Written by Julia Lang. Published on May 11, 2020. Last updated: May 24, 2021.
Life Design is a creative, iterative, human-centered problem-solving methodology that can be applied to navigate change and transition throughout life.
Drawing from the fields of career education, psychology, and design thinking, life design skills can be applied again and again as individuals navigate change and transition throughout life.
We teach life design as a tool for students to navigate their transition from college to the working world, but life design can be applied to any arena you wish to explore and change in life.
We developed this curriculum after conducting research on best practices and current trends in innovative career development curricula.
While our work will continue to evolve every semester, the COVID-19 pandemic and Summer 2020 protests for racial justice inspired a year of inquiry and deep reflective work. We are now excited to release a new life design curriculum. This new curriculum includes specific sections for First-generation college students, Exploratory students, and First-year student-athletes (Taylor Your Tulane course for first-year students).
- The Call for Changemaking Life Design
- Life Design in Higher Education.
- The Ten Frameworks.
- Framework 1. Radically accept where you are in the journey.
- Framework 2. Forget finding your passion; Seek to understand yourself.
- Framework 3. Define what matters to you.
- Framework 4. Brainstorm many possible pathways.
- Framework 5. Build a network through empathizing and learning from others.
- Framework 6. Design your story + your personal brand.
- Framework 7. Try it out. Test your ideas and assumptions in the real world.
- Framework 8. Be flexible. Adapt your plan based on what you learn.
- Framework 9. Focus on who you are evolving into, not one static future career
- Framework 10. Believe your life is worth designing.
Here at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking, our approach to life design is focused on changemaking, the belief that individuals in any position can work toward positive social change.
1. We believe the future of the workforce involves teaching students to tackle big issues in the world, helping them break out of traditional norms, and finding work that is uniquely suited to their personalities and interests.
2. We recognize that powerful systems of oppression and a wide range of economic, political, and societal discrimination and prejudice limit upward mobility for some while maintaining wealth, power, and resources for others. Each of us has intersecting identities related to our race, gender, social class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status, age, abilities, and more that impact our experiences in the working world and other areas of life.
3. Life Design does not ignore or minimize this reality but rather sheds light on barriers that exist so we can be better equipped with tools and resources to design our way forward. For instance, on average, Black women in the U.S. are paid 39% less than white men and 21% less than white women and men are 300% more likely to successfully negotiate salaries than women, making it imperative that we become aware of systemic barriers that do exist and how our different identities impact our life design.
4. Changemaker development necessitates identity development. Identity is core to how we see the world and how we see ourselves in the context of the world as it relates to work. Our intersecting identities are the foundation upon which we build our understanding of the world and come to find “our place.” Recognizing one’s own intersecting identities and how those come into play are also key in tackling social or environmental issues alongside communities with similar or different identities.
5. In a world that is increasingly polarized and unequal, we can use life design skills to build a life dedicated to dismantling systems of oppression while becoming more aware of and aligned with our own skills, expertise, gifts, and power in the pursuit of a more just, sustainable, and equitable society.
6. Our approach to life design education goes beyond student career preparation. These practices can be used to respond to challenges in wellness, parenting, hobbies, friendships, job loss, divorce, retirement, empty-nest syndrome, or any other major shifts in our daily lives.
The world is now changing even more dramatically due to COVID-19. Life design offers a way to navigate a world of continual change while remaining in the driver’s seat, evaluating the horizon, and choosing which paths to take forward.
Life Design is taught at universities around the world, including:
- Stanford University: Their popular life design courses are documented in the book, Designing Your Life
- Yale University: Half the sophomore class will participate in Designing Your Career @ Yale
- University of Colorado: Every year, 900 students (the entire freshman class) enroll in Designing Your LEEDS
- University of Michigan: Graduate students clamor for a seat at the table in the Designing Your Life Series
- Dozens of other universities across the country are offering life design courses and programs
- Here at Tulane, our life-design courses include Taylor Your Life (TYL), which has grown from a 5-week workshop for undergraduates to 20 sections of a 14 week 2-credit hour class, Taylor Your Tulane a course for first-year students, and TYL4Grads, a 5-part workshop series for graduate students.
Recent data demonstrates that:
- A college education no longer guarantees a job.
- A traditional job no longer guarantees a comfortable retirement.
- Nearly two thirds of workers in the US are unhappy in their work.
- Only 27% of graduates will end up in a field related to their major.
- Studies indicate that today’s student is likely to change jobs 12 times in their lifetime, so preparing for one position or career track is no longer relevant.
Students are clearly hungry for self-authorship as they draft their life after college.
If you are an educator, I hope this post helps you support student uptake of design thinking mindsets so we can teach the next generation how to optimistically, creatively, and collaboratively navigate change and transition throughout their life.
I have condensed the theoretical underpinnings of our Life Design courses into ten core frameworks and mindsets that anyone can use to re(design) their lives.
Educators can use these frameworks and activities to help students use design-thinking mindsets to optimistically, creatively, and collaboratively navigate change and transition throughout life.
- Radically accept where you are in the journey.
- Forget finding your passion; Seek to understand yourself.
- Define what matters to you.
- Brainstorm many possible pathways.
- Build a network through empathizing and learning from others.
- Design your story + your personal brand.
- Try it out. Test your ideas and assumptions in the real world.
- Be flexible. Adapt your plan based on what you learn.
- Focus on who you are evolving into, not one static future career
- Believe your life is worth designing.
Similar to iterative mindsets in design thinking or Brené Brown’s guideposts for wholehearted living, life design is not a linear process with a set series of steps or stages, but rather a series of mindsets and mental frameworks that helps one think and act like a life designer.
Framework 1. Radically accept where you are in the journey
We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay – and rise!
– Dr. Maya Angelou
Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
– James Baldwin
The first step in life design is to radically accept who you are in the journey. Developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan and popularized by Tara Brach and (read Brach’s description), radical acceptance is “clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion (radical acceptance).”
Just like a contractor would check the foundation of the lot before constructing a building, a person engaging in life design must evaluate their life, beliefs, and assumptions before designing their future.
All of our classes and workshops begin with the below exercise.
- I think I am most interested in pursuing ___________________,
although I am curious about ___________________.
- My biggest open question in thinking about my future is ___________________.
- I also have some doubts about ___________________.
- I’m currently focused on trying to ___________________.
- What I am most worried about is ___________________.
We ask students to answer honestly where they are in the journey: not where their mother, advisor, or mentor would like them to be. Where are they, really?
After a few minutes, each person reads their statement aloud. Students are often stunned to hear so many common fears, questions, doubts and worries. We are all used to putting on a good face to the world, so it often appears that everyone else has it all figured out. This first step is validating and empowering, as students realize many others share their same fears and questions.
Check in with yourself and seek to radically understand and accept where you are during any major transition point in life. For instance, as you approach the Covid-19 crisis as a life designer, some questions to ask yourself may include:
- In this new reality, I am working on mourning and letting go of ____________________________________________________.
- What is not working for me right now is ____________________ and _______________________ (and…)
- New changes to my life that are beneficial are _______________ and ____________________ (and…)
- While there is a lot outside of my control, I do have the ability to change _______________________________________.
- My biggest open questions when thinking about my future in COVID19 times are _____________________________ and ___________________________________________.
- I’m currently focused on trying to _________________________.
- I am interested in spending more time on and/or learning more about _____________________________________________________.
Framework 2. Seek to understand yourself.
We live in a world that has come to fetishize passion… if someone says ‘follow your passion’ they have harmed you…it makes you feel more excluded, like a failure… Curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming and more democratic entity [than passion]…curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves.
– Elisabeth Gilbert ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippet
Dedicate yourself to a core set of values. Without them, you will never be able to find personal fulfillment, and you will never be able to lead effectively.
– Kenneth Chenault
Forget finding your passion: learn more about your background, beliefs, values, interests, and skills.
