In the 1960s, a group of Stanford professors developed a method of problem-solving that’s come to be know as design thinking. The approach has been used for years at companies like Apple and Google to develop new products. Two Silicon Valley veterans thought these same principles could be applied to tough life questions like “what do I want to be when I grow up?” And “how do I live meaningfully?” They turned their idea into a class called “designing your life”—now wildly popular at Stanford. In a new book, they describe their method and say it can be used at any age. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans on how to use design theory to answer questions about work, life and happiness.


  • Bill Burnett Executive director, Stanford Design Program; cofounder of the Stanford Life Design Lab
  • Dave Evans Cofounder of the Stanford Life Design Lab; lecturer, Stanford Design Program

Read A Featured Excerpt

Excerpted from Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Copyright © 2016 by Bill Burnett. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A class called Designing Your Life is among the most coveted courses at Stanford University. In it, two Silicon Valley veterans use design thinking to help students make decisions about not just what they to do, but how they want to live. Now, the creators of the course have written a book to share how the type of problem-solving Silicon Valley companies have been using for years can be applied to everyday life.

  • 11:07:28

    MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio are Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, authors of "Designing Your Life: How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life." And of course, throughout the hour, we'll welcome your calls, 800-433-8850. Send an email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to both of you.

  • 11:07:58

    MR. DAVE EVANSThank you very much for having us.

  • 11:07:59

    MR. BILL BURNETTGlad to be here, Diane.

  • 11:08:01

    REHMYou know, I want to congratulate you both because this book has premiered at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. So in addition to having your classes so sought after, clearly people have heard about this. What's your reaction? Are you surprised?

  • 11:08:26

    EVANSWell, we're gratified and we're humbled by this outrageously. The reason we wrote the book is we've been teaching this stuff for ten years now. And when we describe what we do, you know, we say essentially, we're the guys who teach the class to help you figure out what you want to be when you grow up. We don't like that phrase. We like the next thing you're going to be as you continue growing up.

  • 11:08:44


  • 11:08:44

    EVANSBut everybody says, can I take the class and unless you're one of 16,000 students at Stanford, we've sadly had to say no and we finally said, you know, we've got to find a way to yes. So Bill said, we got to write a book.

  • 11:08:56

    REHMYou know, it's so interesting because college, university today is so focused on, for the student, one thing that this student may or may not want to do. You're looking at this far more broadly, Bill.

  • 11:09:15

    BURNETTWe really are. You know, there are 68 majors at Stanford, which sounds like a lot, but there's 7 billion people in the world and there's a lot more things to do than the 68 things at Stanford. So one of the things we try to get students to do is look at the whole portfolio of their experience, not just the classes they take, not just the major they declare. You know, and the data on that is pretty clear, only 75 percent of the people are doing anything that has anything to do with what they studied in college, you know, five to ten years out.

  • 11:09:47

    BURNETTSo we really try to get students to step back and think more broadly about how to craft a life that they're really going to enjoy.

  • 11:09:54

    REHMSo explain to me, what is design thinking, Bill?

  • 11:10:00

    BURNETTOkay. So we have had a design program at Stanford since the early '60s. 1963, Stanford's board of trustees allowed us to give a degree in what we called product design at the time. And it was a combination of engineering and art and psychology. And a couple of incredibly, you know, forward-thinking people, my mentor, Bob McKim (sp?) sort of invented this program. And the idea was that engineers should learn about humans and we should do human-centered design.

  • 11:10:33

    BURNETTNow, in the '60 and '70s, most design programs were really about either graphic design or industrial design. They were more about the craft of design and do this was sort of radical to think, no, let's step back and more broadly think about problem-solving methodology that incorporates empathy and human values. So that's where it started. Then, zoom all the way up to today, now we call it design thinking. It's a methodology of solving problems. It's deeply human. We start with empathy for the users first.

  • 11:11:04

    BURNETTThen, we redefine the problem, come up with lots and lots of ideas, the ideation phase, and then the notion is really the only way you can figure out what people are going to love, what they're really going to, you know, be passionate about is to build things and let people try them. So we say we build our way forward. We build our way into these futures that we're designing. And that's basically it. It's an empathy-based, human-centered idea.

  • 11:11:28

    REHMBut think about the number of commencement speeches that say to students, and I've delivered them myself, follow your passion. But that is not necessarily what you're talking about here.

  • 11:11:48

    EVANSNo, one of our favorite things to not like is that question, what is your passion. It's probably, we think right now, the strongest, most commonly asked question in the current cultural zeitgeist or meta narrative of how to organize your life. One of our colleagues at Stanford, Bill Damon, who runs the Center of Adolescence where they study people to that age of 27, looks at the question of purpose and discovers that, you know, 20 to 25 percent of people in their 20s had a life organizing clarity about a sense of purpose or passion.

