Designing Your Life Book Summary (My 5 Key Takeaways)
You aren’t alone if you can relate to the feeling of being stuck in life, longing for more, or wishing that you had made different life choices. But one important thing that many people miss is that the life choices you make can also lead you toward a path of growth, maximum fulfillment, and the realization of your true potential!
In this Designing Your Life book summary, I am excited to share my top 5 key takeaways that will help you design a better life for yourself. As is the case with all of my book summaries, my goal is to provide an overview of the most important ideas, as well as my own personal key takeaways that resonated with me the most.
Designing Your Life by Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans is a New York Times Bestseller that provides a practical framework for readers to design a life that aligns with their values, passions, and aspirations. The book encourages the use of a design-thinking approach to personal development that takes proactive and iterative steps to creating a meaningful and purpose driven life.
During my experience as a life coach, I’ve had the privilege of working with numerous individuals who, like many of us, have felt that they’re not experiencing maximum fulfillment in their lives.
Whether it’s due to personal circumstances or career choices, many people desire change but often lack the tools or understanding to take their life in the right direction. Heck, most people I talk to don’t even know what the right direction is!
If this describes you, don’t worry! Let’s dig into my top 5 key takeaways in this Designing Your Life book summary so that you can learn to apply this design process to create your own dream life.
What is a Well-Designed Life?
Believe it or not, one of the biggest challenges I see people facing when searching for a “good life” is knowing what that even means. To help make sense of this, Stanford University professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans offer a simple explanation for just what is a well-designed life.
Simply put, a well-designed life is “a life that makes sense”. They elaborate further with what I consider to be one of the most important points of the book.
“A well-designed life means that who you are, what you believe, and what you do all line up together”.
While this definition may seem overly simplistic, it actually makes a lot of sense if you think about your own life as an example!
My point of view on many of the key takeaways in Designing Your Life is shaped by my own personal experience of quitting teaching after realizing I was in the wrong career. I didn’t know it at the time, but the definition from above would tell me that my life as a teacher was “poorly designed”.
Let me explain.
When I was a teacher, if you happened to be a poor soul who asked me how things were going on any given day, you would be in for a world of complaints and negativity. I would complain about the countless hours of marking, meetings, emails, difficult students and parents – you name it.
Who I was, what I believed about myself and my work, and what I was doing did NOT line up together. And that brings me to my first key takeaway from Designing Your Life.
Key Takeaway #1: Building a Compass
The first key takeaway in this Designing Your Life book summary is one that is very close to my heart. The book asks a simple but powerful question: what is your quest?
When you think about the concept of a quest, there is always a purpose behind it. Mario is on a quest to save the princess. Frodo is on a quest to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom. You get the point. All great quests have a why behind them.
In Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans purpose that you need to think hard about two particular ‘whys’ when designing your life. They call them Workview and Lifeview. Together these form your compass, or the tool that will help you navigate throughout your quest.
Finding Your Workview
Your Workview is the reason why you do your work. When you feel like you are doing good work, it is the reason why your work feels good.
It is important to understand the difference between this and your job description. Your Workview is not a list of tasks you want to do. Instead it is the philosophy behind why you work.
This is a pretty new idea for a lot of people. I have met many people who are able to tell you they have a good job, or that they make lots of money, but they seem to be missing a connection to their work.
To reflect on your Workview, ask yourself a few questions. Why do I work? How does it help others? Am I growing, and working toward maximum fulfillment in my work?
Finding Your Lifeview
A Lifeview encompasses the beliefs, values, attitudes, and perspectives that shape how a person perceives their own life, its purpose, and their role in it. Your Lifeview is your beliefs on what gives life meaning and makes it worth living. Your Lifeview will incorporate your beliefs about money, family, your community, personal success, and your overall fulfillment.
To reflect on your Lifeview, ask yourself a few questions. Why am I here? What is my purpose in this life? Is there a higher power influencing my life? How do joy, sorrow, love, and peace shape my life’s experiences?
Finding Your True North
Bill Burnett and Dave Evans describe your Truth North as the combination of your Lifeview and Workview. When people are able to get these two in sync with one another, they have what is considered a well-designed life. When you have an understanding of your True North, you will be able to navigate life’s challenges knowing that you are heading in the right direction.
If people can find a way to understand and align who they are, with what they believe, and what they are doing, life is a much more peaceful and harmonious experience.
During my time as a teacher, I was experiencing a massive disconnect between my Lifeview and my Workview. In my Lifeview, I deeply valued building a joyful life and spending time with my family. I placed a lot of value on the precious moments I was having with wife and my first child.
However, my Workview was built around a job that saw me working insane hours under unreasonable working conditions so that I was always too exhausted to be present and intentional on the rare occasion that I was at home.
Fast forward a few years after I quit teaching, and I now find myself in a much different place in my working life and my personal life. My Workview and Lifeview are now in perfect alignment in the best way possible. I have found my dream job that allows me to use my strengths to do good work while working flexible hours from home. And I get to spend as much time with my family as possible.
To find your True North, ask yourself: do your views on life and work compliment each other? Do they clash? Does one drive the other? The idea behind using design thinking and a design-based approach to create your dream life is finding alignment between these areas of your life.
This idea is very similar to the Japanese concept of the ikigai, a tool that I use often in my life coaching to help people connect with their purpose and true calling. Finding alignment between your passions, purpose, and strengths will allow you to find a sense of work life integration. This happens when you align your values in both your work and personal spheres so that your work fits in naturally with your life, rather than your life fitting in around your work.
