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How to design your best life

Sometimes thinking ahead can feel overwhelming. It’s normal to feel lost or confused when you try to tackle the big questions – What do I really want to do with my life? Can I even get there? Where should I begin? I recently attended the university’s ‘Designing Your Life’ workshop and I’m here to share some of my top take-aways and tips for how to design a future you’ll love. 

I’m the kind of person who likes to dive into as many seminars and workshops as possible so that I can feel like I’m a functioning adult whose got my life together. When I saw that the Careers Service was running a workshop on ‘Designing Your Life and Career’ I was instantly hooked. I’m coming up to the end of my degree, so I’m constantly thinking (and sometimes stressing) about the future.  

The workshop was inspired by the book ‘Designing Your Life’ by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, which looks at how we can use design thinking principles to create and plan for a meaningful life. But what are design thinking principles, you may ask? Let me break it down for you. In a nutshell, there are 5 key principles that are good to keep in mind for any problem or obstacle you can come up against, or just to reframe your thinking on normal day-to-day things. 

1. Embrace curiosity

Being curious makes everything feel new and playful. You can focus on learning and growing, without having to stress and worry about the end goal. Ask yourself: what job roles are you curious about? For me personally, I’m curious about lots of different jobs in the humanities space – content writing, editing, lecturing, researching, or working in a library, museum or gallery – and I’ve really enjoyed learning as much as I can about these different jobs so that I can eventually find the right fit for me. 

2. Take action

Don’t be afraid to try things. Bill Burnett suggests to “sneak up on your future” – don’t immediately quit your current job and studies to launch into something totally new, but take time to do some work experience on the side or have conversations with people working in a job that you’re interested in. Although I was nervous at first, I recently decided to just give it a go and I had a few meetings with people in the different careers I’m interested in, just to ask them what the jobs are like. It turned out to be really fun (lots of coffee catch-ups and nice lunches) and I even ended up getting a job offer from one person! So trust me, sneaking up on the future works, if you’re willing to embrace change and lean into the unknown. 

3. Reframe

It’s natural to feel nervous when it comes to applying for jobs, or even just speaking to people about career opportunities. Try to think of failure as a learning opportunity and don’t be too attached to a single path. Success and happiness can come in many different forms, you might end up loving something that you didn’t originally think of. Try also to reframe negative self-talk into positive action. When I set up times to talk to all the people I knew with interesting jobs, I reframed my expectations by telling myself that not every conversation has to lead to something directly but that every little piece can bring me one step closer to a great future. 

A graphic with the five stages - curiosity; bias to action; reframing; mindfulness; radical collaboration - written around an image of turning cogs
Source: The Five Mindsets of Design Thinking 

4. Be mindful

Life can get messy and things don’t always work out as planned. If your original idea isn’t working, it’s ok to let it go. Life design is a journey and it’s absolutely ok to change your mind along the way. While I’m still very much at the beginning of my career journey, I’m open to embracing change and seeing where it will all take me, I think that not knowing where exactly I’ll be in 5 years is part of the fun of it!  

5. Collaborate with others

Thinking about big things like career paths and life goals can be really overwhelming, so it’s great to ask for help. Join groups or talk to people you know and trust to see what they think about your future plans or if they can recommend anything. You do not have to come up with a life design by yourself. I’m super thankful to my friends and family for listening to my many rants and rambles about my post-study career and giving me guidance when I felt stuck.  

If you’re interested in finding out more, check out Bill Burnett’s TEDxStanford talk which covers all these ideas in more detail. You can also book a one-on-one appointment with an employability consultant through the Careers Service and they can help guide you in designing a future that excites you! 

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