Back in June I was facilitating a Saturday afternoon Career Mapping workshop and when we were wrapping up with final questions, I mentioning one particular book I thought might be helpful to individuals in the room.
The book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life is written by two professors who teach in the Design Program at Stanford. Years ago they created a class for students that showed them how to approach challenging life and career-building questions by applying a design thinking approach. If you’ve talked or worked with me in the last 9 months, chances are you’ve heard me raving about the book and the approach the authors take to building a meaningful life and career.
A number of people at the June workshop reached out a few weeks later to report that they had started reading the book and were loving it. The exercises and approaches that the authors take to building your career kinda flies in the face of traditional ‘How to get a job’ approaches we often think are the ways to get a job and create your career. It’s incredibly refreshing, positive, and yet still realistic. Since reading it I had already incorporated a lot of the questions, exercises and suggestions into my work with others. Thankfully the authors encourage coaches like myself to use their work.
One woman, Shannon, was so excited about the book’s approach she asked if I had ever thought about offering or could create a group program around the concepts and exercises the book offers. At first I thought, Oof a design thinking career program isn’t really part of my plan for the rest of the year.
But I kept thinking about it. I reminded myself that part of what I love about running Pivot is creating new programs and curriculum that help professionals grow and develop in their careers in creative ways that are fun, inspiring, and impactful. I was excited by the idea of prototyping the experience. And wouldn’t the idea of piloting a program on this approach be what the authors would suggest you should do to build your way forward to new and exciting opportunities?!
So, after about 2 ½ months, thankfully with the help of Shannon, the program started to take shape. We recruited a hand-picked group of eight women for the October pilot. Every week in October the group met for two hours to tackle different topics and exercises.
What we found during and after the program was so interesting. I want to share some of these reflections with you.
Women & Health
During our first two hours together, we all evaluated how things are right now in our lives – the level of work, play, love and health that we all have. The area 6 out of 8 of us identified as an area that needs the most work and attention was health. So many women had neglected their own health needs – even just making that yearly dentist appointment – at the expense of getting other things done or helping others.
Almost all the women expressed sentiments about how crazy their lives feel that they just didn’t have time to focus on health and wellbeing. I thought this was so fascinating given how talk of wellness, wellbeing and self-care feels like it’s everywhere right now. Somehow, even though almost all the women knew they should be taking time for themselves, and that there are plenty of resources out there to do it, they weren’t and were burning out or tired constantly.
I left our first session wondering what that conversation would have been like had it been a room of all men. Would they have been thinking about their health? Would they have neglected their dentist appointments to the same extent? And if they had, would they have cared as much? Is our physical body as a woman so much more important to us that we stress about it so much more than men? Why was this happening?
Work & Life View
The second session had participants taking pen to paper to write out what their view of work and life are. Each person reflected on their own answers to questions about what meaningful work is, why they work, as well as what gives life meaning and what a well-lived life mean to them.
I thought this would be a good exercise to do, but maybe a little bland. Wow, was I wrong.
One by one, everyone verbally shared with the group their work view. Then the group reflected back works, sentences and themes that stood out. It was clear this was one of the best exercises that the group got to do together. People really realized what made their view of work and life different from others.
So many of us get hung up on these external definitions of what ‘success’ and ‘happiness’ mean that we rarely ask ourselves, Hey, what matters to ME? What is success to me? What makes me happy?
One woman had been offered two jobs the week after. This experience gave her a clear realization of which job was a better fit for her given what her work and life view were. Had she not written it out and shared it with others she would not have had such clarity that the job she accepted was the right one for her at this time in her life.
Creativity is Challenging
Two of the sessions really required some creativity – which at 7:30pm on a Tuesday can be difficult! During session three, we did individual and group mind-mapping where we built visual diagrams that created associations of different words, themes, and ideas.
The purpose of this exercise was to get people thinking about a variety of different associations that may or may not lead to any kind of specific result. Depending on your mind map, you might come up with an idea for a job that seems ridiculous, or you might realize there’s an association between two things you hadn’t considered before. And that association might lead you to a new idea for your future.
