Designing Your Life: Build the Perfect Career, Step by Step

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
Designing Your life
By Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Why Read This Book?

I’ve read this book over the summer of 2020 after I graduated with my Master of Science. Even though during my studies I felt 100% sure where I was ahead, I quickly realized once I was out of this academic world the big jump forward I was moving towards. In barely two months, I went from being on top of my game to being nowhere, and that freaked me out.

“What do I actually want to be?” is the question that kept me awake at night and gave me headaches by day. No matter if you are in your 20’s like me or if you have 40 or 60 years old, as Bill Burnett and Dave Evans argue, I believe that I am far from being the only one with this question in mind. If you are one of these people, that’s great, because acknowledging that you don’t know is the first step to creating change in your life. So, what do you want to be when you grow up? If you don’t know, then this book is for you!

This book can be helpful if:

  • You are wondering what you want to do with your life and your career.
  • You feel stuck in different areas of your life.
  • You are looking for a guide to help you design the ideal balance between Life and Work that matches who you are.

Short Summary

In a nutshell, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans guide you to designing your new life by:

  • Explaining to you WHY thinking like a designer is important and WHAT it can offer you.
  • Showing you both on a theoretical and practical field, HOW to think like a designer, to create a new mindset for yourself.
  • Offering you diverse practical exercises to create a step by step process for change as well as numerous real-life examples from themselves and their students.
  • At the end of each chapter, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans offer you a step-by-step list of the practical exercises you can try (wonderful right?).

“Passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause”.

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Introduction: Life by Design

Through Designing Your Life’s Introduction, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans tell you the story of how such a book came to light after having a simple lunch and how it is based on their popular Stanford’s Design Program that the authors created a few years ago.

To figure out ‘what you want to do when you grow up’, the introduction takes you through how life designers love problems as well as questions and most importantly – reframing.

“Designers don’t think their way forward. Designers build  their way forward.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

From starting a new career to making a radical professional change or designing new retirement plans, Designing Your Life is based on five mindsets – Be Curious, Try Stuff, Reframe Problems, Know It’s a Process, Ask for Help – that you will be able to learn and integrate into your daily life and create the change you want.

1. Start Where You Are

In this first chapter, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans take some time to make you think of where you are right now in order to bring a certain awareness to your life instead of immediately jumping into the matter of  ‘where you want to go’. The more you know about where you are standing, the easier it will be for you to establish which design problems you have and what you are trying to solve.

We all have different problems – your neighbor, your friends, your boss, me, and probably yourself. And if you know someone who doesn’t have ANY problems, please call me because I want to know his or her life recipe. 

Through those pages, you will learn to know what is a gravity problem and how to cope with it before moving to break your life down into distinctive areas such as Health, Work, Play, and Love. From that point on, the book will guide you to create a clear and organized dashboard based on your different life areas’ situations so that you truly know ‘how it is really going’ in your life.

“Although it is not possible to know your future, or figure out a great life design before you begin, at least you have a good idea of your starting point.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.

2. Building a Compass

According to Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, in order to design the ideal life you want for yourself, it is primordial to create a life that is coherent. By bringing coherency in your life, you will be able to connect these three important aspects of yourself:

  •  Who you are.
  • What you believe.
  • What you are doing.

In order to do so, the book’s second chapter guides you to write your Workview Reflection as well as your Lifeview Reflection. As happiness is subjective to each of us, the goal in this chapter is to ask you the right questions so that you can determine both your work and life values, which will help you to find or create the ideal job and life balance for yourself.

In a nutshell, your Workview is based on questions such as “Why work?”, “What is work for?”, or “What does work mean?” according to you. While the Lifeview answers to questions such as “Why are we here?”, “What is good and what is evil?”, or “What is the relationship between the individual and others?”, in your perspective.  When I first read those questions I decided to put the book down, and go make myself a cup of tea to process what I just have read. I mean, what on earth was I going to answer? 

At first, I thought that it would take me 3 weeks to write down my Workview and Lifeview reflections, but because of the examples and ideas this chapter offers, I ended up writing a bit less than a page for both of them quite quickly. Writing those paragraphs greatly helped me to see better where both views would complement and/or clash with one another, which also enabled me to realize when I do something in my daily life that is not aligned with my work and life values.

“It simply means you are living in alignment with your values and have not sacrificed your integrity along the way.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

3. Wayfinding

In order to design your ideal life, this chapter helps you to critically look at what you do in your daily and professional lives in order to uncover which activities make you feel engaged and/or give you energy. In a perfect world, we would all be doing only things that make us feel energized as well as engaged and so make us happy.

