[SoG] Never too late to design Your Life!

How to design your life?


This one comes as a result of this TED talk and this TED talk that I saw a few days ago. These are by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans respectively. The two of them run The Life Design Lab at Stanford University and they use principles from Design Thinking to teach students how to design their lives.

Apparently, there are just three simple steps that you need to follow to design your life and they say that it's never too late to do that. Even if you are 90! In this letter, I will talk about it.

For the lazy ones, the TLDR version is,
Get curious about yourself -> Talk to people to seed your curiosity -> Try things!

That's it!
You may stop reading if you can understand, internalize, and implement the above three steps.

If you want to dig deeper, read on! Ride along and I'll try to give you some details. And show what I am doing about it, at 37. Oh, and if I can do it at 37, I am sure you can too :)

PS: Before I jump in if you are more "visual" than "textual", I have to say that the two TED Talks are funny, fun, insightful, and probably life-changing. I would recommend you to watch em.

Let's go!

A. Dysfunctional Beliefs
So, to start designing your life, you need to get over these "dysfunctional beliefs" that are often not true and yet hold us back. Lemme give three examples that I noted from the talks...

  1. Passion. We assume that we must be passionate about a singular thing. In a study, they found out that 8 out of 10 people are passionate about more than one thing! This clearly goes against the commonly held wisdom that you need to be passionate about just one thing that you ought to spend your life chasing!

  2. The direction in life. In the talks, they say that most people in the 22 to 35 age live a fluid life, and thus the concept of having a singular goal, a direction is flawed. I think this is similar in concept to Scott Adams' Systems vs Goals thinking (I wrote about it here). You need to have systems about how you live your life, rather than goals! Oh, and they also said that no one knows where they are headed ;P

  3. The best of you. They say, there is no singular best version of a person. Being best at one assumes that you are better than every other alternative that you could be better at! Again, counter-intuitive when compared to common wisdom. And more I think, more I realize the depth of the argument!

So, step A is to identify your dysfunctional beliefs.

There is no simple way to do that.
Just need to be aware of what you think is holding you back. In all probability, it would be one of three above.
I am trying to but haven't been able to. I am WIP!

B. Who are you?
The age-old question that has no answer :)

Now, once you know of YOUR dysfunctional beliefs, you need to find an answer to why you are alive! Bill says that most people want to live lives that are meaningful, fulfilling, and enriching. And such a life is often at the intersection of three things...

  • Who you are

  • What you do

  • What you believe

How do you find these out? Well, introspect.

To get you started, they advise you to ask yourself two questions...

  • Ask yourself about your "work view" - Why do you work? What is it in service of? What is the meaning of work to you? Who are you impacting with your work?

  • Ask about your "life view" - Why are you here? Why are you alive? What does your life mean to the ones around you?

Tough ones.
I tried and could not come up with answers!
I remain, WIP.
But it would be in the zone of enabling others to live a better version of their lives.

C. Assume that we are in a multiverse.
They say, assume that there are parallel universes and you can live a life in each of those universes, at the same time, and can teleport between these as and when you wish. You can also have multiple consciousnesses while you live multiple lives. And assume that the boundaries imposed by physics, rationality, time, ability, responsibility, etc did not exist in these universes. So you could be a photographer in one universe and an actor in another and a cricketer in yet another.

Now, ask your self, how many lives would you want to live at the same time?
And what are those lives that you'd like to live if this were possible?
When I made my list, I had things like play cricket for India, become a professional Poker player, become a writer, go join a naukri that gives me immense power and wealth, and so on and so forth.
When they asked people about how many lives they'd like to live, they found that people wanted to live an average of 7.5 lives!

D. 5-year plans!
This is where the magic starts!

You know those dreaded and cliched 5-year plans that all HR folks ask us?
Well, you need to make it.
And not one. But three! Per the following...

  • Plan 1 - You life as of now. What do you do today? If all went well, where would you be? Etc etc. I am a marketing consultant and I need to think of what I could be doing in the next five years as a marketing consultant.

  • Plan 2 - Plan for something as if Plan 1 were going to die tomorrow. At least for me, a large part of what I did has already died, thanks to COVID-19. So I am forced to think about what to do next. So I need to probably pick one of the lives from one of the parallel universes!

  • Plan 3 - What would you do if money or image or reputation was not an object? If you had all the money and you did not care what people thought? What would you do? In the next 5 years? This one threw out the best answer for me. I realized that I'd like to teach, invest, travel, and play poker!

E. Prototype conversations and experiences!
This is where the fun starts.

All this while you were doing mental exercise. You were thinking, evaluating, and coming up with ideas. This is where the real action is!

E1. They say you need to now go talk to people that are living in your future, today!
For example, in one of my five-year plans, I may have listed that I want to be a professional poker player. Now, I need to find someone who's a professional poker player today and talk to him! If I had listed that I want to be an entrepreneur, I'd find someone who's an entrepreneur now and talk to her.

