Designing Your Life With Dave Evans

On the evening of September 6, the Boston College community welcomed Dave Evans, Stanford professor and co-author of Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. As this year's freshman convocation speaker, Evans thoughtfully engaged the first-year class with his keynote address. The Gavel was fortunate enough to sit down with Evans to inquire further about what it is exactly that grounds and inspires his mission.  

In addition to being a theological scholar and management consultant, Evans is a lecturer in the renowned Product Design Program at Stanford University. As a member of Apple, he was instrumental in product marketing for the mouse and introduced laser printing to Silicon Valley, and later to the rest of the world.

Evans joined Electronic Arts before leaving to aid in the corporate development of start-up teams, executives, and non-profit leaders alike. While partaking in each endeavor, Evans noticed that everyone seemed to be asking some variation of “What should I do with my life?”

Attempting to answer such a broad question gave way to the groundbreaking course that applies design thinking to life. Here, Evans introduced the concept of design thinking to students at Berkeley and Stanford shortly thereafter. His latest book, Designing Your Life, walks readers through the entire, step-by-step process of seeking direction in personal journeying.

“Life is improv theater, there is no script. This is not an excel spreadsheet, it’s not an engineering question with a correct answer,” Evans explains. “It’s a lot scarier in some ways, but a lot freer in others. It’s kind of comforting to think that there’s a right answer, but it’s really hard to find people who have that.”

The beginning of one’s professional life is often believed to be ignited by an intrinsic “passion.” A large part of the college application process gives way to determining and marketing this passion. Undergraduate students, particularly those in Evan’s convocation audience, have successfully done so and are now eager to “live their best lives” over the next four years.

“I have no problem with following a passion, I just have a problem with the assumption that everyone’s got one by the age of 18,” Evans begins, “Usually passion is the outcome of a welded life. You work really hard to earn the maturity and the articulation and the competency to actually have a passion grow. It might take ten years into a career before you’ve softened up the ground well enough that the passion can blossom.”

According to Evans and co-author Bill Burnett, there is no such thing as “living your best life” because there is no best you. Their argument is that there are multiple versions of a single individual that are both authentically expressed and incredibly important. “There is more aliveness in one human being than one lifetime will permit us to express. Therefore, there is more than one right answer to who you are, and you can’t compare them equally.”

Evans was able to shorten the book to a single mantra (a syllabus to a course, if you will): get curious, talk to people, try stuff, and tell your story. Though Designing Your Life goes into much further detail, this phrase can help guide both students and adults alike as they maneuver through the ever-changing course of life. Find something you’re interested in, ask questions to those who will help you improve your understanding, undertake as many new experiences as possible, and share your insights with others. This methodology can serve to outline one's college exploratory years, career transition, or process of self-discovery. Regarding this design methodology, Evans remarks that “the ideas that [he and Burnett have] given people are humanly doable.”

The Jesuit philosophy of formative education encourages BC students to engage in reflection and discernment. Oftentimes such religious practices coincide with Evans' design plan. “My personal journey in what has become the Design Your Life program at Stanford and the publishing of the book really began in the faith tradition,” Evans begins. “I first grew into the methodology what I would now refer to as the Christian Doctrine of Vocational Discernment, with certainly the Ignatian tradition in particular. Christianity and design thinking not only get along, but design thinking is intrinsically Christian.”

However, he goes on to clarify that life design is not exclusively religious. “Bill is a very thoughtful Nietzschean existentialist, an atheist. And I am a very deeply believing Christian person,” he offers. 

The pair wrote Designing Your Life for everyone. The fundamental nature of the issues it addresses are not located in a particular generation, profession, or socioeconomic status. This design approach is so universal because it is so human.

“Part of what we signed up for was to stake out as broad a set of world views as we possibly can and make sure we develop systems that work for everyone, including both of us fully. Every component of what we do, we both think is fully endorsable. We worked really hard at not making this simply tolerant of inclusiveness, but profoundly integrated in inclusiveness. Anyone can subscribe to this without leaving any part of themselves at the door. Bill and I agree that what binds us is much greater than what divides us.”

Evans recommends that BC freshmen, and college students in general, rid themselves of the notion that college is primarily about the courses that constitute a degree and all else that naturally stems from that degree. “Too many college students go to college like they’re still trying to get in,” he says.

Instead, Evans suggests we take a more comprehensive look at the collegiate experience. “We consider everything you do in college as ‘engagements.’ My recommendation is that you treat all engagements—from your introductory calculus class to staying up all night having conversations with your roommates—as [equally significant]. They are all engagements in that you are going out and doing something in this exploratory experience called ‘getting an education,’” Evans articulates. “You are in charge of orchestrating the whole portfolio of what all your engagements are. You must think of it as the portfolio of my engagements, not just the transcript of my course work.”

So when it comes to “living your best life,” know that the concept is vastly implausible. Rather, the sum of your experiences, inspirations, failures, and successes will lead you gracefully down the wonderful, twisting path we call life.

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