These Stanford Professors Want You to Use Design Principles to Figure Out Your Career Path

December 4, 2016, 1:00 AM UTC
Penguin Random House

This article originally appeared on Uncubed.

What do I want to do with the rest of my life? And how do I get there?

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, two Stanford professors, want to help you answer life’s big questions. Their wildly popular class, Designing Your Life, uses a design thinking approach to help students discover the paths in life that will bring them joy. And now with their new book of the same name, they’re helping the rest of us figure it all out, too.

The authors imagine the book will be relevant for everyone from recent graduates to mid-career and encore workers. There isn’t a particular age when you’re supposed to have it all figured out, the authors write in Designing Your Life. Thinking it’s too late to start the life you want is what they call “dysfunctional beliefs.”

Throughout the book, they reframe these dysfunctional beliefs. “I should know where I’m going!” can be reframed as “I won’t always know where I’m going—but I can always know whether I’m going in the right direction,” they write.

Not having a career and life that makes you happy is certainly a problem, but the good news is: designers love problems. Solving problems has given us some of the world’s best inventions and technologies. (In fact, Evans led the design of Apple’s first mouse.)

Finding a career that makes you happy might take you through any number of steps in the design process, such as prototyping. Rather than building mockups of the latest Apple (AAPL) product or gathering user data, you might interview someone in a career you think you like. And you might find out you hate the career you think you love, and that’s all part of the process. “Mistakes will be made, prototypes thrown away,” they write.

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Gathering data on a big life choice helps you avoid rushing into any big decision that won’t make you happy. And taking small steps can also be a lot easier than making a big decision, particularly for those who feel stuck.

These small steps are part of the journey to a well-designed life, and it is a journey, write the authors. “Let go of the end goal and focus on the process and see what happens next.”

But the design thinking approach to life won’t necessarily lead you to your passion, not right away, anyway, and that’s by design.

“We believe that people actually need to take time to develop a passion,” the authors write. “And the research shows that, for most people, passion comes after they try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery–not before. To put it more succinctly: passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause.”