How to design your life

Do you ever have the feeling of being completely lost or miserable in your current job, assignment, career, or life generally? Then you are not alone. As a solution, most people will look to someone or people who could help them channel their energies in the right direction. That’s the role Bill Burnett and Dave Evans played as educators at Stanford. Their work there is the focus of this episode.

One of their student, Janine,  was a successful lawyer in her mid-30s and seemed to have everything she had wanted. She had a law degree, she had a good marriage, and a career at a prominent law firm, doing important and influential work. But after driving home from work, she would often sit out on her front porch at night and cry. She had the life that she once wanted, so why was she so unhappy?

Another of their student, Elise, decided to quit her job several years ago and fulfill her dream of opening an Italian grocery store with a small cafe inside, just like the ones in Italy. She rented a store, got it renovated, stocked it up with the best Italian food, and then launched it to the public. It was largely successful and the business was making money. It was a dream that had become a reality, but Elise was miserable. She hated the day-to-day experience of managing staff, tracking inventory, and doing all the little things that were needed to keep the business running.

These two ladies aren’t alone. Surveys in the United States, show that two-thirds of workers were unhappy with their jobs, and 15% hate their work. The question one asks is how come so many people end up in a career they despise? And how can we avoid find of selves in such situations?

The first way to avoid getting stuck in a career you hate is to challenge the traditional belief that we all have just one calling in life or one passion that we should follow or else we will end up being miserable and full of regret. The truth is this, there are several different paths that you could take from this point forward, that all lead to a satisfying and fulfilling life.

Once you start seeing and designing a few promising lives that you could live, you need to carefully consider each of those lives, to sample what it could be like before you dive in. The most important principle of designing your life is that you don’t know what you want until you experience it. So we need to find a way to simulate experiences before we commit. Now let’s try to envision at least three possibilities of good lives that you could live over the next five years by imagining walking into a movie theater, and watching them as three different movies.

The first movie is called your Optimized life. In this life, you redesign your current career, so that you spend more time doing tasks that engage and energize you, and less time doing tasks that make you feel disengaged and exhausted. Reflect on your day and identify times when you were excited, focused, and having a good time at work, and write down exactly what you were doing during those times. In this process, you will realize what you love about your job, and the times and things that drain you and make you miserable

By simply discovering when you were enjoying yourself at work, and what causes your energies to rise and fall, you should be able to find a way to craft your job or assignment, so that you are doing more of what you love, and less of what you hate. This could actually save you considering a whole career change and cause you to specialize on your current path.

We need to realize that there are times during our day that we hate and other times when we’re excited and focused and having a good time. To capture these moments. Start a ‘good-time’ journal. At the end of every day, for the next three weeks, write down the times during the day you were completely immersed in what you were doing and felt energized afterward. Try to get as specific as possible.  In journalling, a useful tool is to use is the A-E-I-O-U technique

  1. What Activities were you doing?
  2. What Environment were you in?
  3. Who were you or were you not Interacting with?
  4. What Objects were used and
  5. What Users were you helping, Was there a specific person you were doing work for?

If you complete your good-time journal at the end of every day for the next three weeks, you should start to see a consistent pattern of activities that engage and energize you.

Now imagine a life where you find a way to do more of what engages you over the next five years. Take out a piece of paper and draw out five boxes, representing the next five years. Jot down simple sketches, and basic objects, and keywords to illustrate what those five years may look like to you.

Now, walk into the second movie theater and watch your second life unfold. This is the Ultimate life. It’s the life that you would have if your current career just vanished. Either A.I. took over and your work was being done by robots for much cheaper, or the market suddenly disappeared overnight. What industry would you try to transfer your skills to and do work that engages and energizes you? If you’re an author and write novels for a living? Imagine that suddenly everyone stopped reading novels, and there was no way to make money writing novels anymore. What would you do? Again, use the items in your ‘good time’ journal to create a five-year sketch of life number two.

Now, see your third life unfold over the next five years, as you walk into the third movie theater. In this life, what will be called your Fascinated life, you see yourself doing the thing you’d want to do if money and image were no object. Last year, I decided to suspend my fear of judgment and the fear of putting myself out there and not making money right away and decided to sketch out what my life could look like if I did what fascinated me. This exercise led me into some of the things I am doing today, the life of a mentor, coach, online teacher, and content creator. If I hadn’t looked beyond the fear of judgment, and the fear of not making money, I could be missing out on a life that is deeply fulfilling.

So what would you love to try if money and image were no object, and you’re guaranteed to succeed and make a good living doing what fascinates you? Again, take out a piece of paper, draw five boxes, and sketch out what this life might look like over the next five years.

At some point, you might see a life that you want to pursue. You may feel like committing to this life and going all in, but that could be a big mistake. As in the case of Elise, the Cafe store owner, she erroneously assumed that she would enjoy the day-to-day experience of running a store, she wound up a miserable store owner because she committed before testing her assumption. She should have conducted a prototype conversation.

Prototype conversations are conversations with people who are living the life that you want to live. During a prototype conversation, you ask the person about their life story and get them to relive their experiences. As they are reliving their experiences, you get an idea of what their life is like. This sampling will help verify and validate your life designs. For Elise, she could have walked into a café in another city and asked the manager if she could buy her coffee and learn about her experiences running the cafe. After talking to three satisfied and three dissatisfied Cafe store owners, she would have had a clearer idea of what was involved in running a store and realized that she wasn’t really up for it.

To start a prototype conversation, simply search your extended network of colleagues and friends and look for people who are living lives similar to the one you want to live. Then reach out to them and ask them if they would be willing to share their story with you at their convenience. The information you can learn in one prototype conversation can save you years of misery working in a career you shouldn’t have pursued.

So if you feel stuck in your career, and you want to make a career shift, start by sketching out three lives that you could live over the next five years. build these lives around the critical few things that engage you and energize you at work, then conduct prototype conversations to test questions and assumptions inherent in each of those lives. If you follow these steps, you have a much better chance of defining and pursuing a career or path that you’ll love rather than one you think you will love but end up despising.

· The Stepwise Show

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