Very few people have that one thing that they are passionate about. Lean into curiosity. Life design requires constant and continual self-reflection. You cannot design your life well if you do not understand who you are, where you come from, and what unique interests and skills you have to offer the world.
These self reflection questions from Work On Purpose are great for reflection, a few of which include:
- If an alien dropped in from outer space, what would you be most compelled to show them or explain to them about our world, either because you are so drawn to it or repulsed by it?
- What is the primary topic of podcasts you listen to?
- What could you sell with passion?
- What do you know inside and out?
- What experiences have you had in college or high school that gave you unique skills and insights? Consider internships, student organizations/clubs, programs, trainings, etc?
On your own or with a friend or colleague, explore your own interests, curiosities and unique skills, abilities, knowledge and connections with this Self-Reflection Interview or this Social Identity Reflection tool.
This exercise was developed from the Work On Purpose’s “Head, Heart, Hustle activity.”
Framework 3. Define what matters to you.
If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.
– Audre Lorde
Life is too short to be living someone else’s dream.
Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.
Investigate and take ownership of what matters to you about self/world/others. Release what doesn’t align with the person you want to be.
Defining what matters to you crops up again and again in life design, first in defining your own beliefs and values, and then in beginning to narrow down the questions you want to explore.
When we are young, we absorb messages about the way the world works from our caregivers. It often doesn’t dawn on us until early adulthood that these messages might not always be “true” or “right,” and that we do not have to absorb all that was “caught” or that we were “taught” (an expression I love from VISIONS). For instance, perhaps while growing up you “caught” or were “taught” that work is all about making money– you do what you have to do to maximize profit, or that work is not supposed to be enjoyable—you do what you have to do to bring home a paycheck.
It is important to understand that potential pathways are influenced by “life stakeholders.” Use this Stakeholder Mapping Form to identify stakeholders that help you, and/or depend on you, in any capacity in your life.
Approaching a transition in life can be debilitating if you have no idea where to go. This analysis paralysis impedes any forward movement as we become overwhelmed by all the options and terrified of making a wrong decision.
The “Family Influences” activity from Work On Purpose helps us dig into these messages and asks us to consider family messages about work.
Think back to your early childhood and the adults that had the most influence on you as a child:
- How did each of these adults feel about work?
- Did they love work?
- Hate it?
- Did it bring them pride? Shame?
Outline some specific messages you received and write them down.
Now create two columns: Embrace and Release. Now is your chance to take a step back, reflect on what messages you received that you may not have been aware of, and consciously choose which ones you want to embrace (those that serve you) and what you want to release.
- What messages do you want to hold on to as you design your life forward e.g.:
- Work should contribute to a social or environmental issue.
- Work is as much about the community of people you work with as the work itself.
- What messages no longer serve you that you can choose to release? e.g.:
- The only acceptable work is that of a lawyer or doctor.
To help you release these messages think:
No thank you — I do not want to carry this with me my whole life.
Just because my mom/dad/aunt/grandma felt this way, I do not have to.
Recognize that as you release messages, it does not mean that your caregiver/mentor was wrong or bad, but rather that you are designing your own life now, and you can choose what messages and values you want as part of your compass guiding you forward.
Developed by colleagues at the University of Maryland’s Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Fearless Mission Statements can help you define and narrow down a few potential life pathways.
Create Three Fearless Mission Statement drafts:
- Top of Mind: If you continue down the path you are currently going (for students in college, this is essentially major = career).
- Pivot Sketch: If robots took over option 1, or that option otherwise magically disappeared, this is the pivot you might make.
- Constraint Free: If money and image didn’t matter and you knew you would be loved and supported no matter what.
Look at your interests and skills (Framework #2) and begin to define a few potential pathways.
You are not bound to them and you can always change them later, but you must start somewhere.
I can provide my ability to___________________
The What (value I provide)
The Who (who needs this value)
in order to ___________________
The Why (who benefits and/or what problem gets solved)
Another way to think about this “Defining” mindset is to define what you want to work on and what matters to you.
