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Designing Your Career, Designing Your Life

Is there such a thing as a “perfect” job or career? What does it mean to find fulfilment and happiness in my professional and personal endeavours? How do I know if I am making the right decision about a career transition?

Most of us would have faced these questions at various points in our lives, and we would have often wondered if there was some way for us to be better equipped or able to be deliberate in thinking about our life and career choices. What if there was some way where we could ‘design’ our lives and careers to give us the personal fulfilment that we so often aspire towards?

In an ideal world, someone would walk up to us with a ready-made career plan as soon as we had graduated from college or university, outlining a professional path that would be tailored to our skills, interests and aptitude.

We would never have to be anxious about whether the job we are in is the ‘right fit’ for us, if we were underperforming in a particular role, or when we would have to begin the job search process to seek a better opportunity with more promising prospects for career progression or a higher pay. We would simply follow the path set out for us, and perhaps attain the success we had been hoping for or aspiring towards.

The reality, however, is that even when we are working on the most important design project of all – designing our lives both professionally and personally – we do not have a chart prepared for us, one that we simply need to pick up and follow as if it were a map.

In fact, most of our paths would be filled with uncertainties, rejection, failure, unfulfilled dreams or aspirations. We find ourselves stuck, struggling to find a way forward and wondering if we would ever attain the seemingly elusive idea of ‘success’.

Why We Need to Rethink ‘Success’

We must remember the importance of defining success according to our own terms. We are often faced with the following questions at various stages in our lives: What makes you happy? What do you define as “success”? Is there a difference between “success” and “achievement”? Does being successful in the traditional sense lead to happiness?

Success tends to be linked to finding your purpose and passion, which are not necessarily measured by material possessions or wealth. While wanting to accumulate wealth or material possession are, in itself, not a wrong thing to aspire towards, this measure of success is not one that necessarily coheres with all of us.

Instead, we should aspire to live meaningfully, living a coherent life where who you are as a person, your beliefs, values and career are aligned. Some of us would define success as being a stay-at-home parent who is able to look after their children; for others, it would mean forgoing a traditional corporate career to start a business.

Regardless of what path we eventually choose, it has to make sense to us as an individual, and not one that we choose simply because it aligns with what society defines as success, what our loved ones and friends may impose on us, or one that was instilled in us by teachers or professors because we pursued a certain course of study in university.

Designing the Life You Desire

Lynn Good, president, CEO and vice chair at Duke Energy stressed the importance of not letting your career define you – while it is undoubtedly important to take pride in what you do professionally or for a living, Lynn highlighted that it was far more important to see yourself in your other roles, be it as a mother, friend, sister or colleague, and then do work that makes you happy and passionate about. Drawing fulfilment from the person that you are outside of your career allows you to focus on who you are as an individual first and foremost, and better able to identify your own measures of success.

Stanford University professor Dave Evans, co-author of ‘Designing Your Life’, a best-selling self-help book that aims to teach individuals how to design their personal and professional lives by stepping into the shoes of a designer, stresses the importance of connecting the dots of who you are, what you believe, and what you do. When these areas cohere and align with each other, you allow yourself not to be defined or merely satisfied with success: you may end up uncovering happiness defined according to your terms.

One of the easiest first steps that you can take towards designing your life and career is to conduct what Dave Evans calls “life design interviews”. Akin to informational interviews, a concept that we might be more familiar with, a life design interview involves asking some who has designed a career and life that you hope to achieve or get to and inviting them to share their story. Simply ask them about their journey in getting to where they currently are, and what a typical day in their life is like. The more candid the responses, the better – they will go a long way towards helping you determine if this is a similar journey that you would want to pursue for yourself.

Ladders, Paths, or Journeys?

The path to designing your life and career is undoubtedly going to be riddled with obstacles, challenges and even naysayers who might discourage you in the process. As you seek to uncover new opportunities and explore interests that align with your passion and values, it is equally important that as you give yourself permission to take chances and step out of your comfort zone, you allow yourself to make mistakes along the way. Importantly, the process of trial and error as you set out to design your life and career will lead you to discover new interests and passions.

You will embark on a journey of reinventing yourself, both inwardly and outwardly, by discovering new opportunities and possibly letting go of ideals or beliefs that you might have previously held. However, it is this curiosity and inquisitive spirit that is the hallmark of a designer, as these new experiences will provide you with valuable lessons and creates the foundation for a well-designed life – one that is crafted from a portfolio of experiences, adventures and even failures.

Keep persevering, no matter what the circumstances may be, because at the end of the day, it is you and you alone who is accountable to yourself. Design a life and career on your own terms, trust in the path that you have decided to set for yourself and get ready to discover the person that you have aspired to be all along.

Finally, remember that designing your life and career is a constant project – be open and ready to embrace the opportunities and changes that will inevitably come your way, as you thoughtfully engage in this ongoing process.

YWLC’s Leadership Development (LD) and Marcoms teams are excited to launch the first in a series of articles to help you, our YWLC community, lead your best personal and professional lives. We were inspired to put together these articles following our successful LD event in partnership with Visa, on ‘Designing Your Career’.

Our participants took away valuable lessons on how to articulate their professional goals, uncover their passions, and design a career that aligns with their beliefs and values. In this article, which builds on the workshop conducted by Bianca Stringuini, Senior Director, Inclusion & Community for Asia Pacific for VISA, we discuss what is meant by ‘success’, and the importance of defining success on your own terms as the crucial first step towards designing your career.

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