Snapshot of a Life Design Canvas, created by a student in Tulane University’s life design class, Taylor Your Life

(Re) Designing Your Life in a post COVID-19 world

by Julia Lang and Mehr Manzoor

In a post COVID-19 world, many of us find ourselves having completely restructured our lives and are in the midst of exploring entirely new ways to work, socialize, and imagine our professional journey ahead. No one is spared from the drastic effects of how life has changed as a result of COVID19 and nobody knows if we will ever “return to normal,” or if we are simply creating a new normal moment by moment.

As our society slowly begins to open back up but our lives are still radically different than the way they were before, we see this unique moment in history as the perfect time to think like a design thinker.

Drawing from the fields of career education, psychology, and design thinking, Life Design (popularized by the #1 New York Time bestselling book, Designing Your Life by Dave Evans and Bill Burnette) is a creative, iterative, human-centered problem-solving methodology that can be applied again and again to navigate change and transition throughout life.

At Tulane University, we teach life design to over 250students every year in our Taylor Your Life classes and are eager to help folks beyond the university learn and practice this unique and powerful toolkit.

Below, we have outlined seven key frameworks and life design tools that can help you identify and redesign your life in this new COVID-19 world.

#1: Radically accept where you are in the COVID19 reality

Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

-James Baldwin

The first step in the life design journey begins with accepting where you are in the journey. Developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan and popularized by Tara Brach and explained here, radical acceptance is “clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion (radical acceptance).” To get where we want to go, we have to first start with accepting where we actually are.

Examining and accepting where you are now is the first step in assessing your life now, the impact that COVID-19 is having on you and beginning to outline where you may want or need to go.

Use the sentence stems below to fill out prompts, giving voice to an inner monologue that you may not have admitted or shared with yourself of others about your new COVID-19 life. Then, share this with others and hear their responses as well. While you may feel others have managed to cope with COVID19, you may be surprised to know so many of your colleagues and friends are in the same boat as you.

We have seen from our Taylor Your Life classes that sharing one’s fears, worries and questions is both validating and empowering as we realize that other share similar struggles. This exercise also illuminates some areas that may become the area of focus for your redesign.

#2: Define what matters to you

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.

Audre Lorde

Based on your responses in #1, what is working for you so far? Perhaps you have begun to cook more, call family, or go for morning walks. What is bringing you peace and stability during these uncertain times? How can you increase the frequency of what is working? What clues might it give you about your next steps?

On the contrary, what is not working? Perhaps you are floundering trying to home school your children while attempting to work full-time, or you are spending every night watching movies that make you feel more isolated and alone.

#3: Brainstorm multiple alternatives

The best way to get a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.

Linus Pauling

If you keep keep coloring within the boxes and writing on the lines, you may never be able to do something remarkable. Break your spirit free to explore.

Bernard Kelvin Clive

You can do this in many different ways. Choose your own adventure from the list below:

Look at your pains and gains and brainstorm at least 20 ideas for each “pain” or ways you can change your routine or lifestyle based on what is or is not working for you. Go for quantity! You will edit them down later.

Use this opportunity to brainstorm many possible pathways for your career. While we are increasingly seeing how COVID-19 is negatively affecting jobs and workplaces, such as employers freezing new hiring, reducing the number of work hours, and cutting certain jobs, this may be the best time to reimagine your professional possibilities.

If you are out of work or interested in changing professional pathways, examine all possible new jobs or opportunities that are needed to fill the gaps posed by this pandemic. For example, there is a growing need for strengthening health systems, building technologies to enable remote work or building connections, starting a home-based business, and designing solutions to address the social and environmental issues surfacing during this time.

This may also be an ideal time for you to ideate beyond borders and test out different potential career pathways and life experiences you have never considered, such as applying for jobs out of your geographic region or even home country, since most work is being carried out remotely anyway.

You can start by listing the challenges in your field of interest due to this global pandemic (“pains) and assessing how work is being disrupted to map out new possibilities and opportunities for solutions.

→ What new tools, technologies and resources are needed?

→ Research how the companies and organizations you are interested in dealing with COVID-19.

→Think: How can I add value?

To help you brainstorm, we encourage you to create three radically different life pathways. Consider these(adapted from the Odyssey Plan exercise in Designing Your Life):

· Create a descriptive title (“Shelly the social impact assessment consultant”)

· Make a list of questions you have about this plan

· Generate a list of people you could reach out to begin clarifying some questions from each plan (to start, it’s ok if you do not have a specific person here. You can list “freelance journalist” or “professor in economics”). Then, do some research to see if you can fill those in with real names.

· Begin to think about experiments you could create to get this idea off of paper and into the real world. Perhaps you can talk to someone living a similar life, gain a new skill by enrolling in an online course, or participate in a virtual experience such as conference or webinar to learn more.

· Use the dials in the bottom left corner to gauge:

→ How many resources would this take from 0–100?

→ How much do I like this plan?

→ How confident am I that I could pull this off?

→ How coherent is this with my core values? If you are unsure what your core values are, complete this exercise.

#4 Design experiments to test your ideas while in quarantine

Prototype 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 + Dave Evans, Designing Your Life, 2016

You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.

Shirley Chisholm

Prototyping is a great tool to test the ideas in a timely and cost-effective manner. It helps reduce risks and provides options to ask relevant questions related to your idea. Use this time in constructive ways to develop small prototypes to test the waters.

You may start by revisiting your list of “pains” and “gains” from #2 or different brainstorms in #3.