  • 11:12:17

    EVANSIn your, you know, thousands of anecdotal experiences with students, most of our students and most of the people mid career, in encore career that we talk with either answer the question of passion, I don't know or I have many. So when the starting question leaves eight out of ten people in what they think of as a remedial state, I don’t know my one singular passion, that’s not a good place to start. We think passion is more often an outcome of a well-lived life, not the starting of a well-lived life and you have lots of them.

  • 11:12:46

    REHMGive me an example of what you are doing, based on the computer mouse because that is something that kind of began your thinking about this, Bill.

  • 11:13:02

    BURNETTWell, actually, Dave was the first -- Dave and I were both at Apple at different times. Dave was there early on during the Macintosh and Lisa days so you were on the mouse development team.

  • 11:13:13

    EVANSYeah, we were on the original mouse development team. It's a good example of the difference between engineering thinking and design thinking. Engineers solve technical problems that are well-behaved. Designers, you know, build and innovate solutions to wicked problems, human messy problems. And on the mouse, the engineers did a really good job of making the switches and the things that would control the wires and send the information to the computer screen to show the pointer where it should go.

  • 11:13:37

    EVANSThat's an engineering problem. But will people like it? Should you press the button once or twice? Should it make a noise when you do that or not? That's all part of the human experience. So we tried hundreds of different mice and hundreds of different definitions of how the interaction between the person and the computer would go because that's a human experience. You can't analyze that. You can't sit down there with an equation and figure that out.

  • 11:13:59

    EVANSYou have to do into this place called the future we haven't been in yet, where computers are friendly, and talk to the users, the people who will use them, and see what happens. And that's how we build our way forward.

  • 11:14:11

    REHMBut how then does that apply to a human building his or her way forward when they don't know where they're going?

  • 11:14:26

    BURNETTYeah. You know, we talked about it in terms of way-finding versus navigation. So if you know where you're going, you want to get downtown, you know, to the National History Museum. You put it in your GPS and it tells you from here to there, this is the exact path. But when you don't know where you're going, what you have to do is say, okay, what's available? What's the next thing that I could try? What could I prototype? Just like Dave was prototyping lots and lots of mice and when I was at Apple, we were prototyping the brand-new laptops.

  • 11:14:54

    BURNETTThere weren't lap-tops before then and we kind of invented what they were. You start -- you have a kind of a point of view on something. You do a little bit of research and then you say, well, maybe I could try these three things. And we talk about building a life prototype. When you make a mouse, you make a little physical thing. When you make a life prototype, that can be a conversation with somebody who's already doing what you're interesting in doing in the future or it can be an experience. You can go to someplace where people are having the activities.

  • 11:15:21

    BURNETTYou could come to a radio studio and, you know, hang out. You can maybe...

  • 11:15:24


  • 11:15:25

    BURNETT...volunteer to be an intern for a week.

  • 11:15:26


  • 11:15:27

    BURNETTYou could do all sorts of things to sort of what we call sneak up on your future and see if that's the thing that resonates with you. You know, we have lots of ways of knowing, not just knowing in our head, but knowing in our bodies. Sometimes going somewhere and seeing how it feels is really instructive.

  • 11:15:46

    REHMYou know, it is so funny to hear you all talk this way when or after I had been at home for 14 years raising two children, I finally took a course at GW called New Horizons for Women. And for some reason, all the women around that table urged me to get into broadcasting, which I said, this is ridiculous. Never had a college course, never been on any radio, television program. Within a week of completing that course, a friend told me she was volunteering here at WAMU, which at the time was a very tiny station.

  • 11:16:41

    REHMIf you could have seen me in that moment, a light bulb went on in my head. And I thought, wow, volunteering at a radio station, thinking about that last conversation at GW and I volunteered and the rest was my history.

  • 11:17:04

    BURNETTYou see, that's exactly what we encourage people to do. Mid career people who are looking for something new to do or people who are retiring and trying to figure out what's next. This notion that you can plan things out, it doesn’t work so well. Plans tend to hit reality and then they fall apart.

  • 11:17:22

    REHMSo you have to be open to possibility.

  • 11:17:25

    BURNETTExactly. Open to possibilities and open to what it feels like to be in those situations because you can learn a lot from that as well.

  • 11:17:33

    REHMBill Burnett and Dave Evans, they are co-authors of a new book called "Designing Your Life: How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life." We are going to take your comments, your questions. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Short break, we'll be right back.

  • 11:20:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. The book we're talking about in this hour, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, titled "Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life." Bill is executive director of the Stanford Design Program, co-founder of the Stanford Life Design Lab. Dave Evans is a lecturer in the Stanford Design Program and co-founder of the Stanford Life Design Lab.

  • 11:20:39

    REHMI've often said that what happened to me was such incredible luck. What do you have to say about luck, Bill?

