Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Designing Your Life

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Designing Your Life Summary

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Designing Your Life: Build the Perfect Career, Step by Step, also known as Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You, is a self-help and personal development book by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. First published in 2016, the book aims to help readers decide what they want from their lives and careers, and how to get it. It’s a New York Times best seller and has received numerous positive reviews. A mechanical engineer, Burnett is the executive director of the Design Program at Stanford University. Evans is a lecturer for Stanford’s Product Design Program, and he’s also the cofounder of Electronic Arts.

The book is based around the Life Design course jointly devised by Burnett and Evans. The authors base their book around one key principle: you can design your own life in the same way you design new consumer products. Although we can apply the principles in the book to all areas of our lives, the focus is on careers, because this is what we spend a large amount of our time engaged in.

We ultimately have a choice when it comes to work. It can be stimulating and meaningful, or it can be miserable and exhausting. When work is awful and fails to fulfill us, it is a product that isn’t working. But when work is a positive experience, it’s a product that works for us and helps us. Although these may seem like odd comparisons at first glance, Burnett and Evans spend the rest of the book explaining how they make sense.

At some point, we’re all asked what we want to be when we grow up. The problem is that most of us don’t have a clear answer, or we don’t spend the time we should working toward that goal. Sometimes, setbacks make us feel like we can’t have our ideal job and we end up settling. These mindsets are precisely the ones that Burnett and Evans encourage us to challenge.

Designing Your Life introduces a key concept known as “design thinking.” Readers are asked to compare themselves to designers. Designers love to solve problems and create innovative ways to get things done. Unlike most of us, designers don’t have a single right solution in mind. They try out different methods and solutions until they find one that sticks. This is the same approach we should use to design our own lives.

Burnett and Evans use multiple examples to show what they mean by design thinking. One such example is Apple and the built-in mouse. Before Apple, we didn’t have laptops as we know them today, and so designers had to test, throw away, and tweak solutions until they hit the right one. This process is more like finding a career than it might initially appear.

Ultimately, there’s no one right career for any of us. Instead, there are numerous possibilities. We limit ourselves by looking for this supposed perfect job that most likely doesn’t exist. When we don’t find this job, it’s easy to become disheartened and unmotivated. What we must do is embrace the many different opportunities that are open to us. However, there are steps we must take before we’re ready to find these opportunities.

First, we should acknowledge where we are right now. Then, we must decide where we want to be. This is the goal, but there’s more than one way of getting there. We must remember that there’s no one right way. It’s OK to change course and try something new if one path doesn’t work for us. This is not failure—it’s growth.

Designing Your Life encourages us to “prototype” possible careers. We should learn as much as we can about our options and spend time working in different roles. This is how we learn what does and does not work for us. We can then take these results and apply them to our next job or job search.

People can be put off by this process because it takes time and there’s no clear answer. There’s no right amount of time to spend trying out different jobs. That’s why it’s so important to trust in the process and know that, just as designers don’t create products overnight, we can’t design our lives overnight.

Burnett and Evans encourage readers to adopt five traits. We must be curious and see opportunities in everything. We should try everything out and change our perspectives when we must. We need to let go of our need for control and perfection, and trust in the journey. Finally, we should always ask for help when we need it, because design is nothing if not a collaborative effort.

Finally, Designing Your Life encourages us to acknowledge and embrace our mistakes, because they’re part of our life journey. We get closer to our ideal life once we realize what doesn’t work and what we don’t want. Instead of viewing mistakes as failures, we should see them as growth opportunities. These are mistakes that, hopefully, we won’t need to make again. If we keep making the same mistakes, this shows us where we need to grow and improve. By hiding from our weaknesses, we deny ourselves the chance to grow and live the life we want.