Review of the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
I have a huge crush on this book. Or maybe my crush is on its authors. Either way, I’m smitten.
I’m not exaggerating or being dramatic (okay, I am, but just a little). I’m swooning because this book outlines a process for career exploration that offers a realistic view of finding the overlap in the Venn Diagram between fulfillment and money. There’s a structure and pathway here that goes beyond checklists and someone else’s categorization of work, and it guides people to crafting a life and a career that suits them. It succeeds for so many reasons, but I’ll highlight three here.
It Busts Longstanding Career Myths
Bill Burnett and Dave Evans point out that all of us operate under guiding principles that, if we looked closely at them, would fall apart. We cling to them because – well, for many reasons, but mainly because we’ve never thought to name them and to look deeply at them. Burnett and Evans call these guiding principles “dysfunctional beliefs” and they offer affirming reframes. Some examples include:
- 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 word for you.
- Dysfunctional Belief: My dream job is out there waiting.
- Reframe: You design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it.
- Dysfunctional Belief: I finished designing my life; the hard work is done, and everything will be great.
- Reframe: You never finish designing your life – life is joyous and never-ending design project of building your way forward.
In my work with career explorers, I’ve found that people earnestly try to find their way forward, and when they encounter stumbling blocks, they tend to see themselves as deficient rather than questioning the process or the structure that they’re using to overlay the process. This book offers a wonderful avenue to recognizing when we’ve gotten off track, and – more importantly – a route back to ourselves and the way forward.
It Doesn’t Depend on Passion – In Fact, It Supports People in Curating New Curiosities Within Themselves
Raise your hand if you’ve had enough of the “what’s your passion” question. That question irritates me because, as Burnett and Evans point out, only 20% of Americans can definitively answer that question. What about the rest of us?! Well, this book points the way for the rest of us.
The book begins with an assessment of where you are in your life, using the categories work, play, love, and health, and it also offers instructions for writing first a lifeview reflection and then a workview reflection (simple questions in the writing prompts, and at the same time, very deep), followed by an integration of the two. These activities allow strong insights to surface, and they create a foundation to use for the remainder of the book’s exercises.
It Builds a Solid Foundation, One Based on Probes and Exploration, Not Leaps
I’ve heard from so many clients about their tidy plans that looked so nice wrapped up with a bow. The logical extension of an interest into a career that then fell flat, but because it looked right from the outside – it had all the right ingredients, it was super tough to admit that it didn’t fit. And suddenly, they wake up and it’s 10 or even 20 years later, and they’ve got mortgages and looming college tuition bills – no way can they switch now. (This is an example of a dysfunctional belief, btw).
Using the design process outlined in the book, readers prototype their possible paths so that they have data to support their choices before they’re too far down a path to make a pivot. That’s sustainability right there!
I’m so enamored of this book that I’ve created a six-week group that takes a deep dive into the book and completes the activities with the support of a like-minded community. Discover more about the group on my Career Exploration page.