  • 11:20:52

    BURNETTWell, you know, there's -- we do a thing in our class about being good at being lucky, and for the most part that's a really interesting piece of psychology, where they did an experiment where they had people come in and read a newspaper, and the goal was to count the number of headlines in a newspaper. But of course it was a fake newspaper, and inside the text of the stories was, hey, if you've read this story, and you see this thing, collect an extra $100, and you can quit now.

  • 11:21:25

    BURNETTBefore they had conducted the experiment, they asked people to fill out a form, and the form just said do you think you're a lucky person. You know, eight, nine or 10, I think very lucky, good things happen to me all the time, one, two, or three, I don't know why, bad things happen to me all the time, I'm not lucky. It turns out people who viewed themselves as being very lucky, in the majority of times, found the extra answer in the newspaper and got the extra money, and the people who rated themselves as unlucky just counted the number of headlines and got the right answer and completed the task.

  • 11:21:59

    BURNETTSo what psychologists think, and what we sort of teach in the class as a model, is being lucky is just a matter of having a lot of peripheral vision, preparing yourself for opportunities, putting yourself in the situation to notice something, and then good things happen.

  • 11:22:20

    REHMEven if you're scared to death to move forward.

  • 11:22:23

    BURNETTExactly, and a lot of what we do in the class is try to help people get unstuck from fear or from just having some bad, you know, ideas about how to move forward.

  • 11:22:32


  • 11:22:34

    EVANSThe key thing is to lean into curiosity. We actually describe it as the pursuit of latent wonderfulness that, you know, if I'm scared to death, I'm probably thinking about the outcome, how is this going to go, are they going to hire me, will they like me.

  • 11:22:47

    REHMRight, right.

  • 11:22:49

    EVANSYou know, that's not a curious position. The curious position is gosh, what is it like to be in a radio show. You know, I mean, 10 minutes ago I could be terrified going on the air live, which we've never done before, or I could say, I get to be, you know, I get to have this experience with Diane Rehm, who I listen to all the time. I mean, I get to pick my mindset, and if I pick a curious mindset where I'm going to learn something, I don't have to boil the ocean today, I just have to go find out this one thing, like when you visited the radio station, that curiosity makes you look around, makes you attentive.

  • 11:23:18

    EVANSI might look to the side and notice the little note that says I don't have to count all the pictures like in the test. But if I'm terribly focused on the outcome, I'm going to get fixated, I'm going to get stuck. So curiosity, because something wonderful is out there, something latently wonderful is waiting to show itself to me, I've just got to go find it, life is a scavenger hunt.

  • 11:23:34

    REHMBut don't you have to be ready for luck to move forward?

  • 11:23:42

    BURNETTOh yeah, you've got to be ready to play. It's an improv mindset. We work with improvisationalists all the time, and the number one rule in improv theater is your response is always yes and.

  • 11:23:57

    REHMNot yes but.

  • 11:23:59

    BURNETTNot no but.

  • 11:24:01

    EVANSAnd there's -- and there's always something to move the story forward. So if you are prepared with the -- we talk about the mindsets of a designer, curiosity, reframing problems, collaborating with others. So if you're always in a curious mindset, there is something to be found, and there's always a yes and in even situation. And if you go out into the world like that, and we talk about, you know, doing these life design interviews, just to figure out is this something that I might want to do with my life, or is this a profession that would be interesting to me, all of these activities just require curiosity.

  • 11:24:33

    EVANSAnd it's what we all had as children. It's our natural curiosity that's been kind of layered over with some fear and some social conditioning. But we're all deeply curious, we're all deeply creative, and we just sort of help people in the class and in the book kind of rediscover that creativity.

  • 11:24:51

    REHMHere's a tweet from Michael, who says, to what extent must employers and funders embrace design thinking for it to be a strategy individuals can use. Dave?

  • 11:25:09

    EVANSWell, you don't need -- as an individual, if you want to start designing your life, you don't have to have everybody in your world...

  • 11:25:15

    REHMOn board.

  • 11:25:17

    EVANSOn board. We don't have to sign everybody up so we can all do it together. And if we do sign up and do it together, that's going to be more -- it's going to be more attractive, it's going to be more effective. We're in conversation with organizational leaders who are asking the question, should we be talking about life design with our employees and our contractors. And our answer to that is yes because people these days, there's been a big shift in the workforce and in culture, you know, the gig economy, no one does -- almost no one does anything for a long period of time now, two to five years is the typical duration of anything, and now everyone's saying, well, and I want it to mean something to me, I want my life to matter to me, to be purposeful.

  • 11:25:53

    EVANSSo how -- I have to figure this thing out. I have to take responsibility for making this thing work, and if that's the mindset of the worker, then the employer can be in a conversation with their employees that supports them thinking through not just what's your career here at this company but also what's your life like in this world and what's the company's role in that because that's really the question people are asking.