· Arrange a Life Design Interview:

o Reach out to build a connection with people who are doing work that interests you.

o Prepare a list of questions you want to ask them related to what they do, their experiences, their work environment, the organization they work for etc. These conversations allow you to get the useful insights into a career you planned and gives you an opportunity to assess how you feel about it.

o You may also be able to find answers to the concerns related to COVID19 and find inside information about how organizations are dealing with this new reality. This will also allow you to learn the language of the field and these conversations may develop into more long-term professional connections, expanding your network that you can leverage later on. See our Life Design Interview assignment for some useful tips.

· Gain a new experience: This involves trying something out or doing an activity related to your “pains” and “gains”, or career goals.

o Perhaps you are noticing that you are dragging in the afternoon? Try moving your workday from 7 AM-11 AM and and 5–8 PM. Just test it out for three days. See how it works.

o Missing time at the gym? Try four new fitness routines one week (research a yoga, dance, running and biking app or class) and give them all a try for a week before deciding which one you may want to incorporate into your routine,

o Interested in exploring a new career path? Try a wide variety of prototypes such as listening to a podcast related to a topic of interest, reading a book about a new field, or designing a long-term prototype such as taking up 4-week project or 2 to 12-month commitments like an online course or remote internship.

Not sure where to start? Check out our list of Prototyping in Quarantine ideas and fill out our Prototyping Priorities worksheet to map out potential prototypes.

#5: Design your Personal Story and Brand

Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken

Oscar Wilde

Brand yourself before others brand you”

Ira Kalb

a) Google yourself to see how you are portrayed on social media websites and check what comes up. What do you like about what you found? What do you want to change?

b) When you apply for jobs or reach out to professional networks, organizations and people are often interested in knowing more about you and want to know why you are reaching out to them. Prepare a Changemaking Introduction to use during your life design interviews. Check out Stanford’s short video about the Elevator Conversation. Rehearse it with family and friends and integrate their feedback.

c) Consider creating an electronic portfolio that helps your experiences come to life. A website or e-portfolio is a great way to share your past experiences with potential employers or people with whom you are trying to network. Think about all of the hours you spent writing papers in college that only your professor saw. You can easily turn that essay into a blog post to demonstrate what you care about and show your writing style. Check out this example from one of our students here for ideas.

d) Use this time to develop a great LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn provides an excellent platform to build professional connections and networks. The platform allows you to remain on top of the latest developments in your field and helps you build your personal brand while gaining access to 600 million professional profiles, offering an incredibly array of network connections and employment opportunities. To begin, read Tailoring your Profile to your Goals.

#6: Be flexible. Adapt your plan based on what you learn. Listen to what you don’t like.

Failure is a part of [the] process. You just learn to pick yourself up. And the quicker and more resilient you become, the better you are.

Michelle Obama

The point of experimenting is to see what works and what doesn’t. Don’t give up on an idea because you hated that one online yoga class you tried, or you had one bad conversation with someone in a particular line of work.

The key here is to engage in simultaneous prototypes from the different pathways you brainstormed in #3. Do not treat these different plans like your primary plan, back-up plan, and long shot. If you thought of it, it is possible! Try to go in with an open mind and really explore and test multiple different pathways, building connections along the way.

Be honest about what works and what isn’t working. Failed experiments are incredibly valuable, as they might teach us what NOT to do and help us understand what is not working and how we can move forward in a different way.

#7: Accept the COVID-19 reality (for now) and believe your life is worth redesigning.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Barack Obama

Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible.

Oprah Winfrey

Designers exist because they believe new products, services and structures are possible and that they can create something new. We must accept that this is our new normal (for now) and put forth the energy it takes to dig deep, talk to people, build experiments, and test our way forward.

You deserve to create a life with value and purpose and you can find what you have to offer, what you want, what you believe in, and the life you want to live.

It is ok to be scared or timid. It is a scary time in the world right now and it can be unnerving to think of trying or doing something new. When those fears crop up, ask yourself: is this fear rooted in my own insecurity, self-doubt, or internal critique? It could be a barrier fear (Galinski, 2011) or imposter syndrome that is holding you back from life. Lean in. Know that you exist in a sea of other people, all of whom are human and are struggling with their own feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. This is part of the human experience.

Summary

Life design is all about the journey. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in ways we never imagined and you can use life design tools to evaluate this new life, define areas you want to change, and design your way forward.

You have the choice to stand by as a passive victim, waiting out the quarantine, or rise to the challenge of prototyping and testing your way forward and redesigning your life in a way that works best for you.

Curious to learn more?

For more information about life design, check out our recent post, “What is Life Design?”, where we condense the complex and theoretical underpinnings of our Life Design courses into ten core frameworks and mindsets that anyone can use to re(design) their lives.

Julia Lang is the Assistant Director of Career Education at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking, where she supports students in identifying their changemaker paths — where their academic interests and career aspirations intersect with a commitment to make positive social impact throughout life. In 2015, she founded Taylor Your Life, a course that empowers students to find changemaking careers. Since then, she has reached over 600 students, trained 18 instructors in life design, served as a coach for Stanford University’s Life Design Studio, and has consulted with several other colleges, universities, and K-8 school about the future of work and embedding life design into their curriculum.

Mehr Manzoor is a Fulbright Scholar from Pakistan and a Ph.D. candidate at Tulane University in the department of Health Policy and Management. Mehr’s research focuses on gender equality and women’s leadership in global health. She is the Life Design Graduate Assistant at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking, supporting Taylor staff on the Taylor Your Life curriculum and the Changemaker RLC programming assessment. In 2019, she co-founded Taylor Your Life for Graduate Students with Julia Lang, a 5-week career-development lab that works with Masters level and Ph.D. level students at Tulane to “Taylor” their life journey by applying methods and mindsets of design thinking (human centered design) to their careers and work life.

Assistant Director of Career Education at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking @ Tulane University