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Stanford University professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans have published a book that advocates using design theory to help people craft an enjoyable life. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life currently sits at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List. In a recent interview with Diane Rehm, the authors explained that the idea for the book grew out of the overwhelming popularity of a class they teach which uses design theory to help students answer the often intimidating question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Of course, this made me chuckle because I was in my 50s before I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And you know what? I’m still growing up, so . . .

Young people are often advised to follow their passion. But this advice is not helpful to the 20 – 25% of students who have no sense of passion in their lives. Burnett and Evans suggest that passion is not the starting point but the outcome of a well-lived life. I couldn’t agree more. They also point out that the best laid plans often don’t work out. Perhaps being curious and flexible enough to take advantage of unplanned situations that arise is more important than carefully planning the trajectory of a life. As students progress toward their 30s, they begin to panic because they don’t have life figured out yet. They are consumed with finding a career the provides them with a meaningful life.

One 27-year-old caller lamented that he was stuck working at a meaningless job and had no idea of what path to take. “I’m scared I’m getting too old to ever find a meaningful job,” he confessed. First I laughed at his notion of age. Then I thought, What the hell are you waiting for? You work for 8 hours a day. That leaves 16 more hours to do something meaningful and useful!

Why do we expect our job, that which puts a roof over the head and food in the stomach, to also provide us with meaning? Do other cultures have the same expectations of their employment? Why do we look down on waiters, car jockeys, craftspeople, public servants? Someone must do these mundane jobs. There is no reason to assume that the people who hold down mind-numbing jobs don’t have meaningful lives.

For me the question is as simple as this: Do you live to work? Or do you work to live? Is the expectation of one’s employment providing meaning to one’s life an outgrowth of a pampered society? The folks I feel sorry for are the ones who must work img_5006several meaningless jobs just to make a living. Their work is undervalued therefore they are underpaid. They have precious little time to enjoy living, much less to worry about whether their lives have meaning. Maybe some of these muddled Stanford students could work toward leveling the economic playing field for all workers. How about that for meaningful?

What brings meaning to your life?