1. We Are All Designers

Living a Designed Life

Do people still use wall calendars? I used to have one in my office, but it was supplanted years ago by some sort of digital assistant and eventually by my cell phone. I still remember, a bit nostalgically, how the physical act of flipping to that final photograph for the month of December provoked a moment of reflection — a transition, perhaps, from the simple gratitude of Thanksgiving to the inexplicable urge to make the last weeks of the year “count for something.”


Even without the Currier & Ives illustration (or provocation) it still feels right, with the year winding down, to consider the journey that brought us here. As the daylight hours grow shorter, there is something essentially human about pausing, with a sense of gratitude, and taking stock. I hope you feel, as I do, that there is much to be grateful for.

I am grateful to live a designed life. I don’t mean that to sound smug in any way. As a kid growing up in a blue-collar community where the choices seemed to be “like it or lump it,” the notion that people could shape their own destiny was a revelation. (See my reference to “three kinds of people” in this blog from May 4, 2016.) Thankfully, I made the switch from being a young man taught to cope with life to one who accepted responsibility for controlling it. And, as Robert Frost so famously wrote, “that has made all the difference.”

I have heard similar stories from many of you and, in each case, success seems to hinge on understanding what’s missing — or what the unmet goal is — and designing a plan to get there. The objective may relate to career fulfillment. But it as easily applies to personal things like family issues, spiritual issues, relationships, and disappointed expectations. The essential principle of design thinking is that if you don’t like the direction something is taking, you need to stop waiting for someone or something to magically intervene; you need to make the decision to design a different outcome. Sketch out possible scenarios. Invite input from people who matter to you. Be specific about things you can act on right away and begin working toward the bigger goal.

Interestingly, two guys from Stanford University, Bill Burnett and Dale Evans, have offered a class to help students master the secrets of a designed life. You may have heard them on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” where they talked about their new book, Designing Your Life. It shows both the pervasiveness and effectiveness of design thinking.

My wish for you this holiday season is that you make time for reflection. Consider, with gratitude, your blessings and design a plan for the outcomes you desire. Surround yourself with people sympathetic to your design. Enjoy the design process as it unfolds.

There’s no deep secret to living a designed life, except, perhaps, to keep designing.