  • 11:26:17

    REHMHere is my question. It would seem to me that why do we need this book. Why do we need this class? A century ago, maybe more, you had creativity coming from within, you had the risk-taking, you had the curiosity, you had the building. What's happened to us as a culture? Is this still going on, or why do we need this kind of a book now?

  • 11:26:57

    BURNETTWell, I've got a couple of ideas, and Dave may have some more. First of all, I think one of the reasons the book's getting a good response is that it's kind of coming at the problem with a different point of view. First of all, it's human-centered. It's easy to do all the things that we suggest that we do. They're not hard. The bar is set really low, and it's easy to jump. And I think people have been frustrated by this notion that, boy, if I don't have a passion, somehow I'm a loser, or if I'm not -- don't have it figured out by 30 or 35, I'm too late. Or I was supposed to know what I wanted when I was 18 and picked a major that was going to work. These are all what we call dysfunctional beliefs so that that stuff's floating around a lot, and it's making people anxious.

  • 11:27:41


  • 11:27:42

    BURNETTAnd it's -- and they're getting stuck, and they don't know how to move forward. So the book helps just with that. The other piece is that I think -- you know, it used to be you went to the university and in addition to learning you were formed as a...

  • 11:27:55

    REHMBuilding character.

  • 11:27:57

    BURNETTYeah, it built character, you were formed as a citizen, and you were supposed to go out into the world and, you know, take part in being, you know, a member of society. Universities don't really do that anymore. They...

  • 11:28:10

    REHMWhat do they do?

  • 11:28:11

    BURNETTWell, I mean, they're fantastic -- Stanford is a fantastic place for creating students who have lots and lots of knowledge, and in fact, you know, given the success of this for the last 10 years at Stanford, Stanford has started to recognize that it is part of the obligation of the university to help in the formation of these young minds and to make sure that not only that we fill them up with knowledge but that they leave with a sense of character and purpose. And so I think it is changing at the university.

  • 11:28:40

    EVANSWe're speculating, you know, this is -- what's the history of education and cultural formation. You know, we're Silicon Valley innovators, and that's not necessarily our long suit, but we ask the question, how did we get here. I mean, we're thrilled that the book's getting a good response, but, you know, why does it deserve to. This is -- we don't want to have this problem. And I think one of the possibilities is, you know, for most individuals and maybe for cultures, our biggest problem is an over-functioning strength.

  • 11:29:05

    EVANSAnd if you go back to Thomas Jefferson's letters to the Virginia legislature and his appeal for the creation of our first public university, University of Virginia, he wanted to create this community of scholars, this formational leaders who would create a civil society. And where did that go? Well, in the postmodern pluralist world, where we're going to be very, very careful as educators to not erroneously try to direct you to what life you should have, we're not going to tell you what your world view is, we're not going to tell you your values, we're not going to tell you who to be, we're going to very carefully do no harm.

  • 11:29:40

    EVANSSo in our do no harm, philosophic or ideological do no harm carefulness, we kind of left you on your own to flounder for a while. And one of the reasons perhaps -- and that's changing. The really good news is, you know, SEL, social emotional learning is now a valid, legitimate thing, and we've found ways to help people answer their own question without giving them the answer, and that's where design thinking is just a method, not an answer.

  • 11:30:04

    REHMAt the same time I'm thinking about all the young people who've graduated from college, gone on to university and still don't know where they're going next, so what they've done is move back home because they don't know how to proceed, Bill.

  • 11:30:22

    BURNETTWell, you know, that's a phenomena, it's not probably as big as people are reporting it to be, but there is that notion of sort of the failure to launch and the millennial generation not really having a direction in some cases yet. Some of that we'd have -- I'd have to go back to looking at how those kids were parented in high school. You know, we have the phenomenon of helicopter parenting at Stanford. We just admitted the class, freshman class just arrived two weeks ago on campus, and it's very difficult to get the parents to leave the dorms. They want to stay. They want to organize everything for their children.

  • 11:31:01

    BURNETTAnd this generation of students is probably the most over-parented, overprotected generation. So to some extent -- and our good colleague Julie Lythcott-Haims wrote a book called "How to Raise an Adult" about this issue because she was the dean of freshmen for many years, and parents have not let their kids grow up, not challenged them to make their own choices, and so it's not surprising to me that some of those same kids are coming home.

  • 11:31:29

    BURNETTI don't know what it was like when you went off to school, but when I did, I promised I'd call my parents once a week, and that maybe lasted for about six months. On average our Stanford students text or communicate with their parents two or three times a day.

  • 11:31:44


  • 11:31:47

    BURNETTRight. So they are really not being trained to be independent, and some of that goes back I think to what happened in parenting in the last generation.

  • 11:31:57

    REHMWell, I must say I confess I did not go to college, so I never went away to school, but I can remember when my children went off to college, I called about once a week, maybe once every two weeks, but that was way back then, and it was different from what it is now. We've got lots of callers. I want to open the phones and go first to John in Dayton, Ohio. You're on the air.

