Career Design 101

Review of the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

I have a huge crush on this book. Or maybe my crush is on its authors. Either way, I’m smitten.

I’m not exaggerating or being dramatic (okay, I am, but just a little). I’m swooning because this book outlines a process for career exploration that offers a realistic view of finding the overlap in the Venn Diagram between fulfillment and money. There’s a structure and pathway here that goes beyond checklists and someone else’s categorization of work, and it guides people to crafting a life and a career that suits them. It succeeds for so many reasons, but I’ll highlight three here.

It Busts Longstanding Career Myths

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans point out that all of us operate under guiding principles that, if we looked closely at them, would fall apart. We cling to them because – well, for many reasons, but mainly because we’ve never thought to name them and to look deeply at them. Burnett and Evans call these guiding principles “dysfunctional beliefs” and they offer affirming reframes. Some examples include:

  • Dysfunctional Belief: Work is not supposed to be enjoyable; that’s why they call it work.
  • Reframe: Enjoyment is a guide to finding the right word for you.
  • Dysfunctional Belief: My dream job is out there waiting.
  • Reframe: You design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it.
  • Dysfunctional Belief: I finished designing my life; the hard work is done, and everything will be great.
  • Reframe: You never finish designing your life – life is joyous and never-ending design project of building your way forward.

In my work with career explorers, I’ve found that people earnestly try to find their way forward, and when they encounter stumbling blocks, they tend to see themselves as deficient rather than questioning the process or the structure that they’re using to overlay the process. This book offers a wonderful avenue to recognizing when we’ve gotten off track, and – more importantly – a route back to ourselves and the way forward.

It Doesn’t Depend on Passion – In Fact, It Supports People in Curating New Curiosities Within Themselves

Raise your hand if you’ve had enough of the “what’s your passion” question. That question irritates me because, as Burnett and Evans point out, only 20% of Americans can definitively answer that question. What about the rest of us?! Well, this book points the way for the rest of us.

The book begins with an assessment of where you are in your life, using the categories work, play, love, and health, and it also offers instructions for writing first a lifeview¬†reflection and then a workview reflection (simple questions in the writing prompts, and at the same time, very deep), followed by an integration of the two. These activities allow strong insights to surface, and they create a foundation to use for the remainder of the book’s exercises.

It Builds a Solid Foundation, One Based on Probes and Exploration, Not Leaps

I’ve heard from so many clients about their tidy plans that looked so nice wrapped up with a bow. The logical extension of an interest into a career that then fell flat, but because it looked right from the outside – it had all the right ingredients, it was super tough to admit that it didn’t fit. And suddenly, they wake up and it’s 10 or even 20 years later, and they’ve got mortgages and looming college tuition bills – no way can they switch now. (This is an example of a dysfunctional belief, btw).

Using the design process outlined in the book, readers prototype their possible paths so that they have data to support their choices before they’re too far down a path to make a pivot. That’s sustainability right there!

I’m so enamored of this book that I’ve created a six-week group that takes a deep dive into the book and completes the activities with the support of a like-minded community. Discover more about the group on my Career Exploration page.


The Heart of Career Focus Has 2 Veins

The question “Who am I?” is vital to career exploration.

What's the view, both behind you and in front of you?You need to know your strengths, your limits, how you self-sabotage, what lights you up, how you unconsciously push money away, the impact you have on people. There are layers and layers to you, and it’s worth delving into them.

Most important in a career exploration process, you need to know what depletes you and what energizes you.

But there’s another, equally important question in play here. It’s got the same flavor as “Who am I?” but it’s distinct. It stands on its own, and it deserves your full spotlight of attention.

“Who do I want to be?”

Certainly, you’re shaped by your past, and it’s important to spend time on that arena. When I work with clients on a thorough career exploration process, we actually go very far back into your past to your earliest memories. What we discover there is vital to where you’ll steer in your next career chapter. In fact, the activity that’s built around your early memories is deeply soulful and intensely insightful.

As you turn in the other direction, facing forward, the massive possibilities of where you can go are mind boggling. And that can shut people down. That overwhelm can bring everything to a screeching halt.

Being armed with this understanding — that you may exceed your saturation point and withdraw or give up — is essential to this process. You know it’s coming, so you can prepare. The tool that I use with my clients is a Criteria List so that you can measure your new opportunities against something concrete. You can actually create a spreadsheet and use numbers, or if you’re more organic and you prefer a gut feel as your GPS, you can still use that Criteria list, one that’s specific to you.

On your Criteria List is what you know about who you are and where you’ve been, and there’s also content that’s constructed from the question of where you’re heading.

Who do you want to spend your time with? If you dreamed big, where would you want to spend your time? What would you be doing? What objections surface as you consider this starry-eyed vision of your ideal work day?

Bring all of these questions to your exploration and give yourself the gift of a heartfelt exploration as you design your next career chapter.


Career Spin, Reinvention, and Horror Movie Screams

I visited my neighbors’ house, and their 7-year-old asked me about my work.

“What do you do?” she asked.

“I work with people to help them discover their work and find jobs,” I said, feeling smug that I could encapsulate it that easily for a first grader to recognize its value.

“Oh…” Pause. “Is that it?”

Reality descended as I recognized I didn’t perform at the level I’d hoped. My face fell.

“Well,” I said lamely, “I also write.”

“Hmmm…,” she said as she wandered off.

So, maybe I couldn’t impress a first grader, but hopefully, my latest articles on Careerealism might hold your attention for a bit longer: