Designing Your Life

^z 18th February 2024 at 7:22am

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (2016) is a useful book that raises good questions to ponder as one moves through school and into a career, and perhaps beyond. The authors recommend five "mind-sets" to approach the challenge of finding one's Good:

  • Be Curious
  • Try Stuff
  • Reframe Problems
  • Know It's a Process
  • Ask for Help

(aside: all of those are, in one way or another, aspects of Openness – a dimension in the Mindfulness-Nonattachment-Oneness space of wisdom)

Burnett and Evans begin, in the chapter "Start Where You Are", with a four-parameter "Dashboard" exercise, a personal evaluation of one's:

  • Health — "... being well in mind, body, and spirit—emotional health, physical health, and mental health ..."
  • Work — "... your participation in the great ongoing human adventure on the planet. You may or may not be getting paid for it, but this is the stuff you 'do.' ..."
  • Play — "... what brings you joy purely in the doing..."
  • Love — "... in a wide range of types, from affection to community to eroticism, and from a huge array of sources, from parents to friends to colleagues to lovers .... That sense of connection ..."

The self-assessment begins with Health, "...because, well, when you're not healthy, nothing else in your life works very well. Work, play, and love are built on top of health and represent three areas we think it's important to pay attention to ...".

Designing Your Life then challenges readers to draft a short written essay on their "Workview" and "Lifeview", respectively answering questions:

  • Why work?
  • What's work for?
  • What does work mean?
  • How does it relate to the individual, others, society?
  • What defines good or worthwhile work?
  • What does money have to do with it?
  • What do experience, growth, and fulfillment have to do with it?


  • Why are we here?
  • What is the meaning or purpose of life?
  • What is the relationship between the individual and others?
  • Where do family, country, and the rest of the world fit in?
  • What is good, and what is evil?
  • Is there a higher power, God, or something transcendent, and if so, what impact does this have on your life?
  • What is the role of joy, sorrow, justice, injustice, love, peace, and strife in life?

After thinking about those fundamental issues, Designing Your Life offers advice on résumé-writing and the job application process, and then sketches out a four-step "Life Design" methodology:

  • Gather and create options – brainstorm, prototype, collaborate
  • Narrow down the list – prune, prioritize, review, repeat
  • Choose discerningly – combine cognitive judgment with emotional-spiritual-intuitive assessments
  • Let go and move on – step forward, learn, enjoy, and don't agonize about might-have-beens

The book concludes with "just two more things" beyond the "five mind-sets":

  • Your compass — "... those great big organizing ideas of your Workview and Lifeview ..." – to bring into alignment "... who you are, what you believe, and what you're doing ..."
  • Your practices — "... yoga, meditation, poetry writing/reading, prayer, ..."

(aside: this echoes the Personal Mastery theme in Peter Senge's classic book The Fifth Discipline)

Overall, Designing Your Life is a fast-fun-chatty read, insightful and provocative – perhaps lacking in rigor and poetry, definitely missing an index in the back, and overall valuable.

(cf What Is My Life? (1999-04-30), Bennett on Life (2000-03-19), Self Improvement (2002-07-29), Life As a Work of Art (2008-11-11), Parachute Color (2011-12-06), Work as School (2023-06-02), Eight Life Goals (2023-07-20), Building Is Thinking (2023-08-05), ...) - ^z - 2023-08-08