Career chaos meets life design

by Nov 1, 2019

I chose my undergraduate course of study based on slick movie thrillers about clever crimes and the interesting lives of others, almost always with a savvy out-witting psychologist at the centre. I chose at least my first three jobs based on what was easy to access – advertised roles with known job titles or positions suggested for me by someone else. My early career felt undirected and often lonely. Ironically I now spend much of my days helping others navigate the trickiness of career moves and professional development, always encouraging curiosity and proactivity. Managing our careers is harder than we first think.

Bright and Pryor’s Chaos Theory of Careers introduced us to the notion that today’s world is constantly changing, and one event can influence another unexpectedly, making our lives and careers unpredictable. To navigate through this chaos we need to develop strategies to embrace unplanned events, to be aware of what’s happening in the world so that we can be alert to changes and respond in a positive way. It’s helpful to know ourselves, the value we have to offer, and to constantly adapt based on our changing environment and personal needs. A natural next question arises. How the hell do I do that?

Enter Life Design.

Created at Stanford by Burnett and Evans, the Designing Your Life program has become a popular course, a book, a philosophy, dare I say a movement that seems to be sweeping university campuses and beyond all over the world. Having just returned from the four-day Life Design Studio for Universities held at Stanford’s, I’ve been asking myself if this could be the answer to “how the hell do I do that”?

The idea that tackling the wicked problem of career decision-making is challenging, requiring focused reflection and broad research is not new. But I’ve been yet to find a simple method that resonates with career starters, career changers and career enhancers. Maybe this is it. 

Drawing on design thinking principles, life design articulates a methodology for figuring out where we want to be and how we might get there. Based around five core mindsets and a series of explorative activities, it provides a repeatable process to help self-direct our lives.

I’m looking forward to trying it out or “prototyping” to use the current lingo. In particular I’m struck by 3 areas of promise for approaching the chaotic world of careers with life design.

1. Curiosity and luck go hand in hand

Most of us of a certain age have examples of how chance, happenstance or luck has influenced our lives and careers. No matter how well planned we think we are, life has a way of surprising us. Life design requires a mindset of curiosity, to be open-minded to explore and “get good at being lucky”. It’s a nice way to articulate the need for acceptance of uncertainty, resilience and to encourage curiosity about possibilities – a concept central to modern career theory. And if this isn’t your natural tendency, then life design offers suggested activities to help get you thinking this way.

2. Designers have good processes for tackling tricky problems

Career coaches are notorious for requesting that their clients reflect, explore and network to achieve career happiness. But this language is often seen as airy-fairy or inaccessible to someone who feels stuck and just wants practical help to improve their situation. There’s great potential in utilising the process steps that designers take to approach problems that have more than one right answer. Exploration becomes an “ideation” process of seeking out multiple options with the help of others, using tried and true exercises. There’s an acceptance that not every idea will be a great one, but articulating the ideas and testing them helps us to move forward. These methods can be freeing – it’s permission to try things out in small ways and discover that there will be multiple good solutions rather than one perfect one.

3. Great results are achieved through collaboration

I’ve never met anyone who claims to have achieved a great career or a fulfilling life by going it alone. Yet most people shy away from discussing their career hurdles with others. These scary conversations tend to take place behind closed doors, and often start with a nervous admission of career confusion or standstill. Life design encourages us to open that door and work together with others to reap the benefits of “radical collaboration” – the idea that tackling a problem with others of different views, skills and knowledge will bring a collective creativity that results in superior solutions. It makes sense to deal with life and career decision-making by drawing on the support, ideas and connections of others. Forming life design teams, encouraging people to get together and step through this process collaboratively has the potential to reduce the isolation we feel during career turning-points, and help us reach desirable outcomes.

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. More importantly it seems like it could give us a robust process for how to do it.


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

By Sam Berry

By Sam Berry

Learning & Development Manager

Sam Berry is the Learning & Development Manager at PwC Australia, 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.