- Students in my Taylor Your Tulane class were initially tasked with “designing their college experience,” which is very broad and impersonal.
- After engaging in a series of exercises to self-reflect (Framework #2) and talking to seniors on campus about optimizing their college experience (Framework #5), students identified insights from their empathy interviews (such as “a lot of students participate in extracurricular activities to make friends”).
- Students then honed in on specific challenges that interested them, such as: “How might I use Tulane resources to help me find and fund interesting extracurricular opportunities?”
Here are a few of their how might I statements:
HOW MIGHT I expand my network and make more friends?
HOW MIGHT I stay connected to campus as an upperclassman?
HOW MIGHT I create a healthy balance between my social and academic life?
Framework 4. Brainstorm many possible pathways.
The best way to get a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.
― Linus Pauling
If you keep keep coloring within the boxes and writing on the lines, you may never be able to do something remarkable. Break your spirit free to explore.
― Bernard Kelvin Clive
Allow yourself to dream big and consider paths you have never thought possible.
Now that you have thrown the idea of following passion out the window, leaned in to curiosity, begun to explore your interests, thought creatively about different skillsets you have to offer (Framework #2) and moved past analysis paralysis to define areas of focus (Framework #3); here comes the fun part! You get to come up with lots of ideas without the pressure of choosing any one direction (yet).
Since the Taylor Center focuses on changemaking life design, students engage in a series of activities that help them brainstorm social and environmental issues they care about, using those issues as a portal to understand the ecosystem of people tackling those issues through their work. Students who have no idea where to start can then hone in on a few issues they care about and clarify the connection between their academic interests and their desire to create positive social impact.
Build three radically different 5 year sketches for your future.
For each of the three plans:
- Give it a descriptive title (“Shelly the social impact assessment consultant”)
- Write down at least one personal and professional goal or milestone per year in each plan
- Create a list of people you could reach out to, to begin clarifying some questions from each plan (to start, it’s ok if you do not have a specific person here. You can list “freelance journalist” or “professor of economics”). Then, do some research to see if you can fill those in with real names. To do this, tap your network (Framework #5) and then begin experimenting (Framework #7).
- Gauge how much you like each plan, how excited you are to do it, how many resources it would take, and how coherent it is with your values and beliefs about who you want to be in the world (Framework #3).
- Begin to think about an experiment you could create so you could get this idea off of paper and into the real world. Can you talk to someone or shadow someone who is doing something similar? More on this later (Framework #7).
Come up with lots of potential ideas! Go for quantity, not quality. Consider prompts that can help you think outside the box, such as first brainstorming the worst possible way to tackle this challenge and then converting each worst idea into a best idea.
If you are stuck, this is a great time to begin exploring, which leads us to our next life design mindset…
Framework 5. Build a network through empathizing and learning from others.
It’s up to you to bring yourself to the attention of powerful people around you. They’re not going to find you on their own.
— Richard Parsons
It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you.
– David Avrin
Life design requires radical collaboration and connection with other people.
Unfortunately, many traditional networking outlets are exclusionary and perpetuate systems of inequality.
- Networks such as private clubs, private school networks, university alumni associations, and family relationships are inaccessible to many.
- It is estimated that 70% of jobs over one’s lifetime are found through the help of family and friends, thereby power is maintained amongst people with access to these networks. This results in both limited class mobility and racial and gender diversity in upper-level leadership in America.
- To boot, there is a hidden job market where the vast majority of jobs are never posted and are filled through personal connections.
- For those in positions of power, it is crucial to accept networking bids from people of all backgrounds.
When faced with this inequitable reality, life designers must find ways to break into new networks by engaging with people living the lives and doing the work that interests them. We don’t know what we don’t know! Many of us have limited ideas of what is possible in the working world (beyond doctor, teacher, lawyer, bartender, accountant, etc.). By exploring and engaging with others, we can learn what is possible and begin to build connections in these potential worlds.
