Asking Questions Clarity Design Life Reflection

Whose life is it?

Why design thinking matters in life and work.

Does life happen to us, or do we make life happen? Do we work to live, or do we live to work? Are you living your own life or the life of somebody else? Are you chasing your dream or the dream of someone else?

What is a good life for you? 

Did you ever (really) pause and reflect to think through these questions for yourself? Did you ever sit down with the people you love and wrestle these questions to the ground?

When you go with the flow, you’re not moving yourself.

Yes, these are all perhaps philosophical questions. That’s typically the pushback I get from those who tell me: “I don’t have time for these abstract questions. I have a business to run, a team to manage, and meetings to attend.” And off they go.

Before I move on, I’d like to make a few disclaimers:

1.  These are not questions for people in a midlife crisis. These are questions we should ask ourselves very early on in life. Perhaps even before we go to university or college. How many people truly choose the topic they love versus what their parents would want them to do because that’s what they studied?

2. Yes, there’s a direct link to business here. People who are intentional and coherent about their goals in life and work are better leaders. Better leaders grow and develop better people. Better people do better jobs for customers. Better customers (loyal, profitable promoters) create better business results. Better starts with who you are. Otherwise put, leaders who are not in the right spot and don’t love what they do harm your business. People often don’t enjoy working for these leaders.

Remember: Self. Leader. Team. Culture. Results.

I was never a great economy student in high school, but nevertheless, I went to study economics. Did I really think that through? No. My father studied economics, I liked business, and some of my friends went to study economics. Plus, I was never a great student in high school anyway, period. Good was good enough. There are a lot of personal lessons here that go beyond the scope of my book, but let me summarize it this way. 

I wish I had asked myself some of the above questions earlier.

Some people know exactly what they want early on, and they move accordingly. I admire my wife and daughter for knowing early on in their lives exactly what they wanted to study and do in life. My wife decided to study finance to make a career out of it. She’s executing it flawlessly. My daughter knew early on that she wanted to study Computer Science and (very likely) will make a career out of it. They’re intentional, coherent, and aligned in their thinking. Nothing can stop them. It’s great to witness.

They probably never saw it as Design Thinking, but that’s what it is.

When you visit an IKEA, you can see the tagline Swedish Design multiple times when walking through the store. You probably don’t see it anymore, but everybody knows it. Everything about IKEA furniture is designed with intention and coherence in mind. When you turn an Apple product over and inspect the back, you will read “Designed for Apple in California. Assembled in China.” Why California and not the United States? Even that is intentional. Fits the brand better.

It pays off to think through your perspectives on work and life. It pays off to spend time on these types of questions and be intentional about designing your life. It pays off to ask yourself how coherent and aligned you are in your life and work. I’ve just heard too many stories of people who are unhappy and muddle through. Doing what’s expected of them. By others. With their hands tied. Or so they think.

When you go with the flow, you’re not moving yourself.

When you’re not intentional and coherent in who you are and what you’re doing, you will face the brutal facts sooner or later. You WILL hit the wall. You WILL find yourself at a crossroads in your life. The crucial question is whether you intentionally walk yourself to those crossroads or let others take you there.

Do you have the courage to confront yourself and look in the mirror?

Are you willing to make the hard decisions? And I don’t mean the decisions others make for you because you’re afraid to make them yourself. If you’re unwilling to make the hard decisions, ask yourself what you’re scared of? Can you face that fear now?

What do you know today that you will decide one year from now?

One lesson I’ve learned in my life is that you can’t face these types of life-changing questions yourself. Yes, some people know exactly what they want, and that’s admirable. But even they sometimes have doubts and need somebody to rely on or talk to. 

Even a reliable compass can be distorted at times by powerful magnetic fields.

In designing your life, you need a partner. You need somebody who you trust with having your best interest in mind and who can ask you the right questions, provide you with candid feedback, show you the mirror, show you your blind spots, give you tough love and a big hug when needed. Somebody who can put their self-interest on the side for a while. That can be your life partner, a friend, or a coach whose services you pay for.

But all these people will fail miserably in their attempts to help you design your life when you’re not open to hearing what they say. If you don’t live life with a growth mindset, understanding that every setback you face is a possible setup for something better and reflecting on your role in that setback, you won’t grow. No partner can help you when you’re not open for help. Being open is alignment.

One of my main lessons is that life and work are not about trial and error. Mistakes are part of life, but that doesn’t mean one should not be intentional about their choices and think them through carefully. Taking on a design mindset for your life and work will increase your chances of living a fulfilled life.

More next week.

Your turn: What do you do to create fulfillment in life and work? What do life and work mean to you? What intentional decisions do you need to make?

Do more of what makes you happy!


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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