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Design Thinking in Career & Life

Did you know only 27% of college grads end up in a career related to their major? And that in the United States, two thirds of workers are unhappy with their jobs? This research and more insights are shared in The New York Times best seller Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, who challenge the way we think about planning for career and life. Burnett and Evans define a well-designed life as one that is “generative-constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.”

Surprise!? That can be exciting (maybe overwhelming?) because there are so many possibilities. With a positive reframe, remind yourself that there is not a “right” or a “wrong” career or life choice. That’s right, you can’t make the “wrong decision.” Everything you decide to try is part of prototyping and research in discovering what energizes you and helps you feel in the flow. You can design many alternate lives and all of them can lead to fulfillment. “There are many designs for your life, all filled with hope for the kind of creative and unfolding reality that makes life worth living into.”

The authors challenge us to approach life design with these mindsets:

  1. Be curious

  2. Try stuff

  3. Reframe problems

  4. Know it’s a process

They share some great exercises to help you be reflective, open to ideation, and connect dots to discover your personal preferences and values. Here are three that I like.

“The Good Time Journal” (3 weeks): daily, log activities that are engaging and energizing and the ones that are not. Reflect on what you log: any surprises or insights?

Mind Mapping (5 minutes): Using free association of words to open up space and come up with new ideas.

Odyssey Plans: Create three alternative 5-year plans (Life 1 around “That thing you do” – the life you’re already planning for; Life 2 “That Thing You’d Do if Thing One Were Suddenly Gone;” and Life 3 “The Thing You’d Do or the Life You’d Live if Money or Image were No Object”) and give each alternative a descriptive six-word title along with three questions that come up with each version.

These are pretty great, right? The part of thinking about the future is sometimes the hardest for people. You might be tempted to just jump into what you think you “should” do or go with the path you are already on. Yet, the life design process of exploring, prototyping and reflecting can unlock hidden gems of insight within that give you clues into what you really want and how to prepare to get there.

Looking for other exercises in designing your life? Check out the Designing Your Life website.

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