Stanford University Is Now Teaching Students To Design Their Lives To Make The Most Of It

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Stanford University Is Now Teaching Students To Design Their Lives To Make The Most Of It

Posted by: Mayukh Category: Self-Improvement Tags: , , Comments: 0

Stanford University Is Now Teaching Students To Design Their Lives To Make The Most Of It

“A well-designed life is a life that is generative – it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise. You get out of it more than you put in. There is a lot more than “lather, rinse, repeat” in a well-designed life.” – Bill Burnett

When we hear the word ‘design’ we immediately associate it with concepts like fashion, textiles, graphics, and so on. But two academicians from the United States of America have decided to take the idea of design a step further by applying it to our everyday lives. In 2009, Dave Evans from Berkeley and Bill Burnett from Stanford met up for lunch. Burnett was worried that students enrolled in the Design Program that he was directing might have a hard time finding employment after they were done and he wanted Evans’ help in finding a solution. In only a quarter of an hour, both of them had come up with a revolutionary idea.

Burnett’s fears for his own students can be applied to a variety of fields. Students gain a lot of knowledge at universities, but very few professors can actually teach them how to apply that knowledge in real life. Fewer still teach their students the importance of all-round personality development during their years in higher education. This is a tragedy because it is your personality that will define you once you get out of university, sometimes more than your grades. Self-awareness, a solid grasp on ethics, confidence, positivity, discipline, and so on are traits that are essential for people to live a good life and all of them take time and effort to build up. It is an educational process that we undergo for the entirety of our time here on earth.

The approach that Burnett and Evans worked out was fairly simple. They came up with five things everyone could do if they wished to design their own lives in a better way. The first step was to increase your curiosity. This ensures that your brains are better able to absorb new information whenever you are presented with it. The second step was to go out and experiment. Working with various prototypes is essential in designing and so, it is vital that we try out new things or the same thing in different ways as much as we can.

Step number three is to free yourself from ingrained prejudices and biases so that you are not limited in your thought processes. Rethink issues in different ways so that you can come up with out of the box solutions. The fourth step is to understand that this is a process. You can’t design your life in one day and there’s no fixed time period for this. It is a journey that ensures you get something out of every situation. The fifth tenet of this philosophy is to never be afraid to ask for help. Designing is a field that necessarily requires collaboration. Everyone brings a unique perspective to the table and no idea should be easily dismissed.

Using this philosophy, Evans and Burnett came up with a curriculum for an open enrollment course at Stanford which they have been teaching together since then.  The course is based on ‘design thinking’ and according to Kady Richardson, a student who took the ‘Design Your Life’ classes, it taught each student that they all had marketable skills which could be used in productive work. Students are given a space where they can meet up with others who are struggling with the same questions so that they can all work towards finding solutions by reading, reflecting, and experimenting.

By making use of techniques normally employed in design schools, the DYI course focuses on issues like integrating the workplace and the outside world, the reality of work situations, self-improvement as we grow older and so on. The classes include seminars and discussions, noting down personal reflections, talks from visiting lecturers, and one-on-one coaching sessions. They meet up twice a week for two-hour sessions and students are usually given readings that might take up an hour or so outside the classroom.

Every student is expected to work on an ‘Odyssey Plan’ and this makes up most of the homework component of the course. First, students need to make three five-year-plans. One is based on the course they’ve taken up already. The second is based on what they would do if they’d taken a different path. The third is the life they’d live if financial and social pressures did not exist. Then each plan is given a title made up of six words and the students come up with three questions for each life. Next the plans are ranked based on possibility, confidence, ideals, etc.

Sharing the plan with groups is encouraged and everyone takes turns to listen to each other without offering any criticism or advice. The exercise intends to show the vast number of career opportunities that are available and makes students understand that there’s no right answer. We all have different skills and the course shows students how to make use of those skills in various career paths.

Since it began, the Stanford course has gained immense popularity and has one of the highest enrollment rates in the university. Stanford has even begun to teach other universities across the world how to implement the program. Students who come out of the course describe it as life-changing as it helps them inculcate the confidence they need to stray from conventional career paths while teaching them how to apply any major to careers and vocations without constraints.


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