Stanford University is revered as one of the greatest universities in the world. It’s 16,000 students are some of the hardest working and intelligent people alive today.
Yet every year, somewhere between 15% and 20% of the student body attends one of the three courses taught by the school’s Life Design Lab. Their mission? To learn how to design a meaningful and fulfilling life.
It might seem a little strange to think that the students of an esteemed school like Stanford would need help defining their future. Yet as Life Design Lab co-founder Dave Evans reveals in his 2018 DO Lecture, even the best minds have a habit of stumbling into post-academic life unprepared.
The problem, he says, is “dysfunctional beliefs”. Very few people leave university and end up in a job within the industry they studied to be a part of. Even fewer are prepared to accept that. They entered tertiary education passionate about the idea of learning about a specific subject, and turning that knowledge into a career.
What the Life Design Lab does is redefine the perception of passion. Instead of seeing it as something that an individual instinctively has, Evans and his colleagues teach that true passion, beneficial passion, is found.
To discover passion, they employ design thinking, a method of creating a future through a process that encourages a culture of mindsets.
The process begins with the curation of curiosity. The idea is not simply to come across ideas that interest you, but to seek them out by attending events, engaging in conversation, or even browsing the internet. As Evans notes, the number of jobs people do far outweighs the number of degrees taught at any university. It is therefore up to the individual to discover them.
Next comes talking to people to find the story, not the deal. That means connecting with people not for the sake of personal benefit, but with the goal of learning, and understanding. It is through this raw, human dialogue that connection can be found, and interests can be ignited.
The third step is simply to try stuff. Explore new ideas and interests by setting the bar low, clearing it, raising it a little higher, and starting again. One of the key issues with a dysfunctional belief about passion is that it feeds a desire for greatness that often leaves its subject’s impatient and frustrated. They want to be the best without developing themselves along the way. They fail, and get angry, instead of reflecting on their failure.
It is in this reflection, on both the good and the bad, that the process reaches its most important point: the telling of the story. Evans tells the story of how a friend, deep in the process of design thinking, attended a husband’s work dinner for the sake of conducting research. There, she struck up conversation with a fellow guest about what she was doing. Her interest made her interesting, and the guest ended up making a suggestion that redefined her entire career for the better.
Evans’s friend developed a meaningful and fulfilling life not by enslaving herself to what she believed to be her passion, but by curating her curiosity, reflecting on what she had learnt, and transforming it into a story that became the breeding ground for her future.
The Life Design Lab might have been created for Stanford students, but its teachings can be of great benefit to anyone who respects the power growth, change, and innovation. Nobody is ever too old, too well established in a career, or too content to shape the life they want. All it takes is acceptance.