths and are deeply engaged and energized by what you’re doing.
  • It’s crucial for you to assess how well your work fits your values and priorities—how coherent your work is with who you are and what you believe.
  • We are suggesting that focused attention on engagement and energy level can provide very helpful clues to wayfinding your path forward.
  • There are two elements to the Good Time Journal: • Activity Log (where I record where I’m engaged and energized) • Reflections (where I discover what I am learning).
  • The Activity Log simply lists your primary activities and how engaged and energized you were by those activities. Log activities at least twice a week or you’ll miss too much.
  • The second element of the Good Time Journal is reflection, looking over your Activity Log and noticing trends, insights, surprises—anything that is a clue to what does and doesn’t work for you.
  • Typically, after you start to get the hang of paying more detailed attention to your days, you notice that some of your log entries could be more specific: you need to zoom in to see more clearly. The idea is to try to become as precise as possible; the clearer you are on what is and isn’t working for you, the better you can set your wayfinding direction.
  • The AEIOU method that provides you five sets of questions you can use when reflecting on your Activity Log.
  • Your past is waiting to be mined for insights, too—especially your mountaintop moments, or “peak experiences.”
  • Take some time to reflect on your memories of past peak work-related experiences and do a Good Time Journal Activity Log and reflection on them to see what you find.

Chapter 4 – Getting Unstuck:

  • Designers know that you never go with your first idea. Designers know that when you choose from lots of options you choose better.
  • We’re all stuck in some way in some areas of our lives. That’s where we need ideation, which is a fancy word for coming up with lots of ideas.
  • Believing that there’s only one idea out there leads to a lot of pressure and indecision.
  • The number one enemy of creativity is judgment.
  • As a life designer, you need to embrace two philosophies: 1. You choose better when you have lots of good ideas to choose from. 2. You never choose your first solution to any problem.
  • The first ideation technique we’re going to teach you is called mind mapping. Mind mapping works by using simple free association of words, one after another, to open up the idea space and come up with new solutions.
  • The mind-mapping process has three steps: 1. Picking a topic 2. Making the mind map 3. Making secondary connections and creating concepts (mashing it all up)
  • There’s a certain class of problems—the ones that just won’t go away—that we call anchor problems. Like a physical anchor, they hold us in one place and prevent motion.
  • When you anchor yourself to a bad solution, it just gets worse and worse with time.
  • Don’t make a doable problem into an anchor problem by wedding yourself irretrievably to a solution that just isn’t working. Reframe the solution to some other possibilities, prototype those ideas (take some test hikes), and get yourself unstuck.
  • Anchor problems keep us stuck because we can only see one solution—the one we already have that doesn’t work.
  • When you’re stuck with an anchor problem, try reframing the challenge as an exploration of possibilities (instead of trying to solve your huge problem in one miraculous leap), then decide to try a series of small, safe prototypes of the change you’d like to see happen. It should result in getting unstuck and finding a more creative approach to your problem.
  • An anchor problem is a real problem, just a hard one. It’s actionable—but we’ve been stuck on it so long or so often that it seems insurmountable.
  • Gravity problems aren’t actually problems. They’re circumstances that you can do nothing to change. There is no solution to a gravity problem—only acceptance and redirection.
  • Mind Map 1—Engagement. From your Good Time Journal, pick one of the areas of greatest interest to you, or an activity during which you were really engaged. Then generate a bunch of connected words and concepts, using the mind-mapping technique.
  • Mind Map 2—Energy. From your Good Time Journal, pick something you’ve identified as really energizing you in your work and life
  • Mind Map 3—Flow. From your Good Time Journal, pick one of the experiences when you were in a state of flow, put the experience itself at the center of a mind map, and complete your mapping of your experience with this state we’re going to invent an interesting, though not necessarily practical, life alternative from each.