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Snapshots of
'Life Design'

What does it mean to use "design thinking" to workshop your next steps in life?

The Life Design Interview Process

In the Design Thinking for Life course, students produce something called 'deliverables' – projects that relate directly to their life and move the needle on their path forward.

One student, Deona, explains the stakes of the work she’s produced:


“In our design class, all the deliverables we do are about ourselves. All the questions we answer have to do with us. Back in high school, we were always talking about an old man in 1936, like… what?” 


Let’s do a deep dive into the process of one these projects...


Qayla reflects on a story of growth over her LDI’s

Deliverable #5: Life Design Interviews 


Last month you received an email from us asking for your help in connecting students for Life Design Interviews with folks in the fields that they are considering. 


As a reminder, Life Design Interviews (LDIs) are spaces for students to ask questions about the texture of different day-to-day work, and hear how others created their pathways into satisfying work life. As a bonus byproduct, students leave with a curated crew of field-specific mentors that can help advise their decisions and possibly open future doors.


One student, Leraun, sums it up by saying, “The name of the game is connections, building networks, and having insights about where we want to go.” 

Making Introductions…


Workshop U connected students to a graphic designer, an EMT, a local fitness and beauty entrepreneur, a head of cybersecurity, and an artist who makes their living selling paintings of owls on Etsy. A freelance video editor, eight different graphic designers, a brand consultant, a music engineer, and the owner of a community art gallery. (+ 97 others).


Some of these introductions were to...


A welder-turned CEO of a fabrication company (the student interviewer proclaimed: ‘the work they do is SICK!’)


A civil engineer who advised a student that his biggest takeaway from years of managing teams is that ‘you can’t teach personality!’


A man who has worked for 50 years as a commercial ceramic tile layer and says of his path that he ‘wouldn’t have done a thing differently, not one’.


Students also learned to make their own introductions. One student completed 23 interviews (yes, we did make it a competition… can you blame us?) by going up to just about everyone he met on the street. Of his experience, his main takeaway was that “almost everyone I talked to would have liked to start their path down their job sooner than they did.”

How To Shape A Life


Life Design is not career planning. It is the bigger and more expansive project of building a secure, purposeful, connective, satisfying life at large. 


So while this project produced a lot of job-specific learnings… more important to students was hearing a diversity of mindsets that people use to shape their lives over time. Our interviewees were storytellers, and stories stick. 


Some student takeaways were…


  • “People who take risks get lucky.”

  • “Plans are useless, but planning is invaluable.”

  • “Relationships are key.”

  • “To stand out, you have to let people know what you can do”

  • “Every journey has its pros and cons, but it boils down to one thing: how bad do you want it?”

  • “A profession doesn’t mean much at the end of the day if you don’t feel fulfilled in your contributions to humanity.”

Shifting Trajectories//Staying the Course


Everyone has ideas about what they want to do with their lives, but it's not often these ideas are backed up with evidence. LDIs help students take the Possibility Maps they have created (three distinct versions of their next year’s steps) and test them against real-world stories, people, and their own experiences, to build out a fuller and richer picture. 


Take two students who were highly interested in starting their own businesses. For one, LDIs confirmed the path: “If there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that I want to be an entrepreneur.” For the other, LDIs complicated it. After five interviews with self-starters with vastly different paths, they say: “I learned that entrepreneurship is overhyped and immensely daunting to embark on. [My LDIs] opened up a question to ask myself… am I ready to start my own business or do I want to join one?” 


One hyper-technology-focused student felt LDIs helped her break free from what has felt like a mentally inevitable track for her future. Workshop U co-founder Matt told her that “talent is a double-edged sword. People see that you’re good at something and they reinforce it. [What you’ve done through the LDI process] is not just open minded and creative, but it's robust. You’ve shown yourself evidence of a whole landscape of possibilities.”


The Nuts and Bolts of Opportunity-Seeking:


Much of the LDI process was also a practical crash course in adult communications: setting up calendar invitations, writing follow-up thank-you-emails, and other unglamorous but necessary skills of networking. 


One student, Alecia, says “I learned how to search for the people I needed to talk to… and what happens when they don’t get back to you”. Students felt floored by the idea that “if you follow up and keep those connections open, then we have those connections for life”. And importantly, came to see themselves AS connectors, not just reliant on others. “If anyone else needs this [in the future], we can say oh, I know someone in that field, and I could probably contact them for you if you’d like.”


Staff have many ideas about what the purpose of the LDIs are. We want students to meet people that they could see themselves becoming. We want students to practice building a community of mentors, and learn that most jobs come from people you know. We want students to start asking hard questions about what meaningful work means to them.


What did one student, Khalil, think the purpose was? He says it best in his Deliverable reflection.


“There are things people with experience can tell you about their jobs that you can’t learn anywhere else. Learning how work and life mixes together, and learning how to make them work as one and enjoy both sides is wonderful. The advice they give will last me forever. I want to ask more questions from those who came before me and went through hardships I might have that they can give me information about. Establishing these relationships will give me the answers I need.”

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