Unfortunately, this magical world does not exist. But, according to Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, by taking some time to create a Good Time Journal (that the book also helps you to create through examples and sets of questions), you will give yourself a higher chance to create a new life (professional or not) in which you spend more time enjoying what you do and so feel happier and fulfilled. In a nutshell, by creating this Good Time Journal, you will take a look at the Activities, the Environment, your Interactions, the Objects, as well as the ‘Users‘ you encountered and that made you feel good about yourself and your life.

“You are moving from one level of awareness to another, really exploring how things make YOU feel. You have started to wayfind – moving from where you are to the next possible place.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

4. Getting Unstuck

Now, this is where – at least to me – it gets really interesting. Once you have gone through your different Work and Life reflections as well as your Good Time Journal, it is time to generate ideas to unstuck yourself and create the next step to design your ideal life.

From using the concept of reframing  (explained in the book) to breaking down your plan in smaller steps and understanding what is an anchor problem, this chapter focuses on helping you to create three detailed mindmaps for one (or more) important activities you wrote down in your Good Time Journal. In doing so, the goal is to pick at some point one aspect in each mindmap and write a short job description based on this aspect.

And because designing your new life is fun, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans also offer you to make a brief (not a masterpiece don’t worry) description of your new job description!

“Dysfunctional Belief: I’m stuck.
Reframe: I’m never stuck because I can always generate a lot of ideas.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

5. Design Your Lives

When you look back at your life over the last 15, 20, or 40 years could you say that your life is like a book with many different chapters – if not different books almost? That the person you are right now is different from the person you were a few years or a decade ago?

If yes, then you will probably agree with Bill Burnett and Dave Evans on the fact that we do not have one life, but many lives. By creating three Odyssey Plans, you will offer yourself the chance to choose between different alternatives for your next five years. Developing three Odyssey Plans will enable you to come up with better, more creative, and more numerous solutions.
So, how do you create those Odyssey Plans? Well I won’t give you all the details that the book offers, but in a few words, your plans will be based on (1) “What you can do”, (2) “What you could do if number one was suddenly gone”, and (3) “What you could do or the life you would have if money and image were no object”.

Through a detailed example, you will be able to do this exercise and come up with different titles for your plans, create a dashboard and different gauges based on different realistic aspects among others.

“We call these Odyssey Plans because life is an odyssey – an adventurous journey into the future with hopes and goals, helpers, lovers and antagonists, unknowns and serendipities, all unfolding over time in a way we both intend at the start and weave together as we go.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

6. Prototyping

So now that you have your Odyseey Plans, and a better idea of where you want to do, what’s next?
Well, that’s what you will uncover through this chapter.

“Prototyping the life design way is all about asking good questions, outing our hidden biases and assumptions, iterating rapidly, and creating momentum for a path we’d like to try out.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

From creating real interview questions to finding people who are doing what you would like to do or who are familiar with some of the aspects you included in your Odyssey Plans, the prototyping step is making the connection between what you dream of and taking realistic small (but committed and consistent) steps to get where you want to be. Prototyping can also include looking for new experiences to try out that are aligned with your Plans as well as talking with people who understand you (a relative or someone you can trust), in order to generate even more ideas and options.

Even though you might think that you already know a lot about how it will – or should – end up; by talking to others, asking questions, trying new things (that don’t necessarily require a lot of money), you will open yourself to getting new information that you didn’t know about. A sentence, a word, or an act can be the trigger you need to make the next move.

7. How Not to Get a Job

If there is one chapter I highly recommend in this book, it would be this one. Since you can’t create your new life overnight, you might get in a situation where you need to find a job and pay the bills. I believe that this chapter is crucial in HOW you can look for a job in a different way than most people, by looking at it from a life designer perspective and through a new lens.

I absolutely loved the way Bill Burnett and Dave Evans talked about how job descriptions are being written, how you can understand them better, and how you can create a different CV and/or cover letter to stand out of the crowd and get a job interview. They also cover the ‘Super-Job Description’ and the ‘Phantom Job Listing’ Syndromes before warning you about those ‘cool’ and their pros and cons.

So if you’re looking to get a job, this chapter is a must!

