In Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show how design thinking can help individuals create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling or in their words, a well-lived and joyful life. In their view, 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.” It is also “a life in which who you are, what you believe, and what you do all line up together.”

Based on their popular class of the same name at Stanford University, Designing Your Life describes the design thinking process as it is applied to designing one’s life which starts where one is and moves to building a compass, wayfinding, getting unstuck, design your lives, prototyping, designing your dream job, choosing happiness, failure immunity and building a team. Five important mind-sets to learn to design one’s life are curiosity, bias to action, reframing, awareness, and radical collaboration.

Key in their approach is that one needs to think like a designer when doing life design. Designers don’t think their way forward. They build their way forward. Designing Your Life focuses on jobs and careers as a major part of life. It also considers areas like health, work, play, and love as one needs to understand how work fits into the rest of one’s life to be able to design one’s work. “A well-designed life is supported by a healthy body, and engaged mind, and often, though not always, some form of spiritual practice” that is “based on a belief in something bigger than ourselves,” they also suggest.

Walking through the Design Your Life process, they offer useful reframing (RF) of what they call dysfunctional beliefs (DB) such as:

  1. DB: Your degree determines your career. RF: Three-quarters of all college grads don’t end up working in a career related to their majors.
  2. DB: If you are successful, you will be happy. RF: True happiness comes from designing a life that works for you.
  3. DB: It’s too late. RF: It’s never too late to design a life you love.
  4. DB: I should already know where I am going. RF: You can’t know where you are going until you know where you are.
  5. DB: I should know where I’m going. RF: I won’t always know where I’m going – but I can always know whether I’m going in the right direction.
  6. DB: Work is not supposed to be enjoyable; that’s why they call it work. RF: Enjoyment is a guide to finding the right work for you.
  7. DB: I’m stuck. RF: I’m never stuck, because I can always generate a lot of ideas.
  8. DB: I have to find the one right idea. RF: I need a lot of ideas so that I can explore any number of possibilities for my future.
  9. DB: I need to figure out my best possible life, make a plan, then execute it. RF: There are multiple great lives (and plans) within me, and I get to choose which one to build my way forward to next.
  10. DB: If I comprehensively research the best data for all aspects of my plan, I’ll be fine. RF: I should build prototypes to explore questions about my alternatives.
  11. DB: You should focus on your need to find a job. RF: You should focus on the hiring manager’s need to find the right person.
  12. DB: My dream job is out there waiting. RF: You design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it.
  13. DB: Networking is just hustling people – it’s slimy. RF: Networking is just asking for directions.
  14. DB: I am looking for a job. RF: I am pursuing a number of offers.
  15. DB: To be happy, I have to make the right choice. RF: There is no right choice – only good choosing.
  16. DB: Happiness is having it all. RF: Happiness is letting go of what you don’t need.
  17. DB: We judge our life by the outcome. RF: Life is a process, not an outcome.
  18. DB: Life is a finite game, with winners and losers. RF: Life is an infinite game, with no winners or losers.
  19. DB: It’s my life, I have to design it myself. RF: You live and design your life in collaboration with others.
  20. DB: I finished designing my life; the hard work is done, and everything will be great. RF: You never finish designing your life – life is a joyous and never-ending design project of building your way forward.

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