Designing your life

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans might be found in the ‘career/self-help’ sections at a book store, but it is much more than that. The book was recommended to me 2 years ago by a career coach, and since then I’ve read it twice in full, and referred back to chapters countless times.

Why I Am Obsessed

Here’s why I continue to love (and rave!) about this book: Designing your life is a career book. But to me, it’s also a travel philosophy. Career has been promoted to us as we need to find the job through the typical system, and then we should be happy with what we get.

It’s oversimplified, just like how I see vacation and travel planning: go to the perfect place by making the right Google Searches, and then you should be happy with your vacation.

For both, we’re externalizing risks. If I don’t like the job, it’s the jobs fault. If I don’t like Mexico, it’s on Mexico, not me (never been to Mexico so nothing personal!). But this book provides a way to flip the script: get to know what you enjoy, how you thrive, and anchor yourself in that awareness. THEN start exploring and testing ideas.

Related Podcast Episode: LIVE! ‘Why I started a podcast’ at PechaKucha 2019

Major ‘Designing Your Life’ Concepts

Since I’ve taken 3 career breaks/gap years in a dozen years, I have had the opportunity to embark upon several job searches, with some successes and many failures (16 jobs and counting, with titles like ‘fireworks tech’, enumerator in the arctic, UPS delivery woman…). Designing Your Life has provided a new way to approach career: by designing your way into it. Testing experiences. Having conversations with people already in the industry. It sounds simple, but it takes an intentional focus on who you are and what your ideals are as a cornerstone.

The principles behind ‘life design’ are anchored in engineering design practices, like prototyping (testing out options) and iteration (try, try again). But there are also really humanized elements to it, like reframing how we look at failure, and paying attention to when we are in a state of ‘flow’.

Imagine my excitement when I found a book that offered another way to reframe not only a career search, but also how life works. I use the word ‘reframe’ intentionally: throughout the book, the authors Burnett and Evans have pop out sections of highly relatable ‘dysfunctional beliefs’, and ways to reframe them into the Designing Your Life mentality. Here’s a great example:

Dysfunctional Belief: I have to find the one right idea.

Reframe: I need a lot of ideas so that I can explore any number of possibilities for my future.

The Opportunity Hidden in this Book

I say this opportunity is ‘hidden’, because they nestle this tip at the very end of it: start a group of like-minded people to intentionally continue supporting one another in life design- and life!

Lynda and I got a group of 5 women to read the book together because although its a straightforward and relatable read, you will only get 15% of the value out of it if you don’t do the exercises. We would get together monthly and talk about our reflections on the chapters, and where we’d like to go from there.  The group could also help each other to test out ideas, make connections, or see how we feel while explaining what one of our ideas are. If I was kind of flat when I was talking about a possible Odyssey Plan, then it may not be the one to start exploring. On the flip side, if I’m pumped about it, then what a discovery!

Almost 2 years after the original read, I still return to the Odyssey exercise (which has inspired the first episode of Season four!), Some of my other favourites are the energy assessment, and a weekly review of how my week has gone with work, life, play and health. None of these are time consuming, because Designing Your Life has taught me that regardless of whether it’s a vacation, journal exercise or career, I can make my own rules.

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