  • 11:32:34

    JOHNYes, while I understand or agree with many of the authors' opinions, I think in a practical world, these options are not available to the vast majority of people. Stanford itself is, you know, pretty high-level university where most people can't get into. I can speak from my own experience, I'm 62 years old now, it's more about what can you do to earn a living for most people, and it's not about will I be satisfied or will I fulfill myself, especially at a younger age.

  • 11:33:24

    REHMInteresting point, Dave.

  • 11:33:26

    EVANSYeah, I'm glad this came up. We couldn't agree more. I mean, my wife is involved in homelessness. Her current mission is to end homelessness. You know, so I'm sitting there working with elite students, and she's working with the most disadvantaged people in the country. I'm thinking, well, which of us is working on the right problem. And we look at that, and the difference between someone with lots of choice, and by the way, Stanford students are elite academic students, they're not all prep school rich kids by a long shot, I mean, the overwhelming majority are on financial aid, many first generation to college or what have you, but they're still coming with the connectivity, they're coming with the Stanford education.

  • 11:34:02

    EVANSAnd let's say you're a single mom, I can think of one woman who is a single working mom with a 16-year-old son and an 84-year-old mother, and she's got a two-and-a-half-hour commute each direction to her job, and she's going to school fulltime to improve her life. What is her degree of freedom? And the point we make is we really respect the constraints people have.

  • 11:34:24

    EVANSSo as John's pointing out, if you've got to make a living, you've got to make a living, and you can't just sort of stop making a living while finding yourself. That's not okay. But what degree of -- what degree of freedom does your life allow you? This young woman I'm talking about looked at her situation and said, well, I hope by the time I'm finishing this degree, and this will be in hospitality, she wants to get in the hotel industry, I can get a job closer to home and kind of get my life back a little bit. So what can I do in the meantime?

  • 11:34:48

    EVANSAnd she noticed her mother was aging, and she said, I know what I can do. I got -- she got her mother a job at the same place she works two and a half hours away. So she commutes with her mother every day. So she gets her mother's story daily, that's one way she could redesign her commute with the little tiny bit of freedom she's got, by reframing what the question is and then doing something with it. Now that's a small increment, but that's what designing your life means, not reinventing yourself, doing what you can.

  • 11:35:15

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Here's an email from Jerry, who says I can totally relate. I'm 27 years old, working a meaningless job, stuck because I don't know what to do or what path to take. All my friends are in careers with a future secure. I feel as though I'm getting too old, to where I'm never going to be able to get a meaningful career, and I'm scared.

  • 11:35:55

    BURNETTYeah, I mean, I can relate to all of those things, and certainly the sense of being stuck is really debilitating. But first of all, it's not too late. You're 27. We had a -- we were just doing a workshop in New York, and we had someone there who was 87 years old, and when we got to the thing I'm going to suggest Jerry does, which is sort of three -- you know, ideate, come up with three ideas for what you might be next, she was stuck because she said she had too many, you know, she -- and she was just an absolutely charming woman.

  • 11:36:29

    BURNETTSo the first step when you feel like you're stuck like this is to just generate lots of ideas. Everybody's trying to find the one perfect idea, the one perfect way forward. That doesn't work. And that's not the way designers work. When we were working on laptops and mice at Apple, we generated hundreds and hundreds of ideas before we started to even figure out which of the ones might be the best.

  • 11:36:48

    BURNETTSo we have a thing we call an odyssey plan, which is where you come up with three ideas for your life, maybe the thing that you're doing right now, just make it better for five years, something completely different and something that you would do if money were no object, kind of your wildcard plan. And once you've laid out five years of those plans and sort of ranked them with a little dashboard, you'll discover there's a whole lot more going on that you're curious about than you thought there was when you were stuck.

  • 11:37:17

    REHMBill Burnett and Dave Evans, co-authors of a brand new book, "Designing Your Life." When we come back, we'll talk with others who may feel they're stuck, as well. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back to a conversation with two people who've been thinking a lot about how we think of ourselves, how we think of our future, how we go about designing or working toward our future. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, both of Stanford University, the design program there and the Stanford Life Design lab. Their new book is titled, "Designing Your Life." And they truly are speaking to each and every one of us.

  • 11:40:46

    REHMHere's an email from Omar. "Do the professors have ideas about how kids or adults from backgrounds not educationally or positively enriched can be taught this? Otherwise, this is another thing for the elites."

  • 11:41:11

    BURNETTGo ahead.

  • 11:41:11

    EVANSSure the -- one of our team members was asked to join a large grant study in working with community colleges. And community colleges in California, in a way, are largely populated with immigrant people, with working class people. They're all working. They're all going to night school. They're trying to better their lives. They're, you know, they're looking for an opportunity. And she found great success with this. An example that she shared with us just recently was she taught the students this idea of how to be curious and ask one another for help and I'd like to learn more about.

