Designing our lives intentionally

By Michael Lashley

“We invite people to live intentionally, in a generative, thoughtful way, and we give them a bunch of tools.” (Dave Evans, Stanford University)

Thanks to the intervention of my friend Richard de Lima, I have found yet another example of practical solutions to the challenges we face at all stages of our lives. Richard drew to my attention the existence of a Stanford University course entitled Designing Your Life, the fundamental principles of which are valid for everyone, not just university and college students. The leading lights of the course are Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, both Stanford staffers.

That course, referred to as DYL, brings home to us the lasting value of designing our lives, acting with clear intentions, being of service to others and investing in relationships. Regardless of our areas of work, pleasure and community activity, our success is always the result of the extent to which our thinking, acting, reading and sharing have a positive effect on the lives of others.

Therein lies the error that so many of us make in our education, our work and in our private life: we tend to identify our “vocation” based on the narrow perspective of a specific job. Instead, we should see each one of our courses of study, our professions, our leisure activities and our community activities not as a means to an end but as an end in itself.

It is not just a matter of a destination but a series of objectives that enrich our life journey.

In that context, DYL helps us to work our way around the decisions that we need to take about our lives and our work by reframing the “problems” then using a set of tools and ideas to start the process of building a way forward. It therefore effectively goes beyond the traditional (and still effectively current) over-emphasis on academic content and skills and focuses on developing the whole person.

The core work of the course is the requirement for each individual to prepare and present to the larger group (students and teaching staff) three radically different five-year plans for his / her own future life.

There are reasons for all those aspects of the course design and strategy. On the one hand, the students must put themselves in the driver’s seat in taking charge of the course content and of their longer-term future. On the other hand, it is strategically important to explore more than one plan for oneself

In the words of Dave Evans, “There’s more than one person running around in you and they are all you. Creating multiple solutions empowers the one you ultimately decide on.” Prof. Julie Reuben of Harvard University adds to those considerations the strong motivational factor: “… freely chosen activities (are) more powerful than externally forced activities.”

Another Stanford academic, Carly Jansen, describes that whole process as how “to connect the dots between the legacy you want to leave on the world and the career decisions you need to make today.”

The logic of that thinking caught my attention. Some of those involved in DYL summarized the personal development results and benefits as being gratitude, generosity, self-awareness and adaptability.

One student took the course to heart and developed and lived her own comprehensive recipe for being happy and healthy while making the world a better place. In addition to daily exercise, investing in relationships, reading at least one book a month, and showing gratitude, she did all those things simultaneously in the ways she provided a living example of “servant leadership” by her daily life of  service to others.

I find inspiration in the lives of all those thousands of persons around me who, each on in their own way, put those Designing Your Life values into action.

Take a bow Rosa Lokaising, Stella Pinnock, Rasheed Sultan-Khan, Ken Jeffers, Gordon Cressey, Tom Sosa Sr., Steve Khan, Lennox Borel, Rita Cox, Jennifer Tory, Jean Augustine, Jean Turner-Williams, Roger Thompson and Kevin Chin of Read 2 Rap, Itah Sadu and Miguel San Vicente, Beverly Tang Kong and Lloyd Pierre of Imagemakers, Sam Cole and his extended family and Marilyn-Daniel-Awong and her extended family.

Michael Lashley
Michael Lashley