I’ve discovered another outstanding career design book, this one entitled “Designing Your Life,” subtitled “How to build a well-lived joyful life,” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Yes, the title sounds like so many other career guidance book titles, but this book is truly exceptional, coming at the process in a new way that very much mirrors my approach. The underlying premise of the book is that there are MANY versions of ourselves, each of which can lead to building a satisfying career. It is full of interesting facts, valuable suggestions, and structured exercises that shed a bright light on potential career paths forward.
Another important philosophy guiding the authors is that passion for work generally “…..comes AFTER (people) try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery – not before.” This makes so much sense if you think about it – until you’re familiar with the “landscape” of a new career (e.g. becoming adept at the tasks involved, familiar with the field’s unique vocabulary) you are likely to feel uncertain about your abilities to master your new path forward. And it’s pretty difficult to feel passionately about something uncertain.
Some of the exercises in the book are quite unique. One of them is called creating a “Good Time Journal,” which has you note the activities that you undertake in which you feel “engaged, energized, and in flow.” It also asks you to note your “peak experiences:” those times where everything seems to be going just right. There is quite a bit of emphasis in the book on free association (the authors prescribe making a “mind map” beginning with the good times / peak experiences and thinking of ideas that relate to them. So, for example, if one of your peak experiences was participating in planning the office Christmas party you might free associate the terms “party planner,” “caterer,” or further afield “urban planner” or “chef.” The key is to let your mind wander, and to not self-censor.
Another valuable exercise poses some very fundamental questions about the role of work in life, questions that you probably haven’t thought much about. For example, What is work for? What does work mean to you? What defines work that is good or worthwhile? What do money, experience, growth, and fulfillment have to do with it? And a related one asks you to think about what kind of work you’d do if money or image were not issues.
This creative approach to career planning isn’t for everyone. Many people might be more comfortable with career testing that is highly structured and provides relatively unambiguous career direction. The problem with that approach is that it tends to play back to you what you already know about yourself, because the answers you provide in the test are based on your past experience, rather than being grounded in future possibility.
Related to this, another unique attribute of the book that I particularly enjoyed was the sprinkling of statements that limit exploration, accompanied by reframes that open up ways of thinking. For example: Dysfunctional belief: To be happy I have to make the (one) right choice. Reframe: There is no right choice – only good choosing.
Finally, the book emphasizes the value of assembling a group of people to help you come up with ideas to explore and ways of exploring them. This may be a challenge for lots of people, but if you’re willing and able to do it you will be availing yourself of multiple perspectives and experiences that can only serve to help you design a great career path forward. Or several!