“The bottom line is that there is no perfect job that you perfectly fit, but you can make lots of jobs perfect enough.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

8. Designing Your Dream Job

Let’s go back to Dreamland. If there is one thing that Burnett and Evans make clear, is that your dream job isn’t just simply out there waiting for you.  You are the one who has the power to design your dream job by elaborating on a process of actively creating and search. In this chapter, you will discover the power of networking and how it is accessible to anyone as well as shifting your mindset by talking about professional offers rather than jobs.

“You design your ‘really pretty terrific and surprisingly close to a dream job’ the same way you design your life – by thinking like a designer, by generating options, by prototyping, and by making the best choices possible. And by learning to live in those choices.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

9. Choosing Happiness

In a nutshell, this chapter helps you to learn the life design process so that you can let go and move on after you’ve taken a decision instead of agonizing and feeling stressed. You will learn how to:

  • Gather and create options.
  • Narrow down the list.
  • Choose discerningly.
  • Let go and move on.

In doing so you will be able to find happiness by letting go of what you don’t need. Great right?

“Life designers see the adventure in whatever life they are currently building and living into. This is how you choose happiness.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

10. Failure Immunity

Of course, no one is immune to failure. You failed in your past and you will fail in your future. That’s a fact and the faster you accept it the faster you can use it to your advantage. As Burnett and Evans explain when you decide to design your life, you might hit some walls here and there, and that’s alright. What you want to get out of those situations is how you can manage to turn those failures into actionable lessons for your future and get back on your feet quickly and efficiently. Through this chapter, you will learn to look at life through a new process that brings a balance between being and doing:

BE –> DO –> BECOME and repeat.

They will also explain to you their views regarding the concepts of winning and losing as well as guiding you to create a failure reframe exercise in order to categorize your failure between screwups, weaknesses, growth opportunities, and insights. The goal of this exercise is to create a stronger mindset for yourself regarding life failures so that you can grow quickly and use them in your best interest.

“Life is a process, not an outcome.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

11. Building a Team

Before moving to the conclusion, Burnett and Evans evoke the idea that by living your life and designing it, you engage in social collaboration with others. Even if you are an introvert, you are a human being and so a social animal. You cannot create everything all by yourself without interacting with ANYONE. This is why in this chapter, the authors spend some time to explain to you what you can gain by creating a team that will be on your side and helps you to create your new life.

From supporters to players, and intimates, the idea is to create a team for which respect, confidentiality, participation, and creativity are the group’s pillars. And of course, they also warmly welcome you to become part of their community in which you will also be able to find people to create your own team if you need it.

“Co-creation is an integral aspect of a design point of view, and it’s a key reason that design thinking works. Your life design isn’t in you; it’s in the world, where you will discover and co-create it with others.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Conclusion: A Well-Designed Life

By going through the key aspects of the book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans use this conclusive chapter to leave you with a few important ideas about creating a well-designed and balanced life. A great way to finish this book while offering you their general idea of what life is.

“You never finish designing your life – life is a joyous and never-ending design project of building your way forward.”

– Bill Burnett and Dave Evans


What an adventure. If you are looking for a book that guides you to create change through a practical step-by-step process I’m pretty sure that you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Being a young professional in my mid-20’s, this book tremendously helped me to give an objective and critical look at the person I am today and what I want to do with my life. Of course, I am still – and always be – in the design of my new life, but I can testify that doing those exercises and keeping in mind the important ideas that Burnett and Evans explained in this book, helped me to get a new job that fits with my core values and that offers me some professional opportunities that match with who I am.

A few months after reading it, I also found myself creating a mindmap of my values and keywords that made me feel happy and aligned with myself. I believe that once you read those lines and do those exercises, you will give yourself the chance to create a whole new mindset that will offer you numerous new ways of looking at and living your life. Some questions they asked through the book greatly resonated with what I have experienced in my life so far and questions I also had in the back of my mind until now. A book that I highly recommend if you want to create a positive and strong chance both in your life and in your professional life.

Wishing you all the best new life designer and thank you for reading this article!

Designing Your life
By Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

As they indicate on their website, Bill Burnett is an Executive Director of the Design Program at Standford as well as a Mechanical Engineering and Adjunct Professor who helps both undergraduate and graduate students at Stanford to design their lives. With more than thirty years of experience, the entrepreneur Bill Burnett has worked on multiple projects going from Academic Programs to Apple PowerBooks and the original Hasbro Star Wars action figures.

On the other side, Dave Evans is a lecturer and entrepreneur who contributed to the development of the first Apple’s mouse and who worked at Electronic Arts before joining Stanford University as a Consulting Assistant Professor.