  • 11:41:43

    EVANSAnd one young man was trying to get into the security business. He wanted to become a security guard. That was his aspirational goal. And so he started asking his friends, what do you know about that, rather than just being stuck on how do I get the job. And it turned out a man that he had lunch with on a regular basis, that young man's father was friends with someone who owned a security company. And he was able to talk with him and find out what it was like to be in the security business and what have you. And was able to eventually to actually get a job through doing that.

  • 11:42:10

    EVANSSo no matter who you are or what you're going for or where you start, you do know people, you're operating in the world and there's a way for you to take some forward-moving steps toward the kind of thing you're looking for. We don't have a magic wand. We can't suddenly, you know, oh, no problem. We'll get you a tenured job at Harvard, despite the fact you have no Ph.D. "Designing Your Life" isn't about magic. It's about making steps that actually get progress.

  • 11:42:35

    REHMHere's an email from Miguel, who says, "What advice do you have for someone fearful of making a drastic change due to money concerns? Responsibilities of life at times seem far too onerous to allow for exploration of self." Bill?

  • 11:42:57

    BURNETTRight. And one, I think we would say, let's not make a drastic change yet. That's too drastic. Our idea is to make -- take very small steps and to build your confidence as you go. So I don't know what the pivot is that he's thinking about doing, from one career to another, but typically when you change careers you have to step backwards a little bit in seniority, which means you step backwards a little bit in money.

  • 11:43:21

    BURNETTNow, you can plan for that. You don't have to do it all at once. You can do it over a course of two or three years. You can save enough money to afford -- be able to afford to do that. But it really -- this notion of fear comes up again and again in all of our work. And fear is really what limits our creativity. We're all naturally creative people, but over time we learn not to say silly things in public and we, you know, the society sort of clamps down on our natural creativity or a teacher told us we weren't creative.

  • 11:43:50

    BURNETTYou can conquer these fears by what Albert Bandura, the psychologist, calls guided mastery. Small little steps where you take something -- he was helping people get over their phobias of spiders or flying or, you know, whatever their phobias were. And he found that if you slowly desensitize yourself by having little successes over and over and over again, you can learn to manage that fear. And the fear eventually goes away.

  • 11:44:14

    REHMI must say, when I first began this work, I was scared to death. And what my husband kept saying to me was fear is a part of -- a natural part of what you're doing.

  • 11:44:29


  • 11:44:31

    REHMSo you're going to have to learn to live with and eventually through the fear.

  • 11:44:38

    BURNETTYeah, exactly. And so he can make these kinds of changes without making it drastic or dramatic. And it's just like the other caller said, you know, you have constraints, they're real constraints. You need to put food on the table. You need to, you know, keep the kids in school.

  • 11:44:53


  • 11:44:54

    BURNETTAnd so you don't -- most of the people who go through this process with us, particularly mid-career folks who are thinking of a change, they don't do a radical change. They don't wake up one day, they were a stockbroker and now they're a poet. They slowly transition from one thing to another in a very measured way, taking small steps that are easily actionable.

  • 11:45:14

    REHMAnd here is Val in Bethesda, Md., wondering exactly about that. Go right ahead.

  • 11:45:23

    VALThanks for taking my call, Diane.

  • 11:45:25


  • 11:45:25

    VALI'm really enjoying this conversation. I am going to speak a little bit from the elite position here in Bethesda, Md. And I appreciate the viewpoint of your other callers. But I'm a mid-lifer and thinking about the next chapter. And realizing that rather than retiring, I want to think of a way to retool. And I'm trying to get this to catch on. That we're retooling. And wondering about programs that might be out there for us, such as the (unintelligible) programs that exist for younger people when they're exploring options and sort of a more structured way of people experimenting.

  • 11:46:03

    VALSort of like you did at the radio station or finding a new place you might want to live. And making it more acceptable to think of it as a productive new phase that we sort of give people the tools to do what they want to do with the rest of their life, since we might live to be 120.

  • 11:46:23


  • 11:46:25

    EVANSWell, let me just say, Amen. You know, we were just recently over talking with a group of the designated thought leaders at AARP, you know, who very much think this is an important question. And certainly people in the boomer generation, that would include me, you know, I'm 63. I've got four grandkids. I'm on my fourth career. My wife's on her third. How do we reinvent ourselves? If you've got some resources in time, that's easy. If not, you know, it would be great if society, you know, really tacked into this new wind and recognized that, you know, we can do this more generatively.

  • 11:46:56

    EVANSSo companies are starting to think about things like sabbatical years. That's starting to become a little bit more common. But in most cases, frankly, you're gonna -- you are gonna have to tool yourself. You're gonna have to find a way if you really want to take some time, you're probably gonna have to self-support for that. Or maybe you could find a way, you know, one of the great things about the gig economy is there are lots of project-oriented things you can do to make a little money on the side.

