Can I design my life during a pandemic?
It’s been 12 months since I wrote the blog Career chaos meets life design. Fresh from attending the Life Design Studio for University Educators at Stanford, I was inspired to experiment with design thinking as a way to tackle the “wicked problem” of career and life decision-making. But here we are less than one year on, and the world is a very different place. For many of us, career chaos has never felt so real. A global pandemic threatens our sense of safety and control over our lives, a recession looms, and intense stress in our personal and professional worlds inhibits our ability to prioritise like we normally would. It has left me asking the question, can we realistically design a life or career, or influence anything, in the midst of a global crisis?
Is Life Design still relevant? Three key aspects are critical in our current situation.
Most design thinking models suggest that we observe, empathise or somehow gather information as an initial step of the process. But when applying design thinking to life design, there’s an additional step that must come first: you must accept where you are. Not where you could have been, or should be, or wish you were, but where you are in this moment. It’s about acknowledging constraints – personal or situational. And more than that, it’s about recognising that some constraints cannot be influenced by you. In Designing Your Life, Burnett and Evans refer to these as gravity problems. And if we needed a true example of a gravity problem that we can all relate to, then COVID-19 is it.
The key is not to get stuck on the gravity problems. Instead we must be willing to reframe, to focus on the actionable problems by identifying the small changes we can make to influence our lives. This step is not easy, especially now and especially for those with additional personal or situational constraints. But the next steps cannot follow until we reach it.
In times of intense pressure it’s critical to get clear on what’s most important. Anxiety and fatigue sap our logic and empathy. So it’s important to pause and articulate who we are, what we believe, and what we want.
Life Design makes use of the idea of a compass which can lead us through turbulence and keep us directed towards our end goal of leading a coherent life. An awareness of the harmony between what work means to you (your work view) and what is most important and meaningful to you in life (your world view) can help form your compass. In times of change or upheaval, we need this self-awareness to help steer us.
We also need to be real with ourselves about how we’re spending our time. We can do things like visualise our week in the form of an energy map or record our engagement levels with day to day activities to build an awareness of what we’re doing and how it serves us. We have to pay attention to the present situation, identify the clues about what we can do more or less of to improve things, and have a bias to action. Career and life transitions rarely take the form of epiphanies or giant leaps, but rather small insights and incremental changes help us to take the next steps.
We are all creative, says David Kelley, Founder of Stanford’s d.school. But creativity takes focus and collaboration. If we accept the constraints that the current global crisis will place on the job market, we must also accept that many people will need to adapt, reskill or redirect their careers in a challenging environment. This will require us to have a mindset of curiosity to engage in activities that will uncover creative solutions, to explore and plan alternative options. We all have a role to play in this, whether we are displaced ourselves or not.
In life design, radical collaboration is required to find the best possible ideas. So it will be important for recovery from this crisis to carry on with the creative design process, and reach out to each other to explore options for now and the future. We will all need to be proactive and creative in finding ways to come together as a community, ideate and support each other.
Life Design remains relevant in chaotic times. In fact, it becomes even more so. The final thoughts I expressed in my original article have not changed: Designing your life will not eradicate the chaos of careers or guarantee happiness. But the life design methodology aims to put us in the driver’s seat of our next steps, and demonstrates that we can influence our own future with the help of others.
With so many options of which direction to take in life, how do you know which one will be most fulfilling? Or if there are actually multiple options you could pursue? If you’ve been contemplating these questions, we’ve got a series of virtual workshops for you! All current students or graduates within 2 years of completion are welcome.
Event bookings are limited and will fill fast! Register today to secure your spot.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash
By Sam Berry
Career Development Manager
Sam Berry is the Career Development Manager at UTS Careers, and has a background in career consulting, recruitment and education. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages to find fulfilling careers through developing self-awareness and employability skills.