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Life by Design

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By BETH CURRAN.

Life by Design

If you could prototype your life’s plan even before starting your career, how would it change what you do? Might you be happier and more successful?

This is a question Stanford’s Bill Burnett and Dave Evans explore through their widely popular Stanford course Designing Your Life (DYL). Building off of the principles and tools in their bestselling book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, the course provides both Stanford students and working professionals with the opportunity to focus on their most important design project: their own lives.

Now this education will be offered for the first time to students and professionals in Thailand. In collaboration between the Southeast Asia Center (SEAC) and the Stanford Center for Professional Development, as well as the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC), Stanford’s Life Design Lab coaches have trained and certified Thai facilitators and educators. UTCC educators will teach a version of DYL’s semester-long course to UTCC students beginning this month, and SEAC facilitators will offer DYL workshops at high schools, universities, and major employers throughout the country. The initiative is part of Thailand’s mission to transition from an agriculturally-dominant economy to a digital, intelligence-driven and service-oriented economy. Stanford’s knowledge and experience are being extended beyond campus, in this case, to contribute to the greater world.

Finding the “right” path

Planning out your future can be stressful. The question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” creates a tremendous amount of anxiety, particularly for college students who are facing what Burnett calls the “decision explosion.” Having worked hard to get into college and choose a major, they are faced with the challenge of how to translate that education into a career, often with the added pressure of being told to “find their passion.” In fact, research says that fewer than 20% of individuals know their passion and how to fulfill it. In reality most people find their passions by working on something that they then become passionate about, says Burnett. Furthermore, today’s generation of working professionals will have two or more careers in their life. So the idea that there is one path that will lead to happiness and success is outdated. There are many right answers.

Reframing the question

The DYL course teaches student at all stages of their education and careers how to apply the principles of design thinking to the fuzzy, ambiguous problem of what you want to be when you grow up. Students learn how to reframe problems, hone decision making, and create future paths — called Odyssey Plans — for life. The process provides a method to build your way forward slowly by taking the next logical step in completing your goals. Exploring options, prototyping ideas, and reframing the problem have a surprisingly powerful effect on ultimate fulfillment.

Burnett visited Thailand last summer and again in December with Stanford Life Design Lab Managing Director Kathy Davies to kickstart the creation of a Designing Your Life community in Thailand. Burnett, Davies and Life Design Lab Fellows John Armstrong and Shanice Webb spent four days working with UTCC educators to prepare for the launch of UTCC's first-ever 15-week life design course.

As more DYL coaches and practitioners are certified, more workshops will be offered throughout the country, including to those who may not otherwise have access to this kind of programming.

The Design Your Life method centers on the principles taught in Stanford’s product design program and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (known as the d.school). Bill Burnett is the Executive Director of the Stanford Design Group and a lecturer at the d.school. Dave Evans is a lecturer in the product design program at Stanford and co-founder of Electronic Arts. They are co-founders of the Stanford Design Lab. Kathy Davies is the Managing Director of the Stanford Design Lab and co-creator of “Designing Your Life for Women.” Find out more >>