Designing Your Life

I love friends who recommend me books that help me focus on self-growth and personal development. One such book that was recommended to me last year was Designing Your Life: Build a life that works for you, which is authored by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Burnett is the Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford University and has worked on award-winning design projects that include Apple PowerBooks to Star Wars action figures. Evans is the Co-Director of the Stanford Life Design Lab and has professional degrees in Mechanical Engineering.

Both Burnett and Evans have created the very successful Life Design course, in which students enroll and leave a life that’s been designed to bring out the full human potential. ¬†With the huge success of the Life Design, Burnett and Evans have shared their guiding principles in the book for the rest of the world to benefit from.

So what is all the brouhaha about?

Before anything, the authors talk about in the introduction about that one question every single child is asked while growing up: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” This multi-million dollar question evokes a wide range of answers- doctors, lawyers, engineer and so on. In their research, they found that in the United States, only 27% of graduates end up working in jobs related to their majors. The rest of them branch out into unrelated fields.

Further research has shown that two-thirds of workers in the United States are unhappy in their job. ¬†They falsely believe that in order to be successful, they need to be happy. The authors argue that “true happiness comes from designing a life that works for you.”

To those who are at career end, or retiring, may falsely convince themselves that it’s too late to have a career change and nothing can be done with their lives. That’s far from the truth, for the authors are convinced that “it’s never too late to design a life you love.”

It is this majority that the book is aimed towards: to help graduates, mid-career professionals and retirees to design a life that works for them (yes, you read that right, retirees are included too!) They want people to stop saying to themselves “why the hell am I doing this?” and instead want people to start loving their lives instead.

Both the authors are inherently designers (and this is where I am buying this as I am a designer myself too!), and the basic premise of a designer is to solve a problem, as every design was developed because of a problem (for example, the iPod came out because it was problematic to carry around a chunky suitcase of CD!). There is a difference between an Engineering Problem and a Design Problem, and the book focuses on the Design element. In short, you will be focused on a creating a life which involves brainstorming, trying crazy stuff, improvisation, and to keep building your way forward until you come up with something that works.

“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.”

There is one main element of a Designer: they love questions. However, what they REALLY love is reframing, which I thought was the coolest aspect of this book. Interspersed throughout the book are various Dysfunctional Belief, which is what we all believe in, and alongside is the Reframe section, which explains how we need to reframe our existing beliefs. A reframe is “when we take new information about the problem, restate our point of view, and start thinking and prototyping again.” In order to reframe, it’s also important to treat your problems by thinking of the people and thinking with empathy.

By allowing yourself to reframe the initial question of “What you want to be when you grow up” into “Life is all about growth and change- it’s not static” can help you design your life according to your own needs.

Reframe 1Reframe

The book helps you understand where you are standing in life by asking you to undergo a few things with regards to your thinking pattern (the authors say that hard work needs to be put in in order to achieve that successful change!):

  1. Be Curious: this makes everything new and leads you to circumstances you wouldn’t have thought you would end up in!
  2. Try Stuff: Test new things. Try out new activities. Don’t restrict yourself. Embrace change.
  3. Reframe Problems: the key method to get “unstuck!”
  4. Know It’s a Process: important to understand life can get messy and mistakes will be made– the point is to let go off mistakes and keep moving forward.
  5. Ask for Help: the most important part of Life Design is that you cannot do all of this on your own- you will need a team or as the book says a “radical collaboration!”

At the end of the day, the ultimate purpose of the book is to help you give a smart and meaningful answer next time someone asks you “how’s it going?” Instead of just saying “good,” we should be able to answer with much more about well your life is going and why.

The book is split up into the following chapters:


At the end of each chapter, there is a Try Stuff page, which basically asks the reader to think back to what they read and how to apply to your practical life. You may be asked to write down a journal entry or make a list. This may seem cumbersome, but once you start work on it, it can do wonders.

IMG_4337 (1)

Throughout the book, there are numerous real-life examples which prove to be a huge benefit as we can understand the principles being led by example. This serves as a great way to connect with the readers and to help them comprehend what change can do to a person.

An example in a book to help you understand the concept being explained

The authors are clear from the beginning that in order to reap the maximum success from this Life Design course, one needs to put in their effort, which may seem like hard work. Having said that, it has been my own personal experience of the positive results I have seen in my own life of creating a life that I would love to live! That feeling of being unstuck in your life is one of the most liberating feeling ever!

Rear Cover

Do check out the website Design Your Life for further information and resources.

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