Connecting with and learning from others is a concept many of us are not used to doing. Traditional schooling has taught many of us to be competitive, stay in our own lane, and do our own work —students often get expelled for copying, or “cheating” by working with another student for an answer. In Life Design, cheat away! Talk to people! This is intimidating and difficult for many, especially those who do not have strong social capital and are attempting to break into entirely new networks that have historically excluded people with certain identities.
Reach out and schedule many different 20-minute conversations with a wide variety of people in fields and positions that interest you. This will help you understand what their world is really like while also beginning to build your network in a new space.
- See our Life Design Interview assignment for some questions to ask to frame this conversation.
- Check out this short animated video from Stanford about Life Design Interviews to learn more.
Intimated to reach out? Check out this 5 point email template for a simple structure to reach out to any targeted contact.
- Most people enjoy talking about themselves! Keep the focus on listening to the other person. Do not send a resume. Do not talk about yourself.
- Use this as a chance to really learn about this other person and their pathway.
- While it is very common for these conversations to lead to a future opportunity or connection, you should always frame the conversation as a chance to learn about the other person.
- If anything, ask THEM for their resume — learn how they present themselves so you can adapt your own resume accordingly.
Tap your own network as you have never done before. Often, we miss connections that are right in front of us.
- Consider the people who might want to help you and would be open to talking to you:
- Former employers and coworkers.
- Alumni from your college or high school.
- Competitors, suppliers, customers, business partners, or consultants from a former employer.
- Friends and friends of friends. LinkedIn can be helpful as you can see 1st, 2nd and 3rd-degree connections. Ask for an e-introduction from a friend who is connected to someone who interests you.
- Spouses of friends; relatives.
- Former professors or teachers.
- Career center professionals at any school you have attended.
- Religious leaders or community members
- The list goes on and on (this list was compiled with help from Donald Asher’s book, How to Get Any Job, 2009).
In addition to exploring your personal network, you can:
Use different search engines to look up real jobs in real organizations. See some of our favorites below (adapt based on your field/industry of choice). Then, research staff at those organizations and again, consider reaching out.
- World’s Top Meta List for Jobs in Social Change
- PCDN (a clearinghouse for thousands of changemaking jobs)
- Places to look for changemaking jobs
- Consider looking at fellowships (ProFellow)
- 17 websites to know for jobs in social enterprise/non-profit sector
- 34 Places to Find That New Job: Social Innovation Edition
Tap your school network for contacts.
- Look up alumni of high school or university on LinkedIn.
- Search key words to find people who are in jobs/fields/life pathways that interest you (i.e.: “business analyst” or “research scientist”).
Look at their LinkedIn profiles and subscribe to their blogs and tweets.
Track their professional evolution and take inspiration and insight from their journeys.
Framework 6. Design your story + your personal brand.
Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
– Oscar Wilde
Brand yourself before others brand you.
– Ira Kalb
Design how you are seen to the outside world. When you begin reaching out to people, you must be prepared for them to look you up, inquire about you, and ask why you are reaching out to them. Craft your story.
Use our template to craft your Authentic Introduction (our version of an elevator pitch– a way you can introduce yourself, capture someone’s attention, and quickly introduce your interest areas and background in 30-45 seconds).
For inspiration, check out Stanford’s short video about the “Elevator Conversation.”
Tip: Your Authentic Introduction can even become your profile summary on LinkedIn.
Here is a sample Authentic Introduction:
I am a first generation college student and the youngest of four brothers who could not be more different—one is now a filmmaker, the others are a lawyer, teacher, and contractor. Our parents worked incredibly hard for us to go to a good school and secure scholarships for college, which is perhaps why I am so interested in educational equity in urban cities. I am finishing up my Education degree at Tulane, where I have spent two semesters interning for an elementary school that coincides with my values integrating arts into K-8 education. Because I have seen how arts education empowers students to create, imagine, and joyfully inhabit their bodies, I am hoping to find an internship or job in a non-profit that would allow me to teach and develop arts and movement curriculum
LinkedIn is an incredibly powerful tool: the site hosts 600 million professional profiles, offering an incredible array of network connections and employment opportunities.