  • 11:47:18

    EVANSYou know, a little cleverness, a little creativity makes a lot of sense. But we absolutely find that everyone is thinking about what's my next thing. No one wants to stop. I mean retirement really just means a change in your income stream. It doesn't mean disengaging from the human adventure. Everybody wants to play.

  • 11:47:35

    REHMLet's go to Emily in Houston, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:47:42

    EMILYHi. Thank you so much for taking my call. I love your show.

  • 11:47:44

    REHMSure. Thanks.

  • 11:47:46

    EMILYI just wanted to comment on the sort of depiction of these anxious over-parenters that were talked about a little bit earlier in the show. I'm a psychologist now. I went back to school and got my Ph.D. when I was -- started when I was 30. And I studied English as an undergraduate. And I became a poet and a fiction writer. And my parents were very supportive of that, never told me, you know, it's gonna be hard to make a living.

  • 11:48:11

    EMILYIt's gonna be hard to find a job that's not teaching. You're gonna make very little money. There's going to be very little respect. You're gonna have very little freedom, I think, compared to people who have more sort of economically solid jobs. And while I their support of my art, it was a very difficult thing to realize what I was facing. And I felt like I really hadn't had any preparation for the reality of what my life was going to be if I took that path.

  • 11:48:39

    EMILYI would have appreciated a little bit more anxiety on their port and a little bit -- on their part and little bit more realism about the world that I was graduating into. But I don't think they knew. I don't think they knew that the world was so much more competitive -- they're both baby boomers -- then it had been when they graduated. They assumed that I was smart and that I was going to be able to find a good goal-filling job no matter what.

  • 11:48:59

    EMILYAnd I think parents are much more aware of that now. We talk about it all the time. We hear about on the media. There's just a lot more competition. And I think that is the place where a lot of parents' anxiety and over-parenting is coming from, even from a young age.

  • 11:49:13


  • 11:49:14

    EVANSWe teach a course called Designing Your Stanford to freshman and sophomores. We teach a course called Designing The Professionals to PhD's and Master students. In our freshman class we do an interesting exercise. We say what are you in college for? And the three classical answers are, I'm here for career preparation, to learn how to make a living, I'm here to get the liberal education and learn how to think, I'm here to find myself.

  • 11:49:37

    EVANSAnd we ask the students to say, you know, if you had to pick one of those -- that's not a fair choice -- if you had to pick just one of those why you're here, then go to one corner of the room. And they distribute themselves in a variety of ways. And then we say, oh, by the way, if your parents wish you were in a different place where would that be? And a very interesting phenomenon we often see is a bunch of the students who are in I would go to career prep and say where you do think your parents hope you are. A bunch of them leave career preparation and go over to the find myself category.

  • 11:50:10

    EVANSNow that was really surprising to us. And we said -- well, we interviewed, we talked to these. What happened? They -- well, my parents just say I just want you to be happy, honey. I just want you to be happy. And so unfortunately…

  • 11:50:22

    BURNETTAnd they report the same anxiety you were talking about.

  • 11:50:25


  • 11:50:25

    BURNETTI wish my parents would give me a little more coaching on how to find…

  • 11:50:27

    EVANSYeah, isn't that lovely. Your parents are so committed you're happy. Well, yeah, but, you know, I need -- I could use a little more help. So sometimes, again, we're so careful not to hurt people that sometimes we're not as helpful as we could be.

  • 11:50:38

    REHMAnd to Charlotte -- no. Chapel Hill, N.C. Judy, you're on the air.

  • 11:50:45

    JUDYHi. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:50:46


  • 11:50:47

    JUDYThis is a great conversation. I wish I had heard the beginning of this show. I'm gonna have to go online and listen to the whole thing.

  • 11:50:52


  • 11:50:54

    JUDYMy question is does the book focus on people who might be a little bit on the fringe? Meaning if you've taken an MBTI test and you're in like the 1 percent, like an INFJ for example, or for people who don't fit into mainstream society, and who might be really confused about their creativity and how to work that with regard to expectations and how non-mainstream they are? I hope that makes sense.

  • 11:51:25

    BURNETTYeah, no. It makes total sense. And I would argue the book would be especially good for people who find themselves sort of, I don't know, out of the mainstream or not fitting exactly what it -- you're gonna have to design your own life because the world isn't gonna, you know, the world doesn't have boxes that you fit into. Right? So you're gonna have to figure out where are the things that you like to do, that you're good at doing. Where do those intersect anything in the world that, you know, that would compensate you or that would give you a place that has, you know, some security.

  • 11:51:55

    BURNETTSo I think what we find is that there's a group of people we call can't not. I can't not be an entrepreneur. Or I can't not be an artist. It's just who I am. And now what I've got to do is figure out how to put that in the world in a way that's functional, that works. And so lots and lots of the little exercises and things from the book I think would be helpful in that regard. And, by the way, don't worry about those assessments. That's just one way of looking at you. There's lots of other ways of looking at you.

