Top Takeaways | Designing Your Life by Dave Evans & Bill Burnett


''A well-designed life is a marvelous portfolio of experiences, of adventures, of failures that taught you important lessons, of hardships that made you stronger and helped you know yourself better, and of achievements and satisfaction. It’s worth emphasizing that failures and hardships are a part of every life, even the well-designed ones.'' - Bill Burnett, Designing Your Life

Designing Your Life is not merely another cheesy self-help book filled with “life-hacks” and “tricks”, nor is it a career advice book promising millions. It is a strategy, a mindset - a mental shift. After reading this book, my thought process on career planning did a 180 for the better. The synopsis of the book is to take on the mind of a designer when it comes to choosing and building your career. It is written for any age and any phase in life - whether it be a high school graduate trying to choose their career trajectory or a middle-aged professional wanting to switch career paths. Dave Evans and Bill Burnett outline the book in functional and dysfunctional beliefs pointing out the errors in typical thinking and reframing it as a design problem.

Although there are many unique concepts in this book, here are my top three takeaways:

  1. You don’t instinctively know your passion. There are so many books, podcasts, and blogs claiming the keys to a successful, meaningful, and happy life lies in pursuing your passion with a relentless fever.  You know, that passion you have right now, that desire that crowds out all other desires that you instinctively know will fulfill your life? Oh, you don’t have one? There must be something wrong with you. You are boring and ambitionless. This probably sounds familiar. Most likely you do not have a raging passion you can put your finger on and pursue with one hundred percent certainty as your life’s work. If you do, congrats! If you knew from age four you wanted to be a doctor, and are fifteen years into your surgical career and love your life - you are a blessed abnormality! But for the rest of us - it is totally normal not to know your passion. Receiving career advice “pursue your passion” is useless when you don’t know your passion. Designing Your Life covers exactly this topic in detail. As Bill Burnett says, “For most people, passion comes after they try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery - not before. To put it more succinctly: passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause.” You can’t think out your passion. You can’t plan your passion. You need to work and experiment through trial and error. Burnett also elaborates, “You don’t need to know your passion in order to design a life you love. Once you know how to prototype your way forward, you are on the path to discovering the things you truly love, passion or not.”

  2. Prototype, prototype, prototype. This was a game changer for me. “Prototypes should be designed to ask a question and get some data about something you’re interested in. Good prototypes isolate one aspect of a problem and design an experience that allows you to “try out” some version of a potentially interesting future.” Basically, interview as many people as possible in various fields of interest. This will give you a much better sense of the in and outs of a career than reading or googling ever will. Learn more about the specifics of prototyping and my experience here.

  3. BUILD your way forward, don’t THINK your way forward. Although this is a fairly simple and more commonplace concept that some of the others in the book, I put this as one of my top takeaways because it is the fundamental infrastructure to design a life you love. I used to always THINK my way forward - trying to solve my questions in my mind. This only resulted in stress. You can’t think out your career our life plan. You have to try things, fail things, and learn from those in order to truly build a life worth living.

If you are on the fence about reading this book, I highly recommend listening to this podcast where Dave Evans overviews the concepts in Designing Your Life.

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Kayla SanoyComment