All of our best advice on creating a LinkedIn profile is summarized below:
Your profile should include:
- Active links: Link to all previous employers and add links to artifacts of prior academic and co-curricular activities.
- Recommendations from peers, coworkers, supervisors, and professors.
Read instructions for asking for LinkedIn recommendations.
- A concise and unique profile summary.
This is a core piece of LinkedIn: your profile MUST have a profile summary that briefly shares about your interests and qualifications.
We have students develop a “pitch,” which can then be converted into a profile summary.
Download our tip sheet to develop the pitch.
- Strong bullet points: Each experience should have bullet points.
Reference PAR Method
- Skills: Endorse your LinkedIn contacts and ask for others to do the same for you.
- Professional and relevant photos: This should be a professional photo.
Consider your main photo and the backdrop. They should be aligned with your professional target community. For instance, if you want to be a teacher, show pencils/materials in the back; if you want to be an architect, your backdrop could be a building you admire.
- Contacts (try for at least 300, the suggested amount is 500) Add them on LinkedIn, if they are on the platform. Consider if this is a person you can ask for a recommendation on LinkedIn.
More LinkedIn profile resources:
If you are a student or educator, check out a wide variety of resources and tips on LinkedIn for Students.
Strategically build your online presence the way that you want to be seen.
- Search your name on Google. See how you are portrayed online and on different social media accounts. What do you like? What do you want to change?
- Are your social media accounts private or professional? Choose which accounts are for which purpose and post accordingly.
Consider creating an electronic portfolio that helps your experiences come to life. A website or e-portfolio is an incredible way to share your past experiences with potential employers or people with whom you are trying to network. Think about all of the hours you spent writing papers in college that only your professor saw. You can easily turn that essay into a blog post to demonstrate what you care about and show your writing style. If you do create an electronic portfolio, keep it simple (an unprofessional site could actually harm you in the long run).
- A former student, Praveena Fernes, used her e-portfolio to capture her skill at storytelling during her study abroad in Thailand. Upon graduating, she won a Fulbright to go back to Thailand and continue her storytelling work.
- Even if the website is low tech like the personal website from yours truly, it demonstrates key interests and skills and helps your experiences and personality come to life in a way that is simply not possible on a black and white resume. Just like a CV, your website grows over time to highlight new projects or initiatives you are involved in.
- If you are an educator, check out this instructor guide to teach a class about building an online portfolio
Framework 7. Try it out. Test your ideas and assumptions in the real world
You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.
– Shirley Chisholm
Prototype 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.
– Bill Burnett + Dave Evans, Designing Your Life, 2016
Test out your ideas and assumptions in the real world.
What is a small step you can take today to talk to someone or engage in real-world experience to learn more? Check out Framework #5 for a wide range of suggestions for tapping your network to do this.
Example: you are a student studying business but think you want to jump ship to study sociology?
- Sit in on three different sociology classes at the 1000, 2000 and 3000 level.
- Interview 5 sociology seniors to ask them about their experiences.
- Research sociology graduates on LinkedIn, scour their profiles, and reach out to several whose pathways interest you.
- Ask if you can talk with them for 20 minutes, or ideally, shadow them at their job for a day.
Not sure where to start? Fill out our Prototyping Priorities worksheet to map out potential prototypes, prepare for your Life Design Interviews and define action steps moving forward.
To test out different career paths and build your network (Framework#5), we strongly encourage internships at any age.
Use these resources to identify and intern with social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and changemaking organizations in New Orleans and across the world.
We recognize that unpaid internships are a class barrier and can maintain inequities in society. To mitigate this barrier:
- Explore funding opportunities (if you are a student, apply to our Changemaker Catalyst Award to fund an unpaid internship).
- See this list of funding sources for unpaid internships. Depending on your geographic location, university, or field, explore other sources of funding. As you begin to tap your network (Framework #5 ), you can ask for advice securing funding for opportunities and experiences in a particular field.
