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Design Your Life

Design your life

Try This!

It's pretty hard as it is to write a good life story. But sometimes, certain beliefs creep in that makes this all the more difficult. Do these sound familiar?

Find you passion and pursue it!


Sounds pretty good eh? But we saw in the "Learning from Others" examples that it is not useful to think about "finding" your passion. Stanford's research from thousands of interviews back this up. More than 80% of people do not know what their passion is.

You should know by now what you want. You should start a family by age X, buy a house and car by age Y, have enough retirement funds by age Z.

We know this is not true. Empirically, Vera Wang, Julia Child, Colonel Sanders and many others found their purpose and success only in later in life. But more importantly, this is such an unconstructive way of thinking about your life. How can this possibly help you? Sometimes, some of us just need to take a longer time to search and experience. Sometimes, life just isn't smooth sailing. Sometimes, luck might not smile on some of us. But don't give up on yourself for random societal norms -  you are unique and there can only be one you! Or as Bill Burnett shares:


"You are where you are. Start from where you are. You’re not late for anything. Don't should on yourself!"


Be the best version of yourself you can be


The catch here is the assumption that there is a single "best" version of you.

Try this thought experiment. Imagine yourself being able to live multiple lives. Is there really only one path you can take that is meaningful and makes you satisfied or happy? Or several? I can personally think of a few myself. I would love to be a teacher in one life. While I'm not good enough to play at the highest level, I would love to be a rugby pundit in another live. And also a writer. And an entrepreneur. And a ethologist. And a neuroscientist. Stanford has also done research in this area. For most of us, there between 7-8 possible lives which would be interesting and meaningful for us on average. Each of these options will be a life well led. Why do we need to determine which one is exactly the best? Besides, is there anyway to know?

Again, Bill Burnett shares:


  “The unattainable best is the enemy of all the available betters”

Ok great, so this Burnett fellow has some wisecracks for what not to do. But what is it that we can do to "Design a Better Life"?

Burnett's office sees this as a 5 part design process. The first 2 parts - 1) connecting the dots between who you are, what you believe, and what you do; and 2) avoiding gravity problems are pretty generic, so I'll leave you to find out more via the video or the online module (link below). 

The latter 3 parts are immediately actionable and make a lot of sense to me. These are:

  • Ideation - coming up with possibilities. Think of  3 possible lives that you want to live. There is some science behind why "3" lives. 2 seems to limit and you might simply pick the least bad option. More than 3 and you might face choice paralysis, and not be able to pick eventually. If you're stuck Burnett suggests these 3 options:

    • Life 1: your current life and it goes the best it can be. You do well in the job you’re currently at - is this a  life you want to lead?

    • Life 2: What you are most likely to do if Life 1 becomes possible, for example, your job was replaced by AI. What sort of life would you lead?

    • Life 3: What’s your wildcard plan? What would you do if you had enough money and image was not a problem ( you didn’t care what other people thought). Despite your education or in spite of it, you might want to be a professor or you might want to study butterflies or be a bartender in Bali. What is your wildcard life?

Often, Life 2 and Life 3 are things that people leave behind in life because we get caught up by societal norms and "busyness". You don't need to tell anyone about your choices at this point, so take the chance to be honest with yourself - ask yourself why is it that these are the lives you have picked. 

  • Prototype: Prototyping here involves several parts.

    • The first is to prototype conversations There must be someone out there that has been living the life you are in interested in for many years. Someone else is doing that something else which you are interested in. Find the people who are living your future today, and hear about their stories. What does it really take? What does it really give you? What's the sort person you need to become to live this life? Does it still resonate with you?

    • The second is to prototype experience. Try doing something small in the lives you have identified in ideation and still resonated after your prototype conversation. Felt experience is more important than hypothesising in your brain.

  • And finally, choose. Bear in mind what we went through earlier - don't let the unattainable best be the enemy of attainable betters. Don't kill yourself with the worry that there is one correct answer. If you are worried about committing your entire life to this decision, set a timeline for yourself to try it out. And actually prioritise trying it out. 


In short, Get curious. Talk to people, Try stuff.

- You can find more information at Stanford's Life Design website

- On their resources page, you can sign for an online module. This is a simple, "at your own pace" module, which guides through the 5 step process with exercises and resources. 

- You can also visit their YouTube Channel

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