I picked up Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans because I want to know how to find a career I love. Here’s my review.
I‘ve celebrated quite a few birthdays here on Driftyness. There was my 24th, which was about trying to value the slow process of building; and my 25th, which focused on how I wanted the last half of my 20s to be. And with my 26th birthday around the corner, I’m starting to think about focus.
I’ve spent time sketching out the big picture of what I want my life to be like, but now it feels time to drill down and start filling out the smaller details. It’s time to focus on building.
A quick review of my life tells me that life hasn’t gone the way I intended (I thought I’d be a young, sexy doctor by now) and I’ve learned to be more flexible with my plans. Instead of a bunch of concrete milestones, what I want for myself at 26 is to have a sense of direction.
One of the areas in my life that needs direction the most is my career. I’ve changed my career plans, done things to please others, worked for the money, and took on jobs because they seemed like something I ought to be doing even though I didn’t know how they would bring me closer to what I wanted. Now that I’m getting close to graduation, I don’t want to keep doing that.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what exactly I’d do instead.
I started reading Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans to help me come up with answers. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
About the book
The quick and dirty summary of Designing Your Life is that it’s geared towards helping people find a career that brings them joy. It does this by teaching people how to apply design thinking to their work lives, and it can be applied to people who are looking for a new career as well as people who just want to get more enjoyment out of the career they already have. Design thinking follows a cycle of:
- empathizing (understanding people and their problems)
- defining the problem
- ideating (coming up with ideas)
- prototyping (building quick, less-costly versions of your ideas)
- testing (seeing how these ideas actually work out)
If you work in a setting that’s been hit by the design thinking craze, you’re probably rolling your eyes or getting really excited right now (it’s ok, I did both). But my own $0.02 is that this is a great approach to building our work lives. It lets us take into account who we are as people when we make decisions. It also helps us avoid committing to things without having a real sense of whether or not we’d like them.
The book also involves actual activities, which if I’m honest, are both exciting and exhausting. The questions you have to ask yourself are hard.
Here’s what I’ve learned from the book so far.
I’ve been trying to solve the wrong career problem
I really started thinking about my career when it was getting time to apply for university. What was I going to do with my life? I could barely make it to class on time, but somehow I had to make this giant decision about the rest of my life. Brilliant.
I really agonized over it in my first year of university. Why was I going to do all this homework (which I quietly hated) for four years? I didn’t have an answer, so I started off thinking about what kind of life I wanted to have. What would make me happy? It was a pretty good problem to try and solve. I came up with things like:
- being connected to a community
- helping others
- the ability to control my time
When I decided that being a doctor would give me a life I was happy with, I unknowingly changed my problem from trying to be happy to trying to be a doctor. And since I was no longer trying to solve the problem of having a happy life, I predictably became unhappy.
The thing I like about this book is that it comes out swinging with a lesson that took me several years and many failures to learn: there are several paths to a happy life.
One more time for the people in the back (and on Pinterest):
When I was convinced that happiness and being a doctor were inextricably linked, it meant that in my mind, there was only one way to be happy. It also meant that being a neurotic pre-med became a lot more stressful than it already was because the stakes were so high. Wouldn’t you feel stressed if failure meant that you would languish in misery for 40 years, retire, and then die?
I’ve since moved onto trying to solve other problems, like how can I make enough money to live the life I want? Or, what can I do with my degree? In doing so, I’ve realized that I need to get back to my original problem of how to be happy because I’m still missing the mark. And this time, I really need to drill down and figure out what happiness involves from a career perspective instead of diving head-first into the first solution that sounds good.
I’m not as happy as I thought
Early on, Designing Your Life has an activity where we gauge how we feel we’re doing in different areas of our lives. Mine looked like this:
- Health – 25%
- Work – 25%
- Play – 10%
- Love – 10-30%
I try really hard not to dwell on negative things, to find something to be grateful for on a regular basis, to look for silver linings. So what’s this, then?
In my defense it was the end of a difficult semester and I was tired, but I also realized that my life lacks balance. A wise person (ok, it was a therapist) told me once that energy is like a bank where we make deposits and withdrawals. Therefore, we need to make deposits so that we can have energy available for withdrawing.
Just thinking positively isn’t enough. I have to actually do things that energize me.
The second part of this activity involved identifying possible solutions. Here are some of mine.
Health (mind, body, spirit)
- sleep 7-8 hours every night
- attend church more often
- go to the library or a coffee shop instead of trying to force myself to work from home
- stop overcommitting to things
- keep an eye out for free/cheap events and actually go
- try to do something fun after work before going home
- spend time with uplifting friends
- keep trying to date, but back off when I’m feeling overwhelmed
What I took from this is that happiness in my career isn’t just related to work. It’s a holistic thing where I have to make sure I’m doing okay in all areas of my life. I don’t need to wait until I’m perfectly happy with my work life to improve other areas, either. I can start working on those now.
I’ll continue sharing my findings from Designing Your Life in future posts, but until then, tell me:
How would you gauge yourself in health, work, play, and love? What’s going well? What needs improvement?
If you’re interested in reading Designing Your Life, you can find it on Amazon (not an affiliate link). Check your local library too! If you’re reading the book or doing the course and want to share your findings with me, leave a comment below or contact me. I’d love to see what you’re learning!
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