The idea is to try and understand if the rewards I am hoping to get while I am on the journey (there is no destination per se, remember?) actually accrue? What are the challenges that I may have to face in the journey? What sacrifices would I need to make, and so on and so forth.

PS: I am doing this with my podcast! Check it out at The Podium.

E2. They further say you need to prototype the experience as well.
This means that once I've spoken to people that are living my future today, I need to experiment and start building in rationality and doability.
For example, I want to play cricket at a professional level. Can I do it at 37? Most probably no. But I can play poker for sure! I ought to go out and play some games to see if I enjoy the grind. I want to make films and I can of course try and make a small film by myself! So I need to get a gig on a film set.

Get the drift?

Oh, when I do these new things I need to set the bar really low. And clear it. And repeat. Till I find that magical point where I am so engaged that I start enjoying the failure as well! This to me is critical. They don't really talk a lot about this repetition bit but I really think that this would be the key.

Repeat this for all your 5-year plans! Till you know what is it that seems plausible!

F. Choose what life do you want to chase!
Now that we have an idea about what we may or may not like, we need to choose one. In theory, there may be a multiverse. But in reality, there's just this one life!

So this process to help us choose has 4 steps.

  • Gather & Create Options - They say, you ought to seek serendipity and manufacture luck to help you gather all the various options and experiences. An interesting way to do this is to pay attention to things that you are doing and keep the peripheral vision open. I think there is more wisdom in this one line than in anything else! Luck is one of my favorite topics - will talk about this in detail but meanwhile do see footnote 1.

  • Narrow down - If you have too many choices, you often suffer from a choice overload and you end up doing nothing! So, narrow those options down as soon as possible (after you've applied rationality, prototyped conversations, and experiences).

  • Choose - You can NOT choose well if you only choose from the rational mind! Research after research has proven that the wisdom of emotions is real wisdom! So, trust your gut while you do it.

  • Let go (of other options and the FOMO) - This is a tough one. How do you let go? Research indicates that if you start "wanting what you get" and not "getting what you want", you'd be happier. Research also proves that if you find out that the decision you've taken is reversible, your chance of happiness reduces by 60%! So, the best bet is to let go!

So, hopefully, by end of this choice stage, you'd know where you are headed! Congrats!

Like I said in the beginning, it is really simple.
You need to get curious about yourself, talk to people, and then try things!
Other things will follow in place.

All the best for your chase. In the words of the great Rumi, may you find what fans your fire :)

And before I end this, here are some disclaimers.

  1. While I have been able to internalize the concept and the idea, I am still in the process of implementing it. The good part (or the bad part) is that thanks to COVID-19, I am forced to look for an alternative and thus this is coming in handy.

  2. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE see the TED talks if you think you want to implement this. While words are great, the AV medium works FAR better.

  3. In case you do hit the road, do let me know if I could be of any help. You know, bouncing board, ideas man, etc etc. No strings attached :)

So that's about it for the day.

Oh, here are a few things that they discussed and I did not talk about in the letter. These could be useful to you...

  • Design Thinking is a set of mindsets

  • You have to be curious

  • Most often people work on wrong problems

  • You want lots of ideas and then you want to prototype and then you want to ship!

  • You MUST action. And it has to have contact with reality.

  • You can't solve a problem that you are not willing to have. And then it's just a mere circumstance

So yeah! That's about it for the week.
Hope you had a great weekend. I could not send this on Friday :(
Oh, if you like this, please do share this with people that ought to read this!

Footnote 1
As a person, I love the idea of chance. I mean our very existence is a result of chance. So, I try and spend a LOT of time making my life lucky and creating serendipitous connections. In fact, most good things that happen to me happened because I have planted a seed somewhere in the past that allows me to see fruit years later. For example, I stumbled on these TED talks because I clicked on a random ad on Instagram that led me to talk to some strangers, and then one of those strangers talked about this TED talk! You never know what changes what!

Footnote 2 - A PLUG!
Like I've been saying for a few weeks now, I am starting YET ANOTHER NEWSLETTER. I know that the collective of monkeys that I represent have too many keyboards to pound on and too much time! This one is like a curated newsletter that has the best of things that I've read in the week gone by. This would include a wide range of topics but I promise it would be worth your time :) In case you'd like to subscribe to it, please lemme know by adding your name and email here.

Footnote 3 - Another PLUG!
I recently took this session on taking better and effective notes that could be super useful for knowledge workers. Like with all other things, I don't claim to be an expert. Rather, I am merely tinkering with it and while I do that, I want to share. The response from participants was really encouraging and I want to do more sessions and perfect the pitch. The next one, specifically for friends and family is on the 5th of July, at 8 PM IST. If you'd like to attend, please reply to this mail. Or fill in this form.


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