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Designing Your Life: Week One

“You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it, would you?” say the authors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans in Designing your Life, “But we do this all the time with jobs and life changes. It’s crazy, when you think about it.”

For the past few weeks, we’ve been working through Designing Your Life. The authors, former Silicon Valley innovators, take a design approach to career change. We’re not that good at working out what well enjoy just by thinking about it, they say, and it’s unlikely that a psychometric test will lead to or dream job. Instead: Designers don’t think their way forward, they build that forward.

In our first week, we spent some time looking at the five components of design thinking: Being curious, trying stuff, reframing problems, knowing it’s a process and asking for help.

Being curious: This is all about exploring: investigating things that we think might be interesting

What are some of the things that you could do to become more curious? Is there a time in your past that you can think of when you were curious about something, and it led somewhere? What holds us back from being more curious? And is there anything that you are curious about at the moment that you could investigate?

Trying stuff: Having a bias to action. Instead of sitting and pondering what might be interesting, or doing another personality quiz, try things out in the real world, testing idea after idea until we find what resonates with us.

What are some of the new things that you have tried in the past? How did it feel? What happened? Were you discouraged if it didn’t work out the first time?

Reframing problems: The authors focus a lot on reframing dysfunctional beliefs: beliefs that are strongly held, but not necessarily correct, and can keep us stuck. These include:

  • Dysfunctional belief: Your degree determines your career

  • Reframe: ¾ of all graduates end up working in a career unrelated to their degree


  • Dysfunctional belief: “Work is not supposed to be enjoyable, that’s why they call it work

  • Reframe: “Enjoyment is a guide to finding the right work for you”


  • “What do you want to be when you grow up

  • Reframe: who or what do you want to grow into – ie. Life is not static, and it’s not about answering the question once and for all time

Knowing it’s a process: Designing our lives, the authors say, is a journey, not a one off decision. Often, when we start investigating and trying things out, one thing leads to another and we could end up somewhere very different to where we started

How much pressure have you been putting on yourself to make a decision? Can you think of other areas of life where you have had to invest in a process? Was it successful?

Asking for help: In the same way that a designer cannot create the iPhone alone, you don’t have to create your life by yourself. Your best ideas are going to come from other people – from mentors, a supportive community. And that’s the idea behind Career Change Book Club.

The other thing that the authors debunk is the dysfunctional belief that we just need to discover what we are passionate about and everything will fall into place. Actually, they say, around 80% of people don’t really have one thing that they are passionate about – which means that the advice of “follow your passion” doesn’t work for most people. Passion generally comes after trying something, liking it and getting good at it, rather than as the result of lengthy soul searching. As someone who can’t point to an over-riding life passion, I find that very encouraging! Instead they say that the best approach is to try different things and see what resonates. And that’s the philosophy behind the book

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