Once you engage in smaller prototypes, like a conversation or reading a book about a new field, consider a more long-term or “hi-fi” prototype, such as creating a 1-4 week project, like volunteering on a political campaign, or a 2-12 month commitment, like a short-term work placement or internship.
If you are still in quarantine and unsure where to start, check out our list of Prototyping in Quarantine ideas.
Framework 8. Be flexible. Adapt your plan based on what you learn. Listen to what you don’t like.
Failure is a part of [the] process. You just learn to pick yourself up. And the quicker and more resilient you become, the better you are.
You don’t have to be one of those people that accepts things as they are. Every day, take responsibility for changing them right where you are.
– Cory Booker
The point of experimenting is to see what works and what doesn’t. Listen to yourself and adapt your plan based on what you learn.
Don’t give up on an idea because you have one bad conversation with someone in that line of work. Conduct numerous experiments (Framework #7) with a wide range of people in different settings and contexts to see what lights you up and what really turns you off.
Sometimes, the idea of a path is very different from reality. Imagine you initially want to be a travel writer. Through talking to several different people who are doing just that, you learn that their work is very isolating—never having a stable community, and that the people you talked to struggled without a routine for access to healthy food/kitchens and exercise. Honestly assess what you have learned and if you still want to go down that pathway.
The key here is to test out simultaneous prototypes from the different pathways you brainstormed in Framework #4. Do not treat these different plans like your primary plan, back-up plan, and then long shot. If you thought of it, it is possible! Try to go in with an open mind and really explore and test multiple different pathways, building connections along the way.
Be honest about what works and what doesn’t. Failed experiments are quite valuable, as they might teach us NOT to quit our job and move to Costa Rica, or NOT to pursue that expensive graduate degree. Our failures become the raw material of success, as they help us understand what is not working and how we can move forward in a different way.
Framework 9. Focus on who you are evolving into, not one static destination or future career
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
– Charles Darwin
The only constant in life is change.
Life design is all about the journey. You might find yourself in a life you love one year, but then realize three years from now it is time to move on. So when that moment comes, as it likely will, remind yourself that life design is an iterative process that you draw on again and again throughout life and one that can be applied to help you redesign any arena of life.
In our classes, we have students re-evaluate all of their work from the semester and build a life design canvas that pulls together all of the various assignments and activities so they can see everything in one place. You can try building a canvas yourself and then revisit it over time to see what you want to change.
Revisit the life design tools over time. Your interests and skills will change as you evolve and by revisiting the tools here, you can iterate as needed to design your way forward.
Framework 10. Believe your life is worth designing.
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
— Barack Obama
Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible.
– Oprah Winfrey
This one is simple: Your life has value.
You deserve to create a life with value and purpose.
You can find what you have to offer, what you want, what you believe in, and the life you want to live.
It is ok to feel scared or timid. It can feel terrifying to think of trying or doing something new. When those fears crop up, ask yourself: “Is this fear rooted in my own insecurity, self-doubt, or internal critique?” It could be a barrier fear (Galinski, 2011) or imposter syndrome that is holding you back from life. Lean in. Know that you exist in a sea of other people, all of whom are human and are struggling with their own feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. This is part of the human experience.
Many of us struggle with feelings of self-worthiness as we begin to dig into our thoughts, beliefs patterns, and self-talk. If that is the case for you, it may be helpful to seek support from a mental health care provider.
More information about our life design courses, including assessment reports from both students and staff are available on the Taylor Your Life webpage.
Julia Lang is a Professor of Practice and the Associate Director of Career Education at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking, where she supports students in identifying their changemaker paths – where their academic interests and career aspirations intersect with a commitment to make a positive social impact throughout life. In 2015, she founded Taylor Your Life, a course that empowers students to find changemaking careers. Since then, she has reached over 1000 students, trained 18 instructors in life design, served as a coach for Stanford University’s Life Design Studio, and has consulted with several other colleges, universities, and K-8 schools about the future of work and embedding life design into their curriculum.
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Together we can design a more beautiful and just world.