What Exactly is a Well-Designed Life?

In Bill Burnett and Dave Evan's 2016 book, Designing Your Life, they provide numerous experiences, adventures, and failures that work to teach us important lessons; these may result in hard situations that will only make us stronger; these may help us know ourselves even better; it's a life of achievements and satisfactions. 

Burnett and Evans put forth the questions about life that we all ask aobut one's meaning and purpose in the world; questions such as: How do I find a job that I like or maybe even love? . . . How do I balance my career with my family? . . . How can I make a different in the world?

We all want answers to these questions. We're just not sure how to go about finding them, or where or how to even begin. And we feel that we don't have the tools to find our way. 

Designers love questions, but what they really love is reframing questions. The reframing for the question "What do I want to be when I grow up?" is "What do I want to grow into?"

This is what Designing Your Life promises to show us - how to find what we want to do now, at any age, and how to answer who we want to grow into tomorrow.

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how to design and buld our way to a new life, a well-designed life that is productive and evolving; a life filled with the constant possiblity of - what could be better? - surprise.

We invite you to check out the book, if you are able, or keep scrolling to learn a few tips and tricks from the book! We also provide an hour workshop on Designing Your Life, pulling from the book and work by Burnett and Evans, that is pre-recorded on our YouTube Channel, or occurs during our Wednesday Way periodically.

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The Five Mindsets of Design Thinking


Curiosity is a prerequisite for designing the life you want to live.

Bias to Action

Designers embrace change. They are not attached to a particular outcome, because they are always focused on what will happen next--not what the final result will be.


In design thinking, we put as much emphasis on problem finding as we do on problem-solving. 

Mindfulness of the Process

Life Design is a journey; let go of the end goal and focus on the process and see what happens next.

Radical Collaboration

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb


Design Words in Layman Terms

Sometimes Design Thinking will use words that either we are not familiar with or maybe understand, but in a different context. To help ensure you understand what they may be talking about, here are a few common words and their definitions, as well as some examples of their use within Design Thinking:

Prototype/Prototyping: "Prototyping the Life Design way is all about asking good questions, outing our hidden biases and assumptions, iterating rapidly, and creating momentum for a path we'd like to try out. A good prototype is something that allows you to "try out" something that is interesting to you." Example: "Prototyping allows you to imagine your future as if you are already living it."

Iterate/Iterative: "perform or utter repeatedly." Example: "An iterative process of building your way forward with a bias to action, often when you have little or no initial information."


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Start Where You Are

Design thinking can help you build your way forward from wherever you are, regardless of the life design problem you are facing. But before you can figure out which direction to head in, you need to know where you are and what design problems you are trying to solve. People waste a lot of time working on the wrong problem. If they are lucky, they will fail miserably quickly and get forced by circumstance into working on better problems. Approach problems with a beginner's mindset, ask the questions, be curious. Awareness and curiosity are the design mindsets you need to begin building your way forward. You can't know where you are going until you know where you are.

Building a Compass

Life design is a way for you to figure out your own answers to questions like, "why am i hear?" and "what am i doing?" (and maybe even "why does it matter?"). To build a compass, you need to understand your workview and your lifeview/ You don't have to have it all figured out for the rest of your life; you just have to create the compass for what life is about for your right now. Reframe the thought process that "I should know where I am going!" into "I won't always know where I'm going - but I can always know whether I'm going in the right direction."




Wayfinding is the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don't actually know your destination. Since there's no one destination in life, you can't put your goal into your GPS and get the turn-by-turn directions for how to get there. What you cando is pay attention to the clues in front of you, and make your best way forward with the tools you have at hand. When you learn what activities reliably engage you, you're discovering and articulating something that can be very helpful in your life design work. Write down when you are and aren't engaged and energized and it will help you pay attention to what you're doing and discover what's working. All of us are motivated by different kinds of work activities. Your job is to figure out which ones motivate you - with as much specificity as you can. 

Gettung Unstuck

One thing designers know that is very important is that you never go with your first idea. Designers know that when you choose from lots of options you choose better. Many people find themselves stuck trying to make their first idea work. Sometimes you may feel out of options, but in reality, you likely didn't come up with a lot of real options in the first place. Grasping whatever might be in reach is not design thinking, and will likely never result in long-term satisfaction. Another issue with being stuck is you can't know what you want until you know what you might want, so you are going to have to generate a lot of ideas and possibilities. All of us have more than one life in us. And if you accept this idea - that there are multiple great designs for your life, though you'll only still get to live one - it is rather liberating. There are many lives you could live happily and productively (no matter how many years old you are), and there are lots of different paths you could take to live each of those productive, amazingly different lives. Expanding your thibnking improves your ability to ideate and allows for more innovation. 


Designing Your Lives

The life you are living is one of many lives you will live. If the life you are currently living feels a bit off, don't worry; life design gives you endless mulligans. Often times, where people go wrong is thinking they just need to come up with a plan for their lives and it will be smooth sailing. If only they make the right choice, they will have ablueprint for who they will be, what they will do, and how they will live. You need to reframe beyond the thought that you need to figure out your best possible life, make a plan, and then execute it. Reframe that thought process to "there are multiple great lives (and plans) within me, and I get to choose which one to build my way forward to next." We can only live out one life at a time, but we want to ideate multiple variations in order to choose creatively and generatively. This brings us to a new and wonderful tool, Odyssey plans. These are sketches of possiblities that can animate your imagination and help you choose which wayfinding direction you will actually take to start prototyping and living into next. To do this, you create three very different plans for the next five years of your life. The first one is the thing you do or what you've already got in mind. The second is that thing you'd do if thing one were suddenly gone. The third live is the thing you'd do or the life you'd live if money or image were no object. Don't get stuck. Don't overthink it. But do really do it. For a helpful handout, including additional steps on how to do an Odyssey plan, click the button below.



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How Not to Get a Job

Designing Your Dream Job


Choosing Happiness

Failure Immunity


Building a Team

A Well-Designed Life


Much of the content of this webpage comes directly from the Designing Your Life book.

Burnett, W., & Evans, D. J. (2021). Designing your life: how to build a well-lived, joyful life. Alfred A. Knopf.