How to design a life with purpose

Do you feel like unsatisfied with your current life, but unsure of how to change?

As I was reading the book Designing your Life by Bill Burnet and Dave Evans, I learned so many useful tips and tools to build a better life. Keep reading below for what stood out to me and some simple steps to start designing a life of purpose.

Photo by Kiki Siepel | Accessed on

Key Takeaways

  • Passion is not the focus. Most people (80%) don’t have a singular passion, so the career process of “figuring out your passion first” is incredibly inapplicable.
  • It’s all about the process. Life is a process, designing is a process, and designing your life is a process. Enjoy it! Don’t just focus on the end goal, but make the most of each step.
  • Mindset changes are important, but so is action! Sometimes you need to change your perspective to properly address a problem or accept that it’s unlikely to change. But the most important thing you can do to start designing your life is to take action!
  • Prototype, prototype, prototype. This means to try and try and try again. Keep trying things until you find what fits you best. If you’re interested in a career, try aspects of it out or learn from someone in that area. While you’re trying things, be mindful of what grabs your attention and what energizes you.

My Journey

I find that whenever I feel stuck at a crossroads in my career and unsure of where to go next, I come back to this book (Designing your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans). I’ll be completely honest, I haven’t done all of the activities, which is probably why I keep getting stuck at crossroads.

But I keep coming back because I’m so impressed with the way the book is structured and activities outlined throughout.

This is not a passive read, it’s more of a tool that you need to apply and use. Just like designing your life requires action, so does getting the most out of this book. Almost every chapter ends with an activity for you to do that gets you closer to a better life. Each of the activities are clearly outlined, with both a description of why you’re doing it and successful examples of how this helped others.

The activities are such a great way to reflect on your current life, what direction you want to go in, and who you want to become. It’s not just focused on aspects of a job, or how to get a land a job; but genuinely building a life you enjoy. The activities can help you improve any area you want to focus on, or simply to find a better balance.

Five Steps

I would say you could summarize the process into five key steps:

  1. Assess yourself
  2. Find your energy
  3. Brainstorm ideas (and share!)
  4. Try it out
  5. Accept and continue the process

1. Assess yourself

Like all good planning, it starts with an assessment of where and who you are.

To understand where you are, you look at the current status of your life and what you want to change. I’ve seen lots of variations on this, styles like the 10 level life with the pretty circle diagrams.

Basically, you pick a handful of categories and decide if you’re excelling in this area or not, usually ranking it from 1 to 10. With 1 being an absolute mess and 10 being the best it could possibly be.

In this book, they stick to four categories: work, play, love, and health, which I really liked ‘cause it kept it simple and easy to approach. When there are too many categories, it can start to feel overwhelming. I would start with these four categories and if you really feel like something is missing, feel free to add an extra category without overcomplicating it.

This helps you to clearly see where you are thriving and what areas could be improved.

This assessment stage also aims to gain an understanding of who you are, including what’s important to you. It has you take time to sort out your core values, both for life and work, to help you align what you do with who you are. For more on this check out my post on your workview.

2. Find your energy

The next large step is still assessing yourself, but this is now focused on the types of activities you do. The objective of this stage is to pay attention to how you feel during the various activities you do, especially highlighting those activities that you love and hate.

Throughout your week, you’re encouraged to keep a log of your activities and how they make you feel. Do they energize you or do they drain your energy? Which activities excite you and which do you absolutely dread or bore you to tears? Do any of them get you into a state of flow?

Highlighting the types of activities you love and hate, will help give you a better idea of what you should be spending more (or less) time doing. This is key if you’re looking for a career change. It’s not about passion, it’s about what you do every day.

3. Brainstorm ideas (and share!)

Now that you have assessed your situation and better understand what you enjoy, you need to come up with lots of ideas!

This is the time for brainstorming, which is simply the act of putting as many ideas on paper as possible, without filtering or judging them, that will come later.

There are two activities you can do to brainstorm ideas:

  1. Odyssey lives: This is the idea that we all have multiple potential lives to live, and your job is to think of what would happen over the next 5 years for three different lives. The lives include:
    1. Business as usual: the current one you are in the middle of living – what would it look like if you keep on the same path?
    2. Forced career change: the next one is what if your current job is made obsolete and you had to change your career – what would you do?
    3. No limits: the last one is what would you do if money and people’s opinions were not an obstacle – if there were no limitations, what would you do?
  2. Mindmapping: You start with something you like, and just keep branching out and connecting words/phrases to each other. The further away from the center are the most exciting ideas. You want to do this quickly, maybe use about 10 minutes, then take three or so words from the outer edge and piece them together to create a potential job/situation.

These are simply activities to get ideas flowing, not to land on the perfect idea, rather to spark your creativity and think outside the box. Basically the crazier your ideas are, the more likely you’ll stumble upon ideas that will really resonate with you. The crazy ideas help breakdown any potentially unconscious barriers, and can be a way to reframe elements that inspire you.

4. Try it out

Now that you’ve got lots of ideas, you need to start filtering them down and trying them out!

Filtering down can be frightening, but it’s necessary to start with focusing on trying just a few ideas. You can always come back to your list and try something if nothing fits.

Also, don’t hesitate to cross items off your list, you’ll know exactly how you feel once you’ve made the decision. When you flip a coin to make a decision, once it’s in the air, you know the decision you want.

To try out your ideas, you need to prototype and find ways to experience them before fully committing to a new life path. The whole focus of this stage is to learn what that kind of life would be like by talking to people currently living it, trying some small freelance jobs with similar roles (i.e., try catering before opening a restaurant), volunteering in a related area, or learning more about the type of skills you need to have. Remember to focus on the type of daily activities you would have in this new role and find ways to experience them.

One quote I loved from the book is “The future is already here, it’s just unequally distributed.” Meaning there are already people living your ideal life. Find someone living the kind of life you want, and see if it’s really all you have imagined or desired.

As you try out your ideas, you’ll keep refining them until you find the best fit. Often times, you’ll start in one direction and gradually narrow down your direction to a singular path. As a key part of the process is interacting with others, you’ll often make useful connections along your way.

5. Accept and continue the process

Finally, comes one of the most difficult parts, accepting the decision you’ve made. Once you’ve gone through this process (it can take a while), you’ll need to accept where you are and stop thinking “what if”?

Now, this doesn’t mean you should stay in a bad situation. Rather to simply live and fully experience life without regrets. At some point you’ll need to fully consider the life you’ve built and stop looking for new things to try. Fully accepting where you are allows you to examine what is working and what’s not.

Now, we must understand this is an ongoing process, and you can continue to refine any area of your life with the same steps. Life is about growing and thriving, but also accepting what life gives you. Remember, this is simply a tool or framework for how you can design your best life.

Concluding Thoughts

I keep coming back to this book because it’s such a useful tool to use.

It outlines clear activities, while giving you a fresh perspective on approaching big changes and the language to assess each option. It’s always relevant as the reflections and activities can be tailored to any situation, are useful on so many different levels, and your thoughts can change every time you go through the process.

Even if you don’t do all the activities, you will still gain new ways to look at your life and critically assess how you feel.

There is so much more information available in the book, with clear examples and encouragement throughout. I would highly recommend reading this book if you are looking to change any aspect of your life.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!


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