  • 11:52:27

    EVANSIf you're a 1 percent type of person, you're gonna run into some consequences because of that, but don't forget you're 100 percent you. I mean, there's nothing wrong with you. You're just not the same as everybody else.

  • 11:52:37

    REHMWhen you say a 1 percent kind of person, what do you mean?

  • 11:52:40

    EVANSWell, she described herself, you know, using the MBTI as being a, what do I do if I'm in the 1 percent category. My personality is an unusual one. I may not be naturally getting along with other people. They may not get me, naturally. Well, that just means, okay, you know, in, you know, in this large collection of people we call humanity, you know, you're in a smaller subgroup. But that's exactly who you are.

  • 11:53:06

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And here's an email from Joe, perfect for you two. He says, "As a college student about to graduate, I'm stuck between moving to secure a career versus exploring the world a bit. One is safe, one's more risky. What's some advice for life design?"

  • 11:53:37

    BURNETTWell, we're not -- we try not to give advice because that's really just telling you what I think, you know, I would do in your situation. But I could give you some counsel and some facts. First of all, at your age, you're probably in the generation that'll live to be 100. So you may be working for 70 years, 60 or 70 years. That's a long time.

  • 11:53:58

    BURNETTAnd so this choice about whether I, you know, maybe put a backpack on and go around Europe for a year or start my job is really not as big a choice as you think. It's, in fact, it's -- doesn't matter, either one will be fine. If you take a year off and go find yourself or just have that adventure, it's not gonna materially change the start of your career at all.

  • 11:54:19

    EVANSI think it has to do with the narrative. So if he's saying, you know, one is risky and one is not. Well, I might contend to the assessment of risk. That's what Bill was just saying. By risky, I assume he's saying that that means, you know, if I go and see the world for a while and then come back, you know, the employment world is gonna look at me as askance. They're gonna be less attracted to me.

  • 11:54:40

    EVANSYou know, now employers are gonna go, so you went to college and then you went off and you learned about other cultures. You became a broad-minded person. Boy, that's a heck of a waste of time. We wouldn't want some kind of broad-minded person around here. I don't think you're gonna hear that. So some of these have to do with these dysfunctional beliefs organized around fears that may or may not in fact actually be true.

  • 11:54:59

    REHMOne last call. To Vincent in Louisville, Ky. If you can make it brief, please.

  • 11:55:07

    VINCENTYes. Diane, I'm amazed at the diversity of the -- all these myriads of people and problems. But I'm on the opposite side of the other 62-year-old gentleman. I mean, my, you know, I've got a college degree. I worked in personnel for 30 years. I've traveled all over the world. And, you know, I'm single. And I'm just retired and I'm, you know, I'm plum bored not knowing where to go with my life. And I'm confused. I'm a little bit shy about going out into the new world because it, you know, like, you can't walk into the plant every day and have everybody, you know, oh, it's Vincent. You know, you can't…

  • 11:55:46


  • 11:55:46

    VINCENT…you know, you can't go backwards. You have to go forward. And I, you know, and I have a background in music. I produced my first album. I tried all kinds of…

  • 11:55:56

    REHMSo there you are, wondering about what's next and how you find it.

  • 11:56:02

    BURNETTYou know, again, it's -- I'll give you refrain. I'm really excited about who you are and what the possibilities are for you. I hear shy is maybe something that came up. And that may make it a little more difficult to go out and get some information, interviews going.

  • 11:56:17

    EVANSTalk to people.

  • 11:56:17

    BURNETTAnd a couple of -- talking to some people. But you have so much capacity and so much aliveness in you. I can hear it in your voice. I don't see, you know, again, don't try to pick one thing. Try three. There's a lot of literature around why three is better than one. We won't go into it. But pick three ideas that you're curious about and go run a really quick prototype this week and see what happens.

  • 11:56:38

    EVANSYeah, all it -- people who've had a long career and were really good at something, want to move from clarity to clarity. And that's not the way it works. You go from clarity to ambiguity back to clarity.

  • 11:56:48


  • 11:56:49

    EVANSAnd in design, we believe in mindfulness of process. And process step number one for this call is what am I interested in again now, interested in enough to compel me to start organizing my life around that. All I have to do is go do a bunch of test drives and a bunch of taste tests. I'm curating my curiosity now and waiting to see which one earns the right to be my next idea. Don't decide, just go prototype.

  • 11:57:14

    REHMJust perfect. Perfect thoughts. "Designing Your Life," is the title of the book by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Congratulations to both of you and thanks for being here.

  • 11:57:29

    EVANSWell, thanks, Diane. It's a delight to be here.

  • 11:57:31

    BURNETTThank you so much.

  • 11:57:31

    REHMThanks. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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