How was this past year for you? Did you achieve your goals? Were your ambitions thwarted? Did you set off on new adventures? Did you make unexpected discoveries? Was your life transformed or did it stay relatively the same?

And now that a new year has begun, how are you feeling about the days and months ahead?

It’s good to know that in times of transition there are companions close at hand, and many of the available companions are books. This book could be a friend on your journey this year and beyond.

Designing Your Life was written by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans from the Stanford Design Program. (Burnett is executive director and Evans is a lecturer in the program.) The book grew out of a course they created to teach students how to design their lives after college. The strategies and techniques they outline in the book are applicable no matter what your stage of life.

In the introduction the authors list and describe five mind-sets to guide you in designing your life:

  • Be Curious
  • Try Stuff
  • Reframe Problems
  • Know It’s a Process
  • Ask for Help


As someone with a tendency to ruminate, the “try stuff” mind-set speaks to me. The authors use the phrase “bias to action.” You’re not going to move forward by thinking alone, it’s in testing things out in the world that you’ll make progress.

I also find the “reframe problems” mind-set compelling. The authors provide quick examples throughout the book, for instance:

Dysfunctional Belief: Happiness is having it all.
Reframe: Happiness is letting go of what you don’t need.

Sometimes what seems like a dead end is actually a doorway to a more productive way of living.

Since the book came out of a course, it’s not surprising that it follows a logical sequence. The first three chapters focus on your identity and where you are now in life. The next three chapters look at generating ideas and trying them out. Then the book moves on to the practicalities of making things happen in your life, whether designing a dream job or immunizing yourself to failure. The conclusion returns to the five mind-sets, helping you to incorporate them into your life.

In keeping with one of the mind-sets, the book is full of ways to “try stuff.” Some of the exercises are daunting, for example in chapter five you’re encouraged to create three different five-year plans for your life. At the same time, the book is written in a breezy, page-turning style, suggesting that these intense bouts of self-examination might be fun.

I’ll admit right now that I haven’t done any of the homework—yet. Consider this part one of my review. I’ll update this page later in the year with news about how the book has personally affected me. In the meantime, I still feel qualified to recommend Designing Your Life as a valuable guide in navigating your way forward into what’s next for you.

The book’s subtitle is How to Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life. On the book jacket the word joyful is in italics. Joy. What could be a better destination in the New Year?

designing-your-life-smallDesigning Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans


Have you read Designing Your Life? Please feel free to share your comments below.