Key Takeaway #2: Conquering Dysfunctional Beliefs
One of my favorite parts about Designing Your Life is that it helps reframe what the authors call dysfunctional beliefs. These are unhelpful, distorted, or harmful beliefs that we have that hold us back in our lives. These beliefs can cause serious damage to our emotional health and overall well-being.
The book provides many helpful tips for identifying, overcoming, and reframing each dysfunctional belief. For example, a common dysfunctional belief is that your degree determines your career. However, a more helpful and positive statement is that your degree opens up a particular career path as a starting point, but you aren’t bound to it.
This is a limiting belief that I struggled with a lot in my early adult life. I graduated with a double major in mathematics and education, so I thought that teaching math was the only career path for me. But with an open mind, I was able to try out a few different paths that led me to a much better place!
If you are looking for similar books to challenge your limiting beliefs, check out our summary of Limitless by Jim Kwik.
Key Takeaway #3: Failure Immunity
One of the most important lessons in this Designing Your Life book summary is how to embrace failure as a learning opportunity. At this point in your life, the odds are you have experienced a good dose of painful failures. The book challenges the reader to develop and use a growth mindset to rethink the way challenges, obstacles, and failure affects them.
A growth mindset is a useful tool that can help you think about the setbacks you face in your life as design challenges. Every time you encounter failure, you have the opportunity to take a design approach to improve for next time.
This is one of the biggest challenges I think people face in their personal lives. It is so easy to place a lot of importance on defeat and see it as a permanent failure. But with the right mindset shift, you can start thinking like a life designer who makes improvements to yourself based on the feedback you receive from your failures!
Just remember, it’s not about trying to create a life free from failure. Failure is going to happen to you. The best thing you can do is prepare yourself to use it to become the best version of yourself.
Key Takeaway #4: Good Life Design Principles
Another one of the most important points from this Designing Your Life book summary is a set of good life design principles. Think about yourself for a moment as a “life designer” who works in a “life design lab”. You are being tasked with creating a new product that is a life that reaches maximum fulfillment.
The book provides a few important points that a good designer would use to create a great design for a life. Here are what I would consider to be four of the most important points:
- Be curious. A strong sense of curiosity and a willingness to explore can lead you to unexpected opportunities and insights.
- Have a bias toward action. A well-designed life is one where concrete steps toward goals are taken without hesitation. Taking action leads to clarity and learning experiences, while inaction can keep you stuck in analysis paralysis.
- The ability to reframe. Being able to change your perspective and reframe problems to see them in innovative ways is one of the most useful skills a person can have. Find ways to hunt for gratitude and growth opportunities where they don’t seem to exist at first glance.
- Prototyping. Experiment with different options and approaches to your life. Draw up a set of odyssey plans, or different possible life paths for yourself. This can help you think creatively about your future, experiment with various options, and make more informed decisions about your career and life. Create prototypes of your ideas, try them out, and gather feedback to refine your life plans.
Key Takeaway #5: Building a Team
The last key takeaway in this Designing Your Life book summary encourages you to build a team that can support you on your journey toward living a well-designed life.
There is a fantastic motivational quote that I have worked hard to live by, especially in recent years:
“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.”– Oprah Winfrey
During my early adult years when I started working hard to redesign my life, I noticed that there were a few people who weren’t supportive of some of the decisions I was making – even if they were healthier personal growth decisions. As a recovering people pleaser, this quote was very helpful as I started to set boundaries that supported my own wellbeing. These days, I surround myself with people who support my big crazy dreams and challenge me to step outside my comfort zone.
A strong support system is also helpful when it comes to making or responding to major life decisions. Whether it’s trusted friends, family members, or colleagues, the book highlights the importance of building a support network. Collaborating with people who can help you discover new ideas and opportunities can help you look at things with a fresh perspective.
We don’t always realize it in the moment, but often times there is good hiding in the bad things that happen to us. Navigating a crossroads or a life changing obstacle can be a daunting task, as it’s often challenging to weigh all the factors and arrive at the optimal decision. However, having a supportive network that can provide you with a broader perspective is a powerful way to come out on top.
Using this Designing Your Life Book Summary
My goal with this Designing Your Life book summary is to provide you with an overview of what I found the most important points of the book to be. It goes without saying that my point of view has largely been shaped by the events of my own life. Transitioning away from a career that wasn’t aligned with my Lifeview and working as a life coach has allowed me to appreciate the design-based approach that Bill Burnett and Dave Evans discuss throughout this book.
I am hoping that you are able to pick a few key details from this Designing Your Life book summary to help you look at your own life in a new way. There are lots of ideas that are worth exploring in this book that I haven’t touched on. I am hoping that this summary gives you a starting point if you are new to the idea of making positive changes in your life.
It is important to remember to periodically review your life and adjust your life design as needed. Our goals and dreams are constantly evolving in response to what happens in our lives, so it is important to stay flexible with your life design!
Just remember that learning how to build a well-lived, joyful life doesn’t mean living a perfect life that is free of conflict, pain, or struggle. These are essential parts of life that can’t be avoided. Instead, a well-designed life is one that aligns your Lifeview and Workview to provide you with your own True North that will help you navigate the inevitable ups and downs that we all encounter.
If you are looking for more summaries of similar books, check out our list of the 20 best books for finding your purpose!
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