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A (well-) designed life

Everyone wants to have a fulfilled, happy life and achieve their dreams. For some people, it seems to come easily. Others reach their goals through hard work and effort. However, there are also those who struggle with a lack of satisfaction. Can each of us live the life we want? What to do to turn dreams into reality?

Your project – life

What if you looked at your life as a project and approached it like a designer - not so much looking for a way to achieve an aim, but creating it?

A well-designed life is one that makes sense. It is a state of perfect alignment between who you are, what you believe in and what you do. And when someone asks you, ‘How’s it going?’, you have an answer. You can say that life is going great for you and you can explain how and why. A well-designed life is a remarkable catalogue of experiences, adventures, falls that teach you how to pick yourself up, difficult moments that make you stronger so that you can get to know yourself better (…). (Burnett, Evans, 2017)

Curiosity will be useful in the design approach, because it inspires constant exploration and makes the world a place full of endless possibilities. Sometimes, you have to start a journey before you know where you are going. It takes courage to try and accept errors and blunders as a natural part of the learning process. Checking and testing ideas allows you to decide what works and what does not, and sometimes it shows you that the problem is located elsewhere. Creativity will allow you to let your imagination run wild and generate lots of ideas for the future. If you are stuck, it will create space to reframe the problem, shed new light on it or change the perspective. Patience will be essential, as change takes time and new ideas or goals cannot always be easily achieved. In designing your own future, it is also worth taking help from others - designing is a team effort, and it is hard to do it alone.

Where are you heading?

The goals, priorities and dreams that people have can vary. Also, they may change over time. Each of us has moments when we know exactly what we want, we feel strongly motivated to work towards achieving our vision and everything seems clear. There are also times when the goal seems to be right in front of us, but we do not do anything to reach it. We may have doubts and abandon it in the process. Alternatively, we can achieve it despite the absence of motivation, but feel no satisfaction. There are also times when we do not know where we want to get.

The first, essential, step in designing our future is to find out what our goal is, what we desire, what we dream about and what we want to achieve. A common hint at this stage is to follow your passion, but this is not always the right indicator of further direction. Studies show that in most cases we discover our interests after trying out new things and realising that we enjoy them and we are good at them - not before.

A picture of a bouquet of flowers next to a white cup with the words "have a dream".

Do you really want what you are saying you want?

Each of us carries more than one idea for life worth pursuing. The important thing is to construct visions that are valid here and now. We may have dreamt of something in the past, but it is no longer a valid project at the moment.

It is equally important to check whether the goal we set for ourselves is really our own. Cultural and social models and information encoded during our upbringing process can influence this assessment, obscuring whether we really want something, or whether we think we have to or should do it, because otherwise ‘what will other people say?’.

Perhaps the choice of a university programme is dictated by parental expectations rather than the student’s real desires? Or the job you take is prestigious and well paid, but not the one you want? The key to future satisfaction is to find out first whether the path you are embarking on is definitely the one you want to follow.

What can help you to assess whether the goal chosen is the best one at the moment and really you own is the feeling of flow. It occurs when you are deeply and fully engaged in what you are doing. Often in such moments, you are so absorbed that you forget about the passing time, you feel calm, in control and confident of your actions. Do you remember the last time you felt like this? What brings you joy and satisfaction in life, what fills you with positive energy will be a great compass in the goal setting process.

Start where you are with what you have

Once you know where you are going, it is time to develop an action plan. This will help to make what you are doing realistic and place the project in time. The starting point should be where you are now and the resources you have at your disposal. It can be helpful to visualise the future - imagine yourself when you reach the finish line. Achieving your goal is a process – do not forget about the need to maintain self-discipline and systematic work. 

Achieving one’s goals is not always easy, as various obstacles may appear on the way. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, throwing stumbling blocks in our way or not being aware of what can hinder us from attaining our objectives.

Perhaps the obstacle is the absence of certain skills or character traits? Or is there a blockade? Perhaps we sabotage ourselves because we do not believe in ourselves, we are afraid of failing or equally afraid of succeeding?

Sometimes it is easier to cling to an idea that does not work or to get stuck in an uncomfortable situation than to risk something new. Fear in such a situation is natural - change is always a step into the unknown, with no guarantee of success, regardless of our efforts.

What is stopping me from achieving my goals? This is an important question to ponder. An honest answer to the above questions will give you an opportunity to consciously deal with the obstacles and take further action to achieve your dreams. Most of the obstacles are in our minds, because we are taught to perceive our actions in terms of a success or failure. However, it is worth remembering that every failure is a step towards success, and thus, getting where we want to be.

Each of us has the potential and resources to be able to achieve what we want. Not always will we take a straight path or attain it quickly. Perhaps life circumstances will stop us in this journey and we will experience doubts as to whether we can reach our desired destination. Then it is good to look at the project again, review all the elements and, if needed, implement the necessary modifications. But it is always worth trying to fulfil our plans, intentions and dreams because a well-designed life is a life that makes sense (for us).

And you - what would you do if you knew you could not afford to fail?

Reference literature:

  1. Bird, J., Gornall, S., (2015) The Art of Coaching: A Handbook of Tips and Tools. Taylor & Francis Ltd..
  2. Burnett, B., Evans, D.,(2016) Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Knopf.
  3. Covey, R. S., ( 1994) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. DC Books.

About the author

Magdalena Niedbał – psychologist and coach who has worked with a variety of clients. She was an educational advisor at the Jagiellonian University Disability Support Service, where she focused on ways to support students with high-functioning Autism spectrum.