Summary: Designing Your Life By Bill Burnett
Summary: Designing Your Life By Bill Burnett

Summary: Designing Your Life By Bill Burnett

Start Where You Are

Knowing the current status of your health / work / play / love dashboard gives you a framework and some data about yourself, all in one place. Only you know what’s good enough or not good enough—right now.

As you begin to think like a designer, remember one important thing: it’s impossible to predict the future. And the corollary to that thought is: once you design something, it changes the future that is possible. Wrap your mind around that.

Designing something changes the future that is possible. So, although it is not possible to know your future, or figure out a great life design before you begin, at least you have a good idea of your starting point. Now it’s time to get you pointed in the right direction for the journey ahead. For that, you’ll need a compass.


Building a Compass

You need two things to build your compass—a Workview and a Lifeview. To start out, we need to discover what work means to you. What is work for? Why do you do it? What makes good work good? If you discover and are able to articulate your philosophy of work (what it’s for and why you do it), you will be less likely to let others design your life for you. Developing your own Workview is one component of the compass you are building; a Lifeview is second.

Now, Lifeview may sound a bit lofty, but it’s really not—everyone has a Lifeview. You may not have articulated it before, but if you are alive, you have a Lifeview. A Lifeview is simply your ideas about the world and how it works. What gives life meaning? What makes your life worthwhile or valuable? How does your life relate to others in your family, your community, and the world? What do money, fame, and personal accomplishment have to do with a satisfying life? How important are experience, growth, and fulfillment in your life?



Wayfinding is the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination. For wayfinding, you need a compass and you need a direction. Not a map—a direction. Think of the American explorers Lewis and Clark. They didn’t have a map when Jefferson sent them out to travel through the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase and make their way to the Pacific. While wayfinding to the ocean, they mapped the route (140 maps, to be exact). Wayfinding your life is similar. 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 can do is pay attention to the clues in front of you, and make your best way forward with the tools you have at hand.


Getting Unstuck

Our minds are generally lazy and like to get rid of problems as quickly as possible, so they surround first ideas with a lot of positive chemicals to make us “fall in love” with them. Do not fall in love with your first idea. This relationship almost never works out. Most often, our first solutions are pretty average and not very creative. Humans have a tendency to suggest the obvious first. Learning to use great ideation tools helps you overcome this bias toward the obvious and helps you regain a sense of creative confidence.

You can probably remember, typically in vivid detail, a time when a teacher said, “You’re not an artist, you can’t draw,” or a classmate said, “You dance funny,” or some other adult said, “Stop singing, you’re ruining the song for everyone.” Ouch! We’re sorry if this creativity-killing moment happened to you. And the creativity-killing moments kept happening in middle school and high school, where social norms took the place of scolding adults, and we learned to rein in our differences for fear of being called out. It’s a wonder that any shred of our personal creativity survives as we grow up. But trust us, it’s in there.


Choosing Happiness

Who doesn’t want to be happy? We want to be happy, and we want our students to be happy, and we want you to be happy.

In life design, being happy means you choose happiness.

Choosing happiness doesn’t mean you should click your heels together three times while wishing to go to your happy place. The secret to happiness in life design isn’t making the right choice; it’s learning to choose well.

You can do all the work of life design—ideating and prototyping and taking action—all leading to some really cool alternative life design plans, but this doesn’t guarantee you will be happy and get what you want. Maybe you’ll end up happy and getting what you want, and maybe you won’t. We say “maybe” because being happy and getting what you want are not about future risks and unknowns or whether you picked the right alternatives; it’s about how you choose and how you live your choices once they’re made. All of your hard work can be undone by poor choosing. Not so much by making the wrong choice (that’s a risk, but, frankly, not a big one, and usually one you can recover from) as by thinking wrongly about your choosing.


Failure Immunity

Imagine there was a vaccine that could prevent you from ever failing. Just one tiny shot, and your life would be guaranteed to go exactly as planned—nothing but smooth sailing and success after success, as far as your eye could see.

Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine, and it’s impossible never to fail. But it is possible to be immune from failure. We don’t mean you’ll be able to avoid the experience of having things not work out the way you hoped for; but you can become immune to the large majority of negative feelings of failure that burden your life needlessly.

It’s important to think of ourselves as life designers who are curious and action-oriented, and who like to make prototypes and “build our way forward” into the future. But when you take this approach to designing your life, you are going to experience failure. In fact, you are going to “fail by design” more with this approach than with any other. So it’s important to understand what “failure” means in our process, and how to achieve what we call failure immunity.

You may experience some prototypes and engagements that don’t attain their goals (that “fail”), but remember, those were designed so you could learn some things. Once you become a life designing person and are living the ongoing creative process of life design, you can’t fail; you can only be making progress and learning from the different kinds of experiences that failure and success both have to offer.


Conclusion: A Well-Designed Life

What does a well-designed and balanced life look like? Imagine a day cut into perfectly equal pieces of pie—one slice for career, one slice for play and fun, one slice for family and friends, one slice for health. What is your perfect pie? We all know the areas of our lives that are in need of a little more time and effort, and could benefit from a little more design thinking and a little less worry, rumination, and should’ve/would’ve/could’ve thinking.

Now, how much of your day today did you actually spend having some fun? Advancing your career? Nurturing your relationships? Taking care of your health? Prototyping what’s next? What does your pie really look like?

Let us tell you a little secret. There is no perfect pie. It is virtually impossible on any given day to devote yourself equally to all the areas of your life that are important to you.

Balance happens over time.

Life design happens over time.

Dysfunctional Belief: I finished designing my life; the hard work is done, and everything will be great.

Reframe: You never finish designing your life—life is a joyous and never-ending design project of building your way forward.