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How To (Re)Design Your Midlife

2 min read

If life is a constant project, why don’t we apply the rules of design to it? According to Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, author of the New York Times bestseller, ‘Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life‘, the same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to reassess our life and move forward. For them: “a well-designed life is a life that is generative. It is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise”. Unfortunately, when we are designing our life, we don’t have a lot of data available, especially reliable data about our future, and particularly in midlife as new responsibilities pile on like cars, kids, mortgages, retirement, our dreams seem to drift out of reach. Their solution is to encourage prototyping, the process central to design thinking: “There’s somebody already doing the thing you want to do, they’re in your future”. Burnett and Evans encourage people to find that somebody and interview or shadow them asking them a lot of questions. In fact, design thinking requires us to stay curious and experimentation – as a key part of organizational change- should be a fundamental part of designing our life, too.

Reframe how we define the problem and how we arrive at a possible solution it’s also important; it means combining logic and imagination while also removing the filters we tend to put in place while problem-solving. Yes, there are a number of cognitive biases that can limit our thinking and restrict our choices. Indeed, studies have even shown that the way we frame things can play a significant part in whether we get started or procrastinate. “By reframing our problems – saying the authors- we can often look at situations in a new light and come up with much better solutions to them“.

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Design thinking can also transform our present job and our experience of work in general. How? By utilizing the same designer mindsets: Curiosity, Reframing, Radical collaboration, Awareness, Bias to action, plus an extra powerful skill like Storytelling. ‘Designing Your Work Life‘ (coming up on the 25th of February)is the new book from the same authors full of tips, tricks, and tools for optimizing our lives at work. It’s about lots of really practical stuff like how to deal with company politics, how to add interesting new things to your job, and even how to quit like a superstar when the time finally comes to move on. But don’t expect to find a good solution to tackle your problems once and for all. The work of a designer never ends. There is no real endpoint and it is much less about the outcome than it is about the way you go about achieving it. Learn how to focus on life as a journey to be experienced fully, rather than a means to an end is the key to happiness and don’t forget that the process of designing your life implores you to ask for help.


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