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

This is a very helpful book to read – 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.

Chapter 5 ~ Design Your Lives: 

  • Where people go wrong (regardless of their age, education, or career path) is thinking they just need to come up with a plan for their lives and it will be smooth sailing. If only they make the right choice (the best, true, only choice), they will have a blueprint for who they will be, what they will do, and how they will live.
  • We all contain enough energy and talents and interests to live many different types of lives, all of which could be authentic and interesting and productive.
  • We’re going to ask you to imagine and write up three different versions of the next five years of your life. We call these Odyssey Plans.
  • The conclusion is that if your mind starts with multiple ideas in parallel, it is not prematurely committed to one path and stays more open and able to receive and conceive more novel innovations. Designers have known this all along—you don’t want to start with just one idea, or you’re likely to get stuck with it.
  • Life One—That Thing You Do. Your first plan is centered on what you’ve already got in mind—either your current life expanded forward or that hot idea you’ve been nursing for some time. This is the idea you already have—it’s a good one and it deserves attention in this exercise.
  • Life Two—That Thing You’d Do If Thing One Were Suddenly Gone.  Just imagine that your life one idea is suddenly over or no longer an option. What would you do?
  • Life Three—The Thing You’d Do or the Life You’d Live If Money or Image Were No Object.
  • Odyssey Plans can define important things still to do in our lives, and help us remember dreams we may have forgotten.
  • Life design is about generating options, and this exercise of designing multiple lives will guide you in whatever’s next for you. You aren’t designing the rest of your life; you are designing what’s next.

Chapter 6 – Prototyping 

  • Prototyping the life design way is all about asking good questions, outing our hidden biases and assumptions, iterating rapidly, and creating momentum for a path we’d like to try out.
  • So—we prototype to ask good questions, create experiences, reveal our assumptions, fail fast, fail forward, sneak up on the future, and build empathy for ourselves and others. Once you accept that this is really the only way to get the data you need, prototyping becomes an integral part of your life design process.
  • A Life Design Interview is incredibly simple. It just means getting someone’s story.  You want to talk to someone who is either doing and living what you’re contemplating, or has real experience and expertise in an area about which you have questions. And the story you’re after is the personal story of how that person got to be doing that thing he or she does, or got the expertise he has and what it’s really like to do what she does.
  • You want to hear what the person who does what you might someday want to do loves and hates about his job. You want to know what her days look like, and then you want to see if you can imagine yourself doing that job—and loving it—for months and years on end.
  • In addition to asking people about their work and life, you will also be able to find out how they got there—their career path.
  • But you’re going to want more than just stories as input for coming up with your life design. You want actually to experience what “it” is really like—by watching others do it or, better yet, doing some form of it yourself. Prototype experiences allow us to learn through a direct encounter with a possible future version of us.
  • Life design brainstorming has four steps, and a very structured approach to coming up with lots of prototypable ideas.
  • It is important to frame a good question for a brainstorming session.
  • The brainstorm will generate energy and momentum toward your goal of coming up with some prototype experiences to explore. It will also be an exercise you can turn to whenever you need some new ideas, some community support, or just a little more fun in your life with people you trust.

Chapter 7 – How Not to Get a Job 

  • 90 percent of us are using a method that might only work 5 percent of the time.
  • The problem is that 52 percent of employers have admitted that they respond to fewer than half of the candidates that apply.
  • This standard model fails so much of the time because it is a model based on the mistaken idea that your perfect job is out there waiting for you.
  • The idea that somehow the Internet is the be-all and end-all when it comes to looking for a job has gotten a lot of traction, but it’s yet another dysfunctional belief.
  • Most great jobs—those that fall into the dream job category—are never publicly listed.
  • If you insist on trying to generate job options by mining the postings on the Internet, we have a few insider tips for you to improve the chances that your Internet search will be productive.
  • The job description on the website is typically not written by the hiring manager or someone who really understands the job. The job description almost never captures what the job actually requires for success.
  • Job number one is to “fit in.” This doesn’t mean you should say anything about yourself that isn’t true. It does mean that, if you want to be discovered, you need to describe yourself with the same words that the company uses. It also means that you don’t want to talk about your amazing multidisciplinary skill set yet—it will only confuse the “fit” evaluation.
  • If you have those specific skills, great; add them to your résumé, word for word. If you don’t, list very specific skills that are similar.
  • If you want to work at a cool company, you really do want to get connected to people inside that company, using the prototyping conversations we’ve discussed. A personal connection can help you greatly. You’ll still have to go through the hiring process, but you’ll have some help.
  • None of the job descriptions we found when we went looking on the Internet seemed to address any of the issues we’ve been discussing. They didn’t speak to the deeper issues of why we work or what work is for. It’s a wonder that anyone would want to apply for one of these jobs.

Chapter 8 – Designing Your Dream Job

  • First of all, let’s clarify that there is no dream job. There are good jobs in good places with good co-workers, and there are at least a couple of those good jobs that you can make close enough to perfect so you can really love them. Those are the “dream jobs” we can help you find, but almost all of them are invisible to you now, because they’re part of the hidden job market.
  • It is a wonderfully happy accident that the very best technique you can use to learn what kind of work you might want to pursue (prototyping with Life Design Interviews, as discussed in chapter 6) is exactly the best, if not only, way to get into the hidden job market in your field of interest, once you know what you want.
  • Remember, all you’re looking for from a Life Design Interview (functioning as a prototype conversation) is to learn about a particular kind of work or role to help you find out if you want, at a later date, to try to get a job doing that kind of work yourself.
  • More than half the time, when the approach we’re recommending results in an offer, they initiate it. You don’t have to. If they don’t start it for you, you can ask one question that will convert the conversation from getting their story to pursuing a job.
  • “Network” is more noun than verb. The point isn’t to “do” networking; the goal is to participate in the network. Simply put, it just means to enter into a particular community that’s having a particular conversation (such as sustainable architecture).
  • The network exists to sustain the community of people getting the work done—and is the only way to gain access to the hidden job market.
  • Use the Internet not to get online job listings but to find and reach out to the people whose stories you want to hear.
  • If you become a superstar at using LinkedIn and Google, the Internet can make a difference for you, and will no longer be the black hole into which you submit countless applications.
  • Guess what the first consideration was of the graduating class of 2014 when looking for a job: nature of the work. Salary and the friendliness of co-workers come in second and third, to complete this completely dysfunctional job-seeker trifecta.
  • That’s why the most important reframe when you are designing your career is this: you are never looking for a job, you are looking for an offer.
  • The biggest impact of this reframe is on your mind-set. It shifts you from being a person deciding whether or not you’d take this job (which you know nothing about) to being a person who is curious to find out what kind of interesting offer you might be able to find in that organization.
  • Whether you are seeking your first job, changing careers, or choosing an encore career, you need to be genuinely curious. That’s what prototyping conversations and prototyping experiences are all about: being open and curious about the possibilities. We call it pursuing latent wonderfulness.
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