When forced to think of what kind of job you might create for yourself that involves pajamas, breakfast foods and Brooklyn brownstones, your brain has to do some serious ideating and creating!
This was quite challenging for most of us – the rational side of our brain has a hard time stepping aside to let the wild or crazy idea or association come through. Allowing (and even encouraging) ourselves to have wild and crazy ideas can shake loose some really great ideas that we might not have gotten to otherwise. And who knows, often the wild or crazy idea turns out to be a real possibility.
The older we get, and the more traditional our job, the more we don’t use true creativity in our daily lives. Adult summer camp weekends have become incredibly popular in the last few years - is it that adults are craving the creativity and fun games and activities that those experiences provide?
Skepticism about how things will play out inhibits us from even letting an idea play out in our minds. I’m not sure if fixing this is important, but it seems to me that it should be. In fact, I found my jaw agape after listening to one woman share a creative idea she had for a business that I had never heard her voice and I had been working with her for nearly 10 months!
It seems that most of us don’t allow ourselves time and space to be creative. What are we missing out on by not allowing room for this?
Reflecting on this has pushed me to think about how I can bring more ideation and creativity into the coaching I do. With a project as big and stressful as a career transition, we can get so focused on the tactical, practical and planning work that we forget how to tap into our deeper and less well articulated homes and dreams.
Versions A & B of Life
As we got further along in the sessions, we dove into ‘Odyssey Plans,’ which the authors describe as a graphic representation of three possible alternative lives you might live over the next five years.
This is where we all had to get specific and think about all the parts of our lives – work, health, love, play – and what the next five years could look like. The authors suggest that one of the three be a bit crazier – the one that we secretly wish were possible if money, pride and ability weren’t an issue.
So many participants had one plan that made their face light up when they spoke about – and it was often the third. Yes, the third was the one that was supposed to be crazy/fun, but we all commented that everyone’s ‘crazy’ idea didn’t actually sound that crazy.
I spent time afterwards reflecting on how many people I’ve talked to over the years that seem to feel that their lives are either version A or B. Version A is working in a high powered or high impact job with crazy hours, making money and not spending time with family, friends or on vacations. Version B is living in a different city/state/country with a slower pace of life raising children or chickens, not making much money but money’s not important in version B.
This is one of the most valuable things the designing thinking approach offers; encouraging us to adopt a bias to action and try stuff, rather than this ‘either/’or thinking we all fall into so readily. How many of us end up stuck in ‘thinking mode’ where we have to think through everything before we try anything?
Many of us are stuck in Version A and continually think about Version B, but 95% of us don’t ever make a change. Why does it have to be only these two options? Why aren’t there more versions that people consider? Isn’t there room to create a middle ground? How do we get more people to Version C, which might be a combination of A and B but could also include even more great factors potentially!
Fear and Worry Are Really Getting in the Way
It seems very clear after this program that part of what holds people back and staying stuck in Version A of their life is that fear and worry get in the way. When I asked a number of people, what held them back from pursuing something specific in their odyssey plans they said they worried it wouldn’t work.
What I wondered was whether they personally would be disappointed if something didn’t work out, or if it was more about external pressure from friends, family and even social media.
Which is so interesting given that so many people are flooded daily with brands and images on their social media feed that say the opposite. You know what I’m talking about… the “Dream BIGGER!” “Don’t settle for anything!” “Just do it and make it happen!” graphics, logos and quotes that are pushing everyone not to settle and go after their hopes and dreams.
But despite the fact that there have never been more resources available for individuals to create meaningful lives and careers, something is still holding most people back. Is it too much rational thinking? Is it lack of creativity? Is it too much fear, worry or pressure?
I don’t know the answers to most of the questions that this pilot brought up for me and others. But I’m excited to keep thinking about them.
Now that we’ve implemented the first version of the program, we’re back to where we started with the need to further define the questions and problems, ideate the next phase of the program, prototype it and test it again in 2018. I can’t wait.