If you’re feeling frustrated at work, you may occasionally fantasize about quitting your job, packing your bags, and becoming someone else. A farmer, a chef, an actress, an MLB player — whatever seems like it would afford you greater freedom and less stress than your current gig.
On the one hand, you shouldn’t let fear stop you from pursuing those dreams. You know, YOLO. But on the other hand, suddenly pursuing your dreams is a big deal, and you should proceed with caution.
That’s why the first step to take when you’re thinking about up-ending your professional life isn’t giving your boss your two weeks’ notice — it’s conducting “life design interviews.” The term was coined by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, professors at Stanford and authors of the new book “Designing Your Life.” Together, they teach a course at Stanford by the same name as the book.
The idea behind both the course and the book is to help people use the principles of design thinking — a strategy for improving on a product or experience, like a lightbulb or online dating — more broadly. The goal is to take control over your personal and professional lives so that you’re a happy, fulfilled person.
A “life design interview” involves asking someone who’s achieved what you hope to achieve to tell you their story. How did they get where they are today and what’s it like to have their job? Their answers to these questions will help determine whether you decide to pursue the same line of work.
All you need to do is invite them out for a cup of coffee for half an hour. (Getting them on the phone would probably work, too.)
Burnett and Evans write:
“You want to hear what the person who does what you might someday want to do loves and hates about his job. You want to know what her days look like, and then you want to see if you can imagine yourself doing that job — and loving it — for months and years on end.
“In addition to asking people about their work and life, you will also be able to find out how they got there — their career path.”
Conducting life design interviews is a form of what designers call “prototyping.” Instead of building a model light bulb and seeing what works and what doesn’t, you test out different life paths by asking questions and gathering information.
The danger of not prototyping, of course, is that you can rush headlong into life as a farmer, only to find that you hate waking up at 4 a.m. and that the smell of cow manure sickens you. If only you’d asked someone who does this job full-time about the highs and lows of their typical day, you might have known farming just isn’t for you.
Bottom line: No one’s telling you not to go after what you want — only to consider the possibility that you might not know what you want. At least not yet.
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