Book Review #19 - Designing Your Life

We can live a multi-dimensional life, and you can create that through experimentation, exploration and design. Design your life tries to debunk myths of a singular passion, and teaches practical steps towards designing a life you love and enjoy.

In the last few months, it has been difficult for me to read. From losing my kindle on a flight to struggling with reading on my mobile phone, I noticed how much I rely on my kindle to sustain my reading habit. Designing Your Life by William Burnett was a perfect comeback to get me going again.

I stumbled on this book through a group I belong to, and the title immediately caught my attention. As I read, I found myself taking notes, taking pauses to let a concept sink, and having discussions that challenged my views. I hold unconventional views on our perception of passion, and the book validates a lot of my thinking while tackling several misconceptions about how we view passion and self- fulfillment.

Far too many of us have bought into the narrative that there is a singular path to living a life of purpose. Many of us have a picture of what that looks like in our heads. It is tied to a specific profession or vocational path. We carry this misconception and through confirmation bias continue to reinforce the notion that our options towards living a fulfilling life are limited and specific. We solidify in our minds, “what we are good at”, and “what will make us happy”, not leaving room for the range of the unknown, for that which we may be great at but we simply don’t know we don’t know.

This book aims to use design thinking to help professionals explore the path that utilizes their deepest competencies and passions, and how this intersects with a need in the world. It aims to show that you can through iteration, exploration and deliberate design create a space for you in the world that uses the full range of your experiences towards giving value.

Many of us do what we do today by sheer chance. When you ask a six-year-old, what do you want to be when you grow up? That answer typically depends on what they think is possible at that time. This is limited not only by their worldview but also by the limitations of time. By the time they do grow up, the world is likely to have dramatically changed. As we grow and continue to answer that question, our choices continue to be shaped by a combination of what we know, what we think we would be good at, and what we think is beneficial at the time. Other times, and frequently too we don't decide what we eventually become. We make several passive decisions that shape our eventual reality.

I learned early on that it is possible to be good at something you don’t particularly love, and what this book aims to teach is a strategy with which you can both explore and design a life that feels most you. It spotlights certain deep misconceptions about how we view our life’s purpose and our calling. It highlights how prohibitive these perceptions can be. It suggests practical steps towards finding what works for you, understanding that it looks very different from one person to the next.

Here are a few nuggets from the book

Passion Comes After Exploration: We are taught by the world that our passion is innate. You know it, deep in your gut and all you need to do is create it in your world and you will be happy. The book takes a reverse approach. It believes that exploration precedes passion. We are limited in our understanding of the world, and how that fits with what we are good at, enjoy, and creates value. The book encourages a world of exploration towards actually doing what you think you will love, to confirm that you indeed will love it. Most of the time, our perception of a vocation is often very different from what it is.

Passion isn’t Singular: There is no one thing you’re passionate about that gives you purpose. This perception is the culprit for many disappointments. Sometimes, we are so sure we would love a thing and after much angst, find the opportunity to do it. Then we realize we either don’t like it as much as we thought, or there are other passions we think are a better fit. The book takes a more experimental approach towards finding your passion and exploring in a safe, non-committal way till you are certain.

The First Idea isn't the Best: Sometimes we are stuck on our initial idea of what we think we love. Like all first ideas, it is often overly simplified. The book suggests prototyping your potential lives to see how it works for you before deciding that is your “passion”. I’ve always believed that as humans we are multi-dimensional. Education started as a multi-dimensional discipline and over time became specialized and that created a world where people were fit into a box too early. What you love can express itself in ways you might not even be able to imagine. Designing your life helps you find out just how wide and deep that spectrum could go, and helps you choose which one to hone in on.

Who You Are Is More Important Than What You Like To Do: Just because you love to sing doesn’t mean you’re meant to be a singer. This linear thinking is the culprit of many disappointments. Before you hone in on what you like to do, the true north of any effective design is in understanding the “why”. Why do you do the things you do? Strong self-awareness and understanding are important in designing your life. Knowing who you are will help you better able to predict not so obvious areas of interest that you could then prototype to assess if you could do that long term or not. There are many reasons why you might like a thing. It is more important to understand why than to focus on the thing you like.

The book has several exercises to help you find out what comes naturally to you, that helps you play towards your strengths in a way that optimizes your experiences, skills, and how they fit with the world to deliver value.

The book has a clear bias towards job-hunting in the digital world. This might not be the reality in many areas in the world, so it does get a little US-centric. It makes sense, as the author is a Stanford Alumni. Irrespective, the true value of this book - like any book is in its application to your daily life and making the lessons real to you through experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I recommend it.

Buy On Amazon Kindle Here

So, what are you reading?


Maria Ro

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