Burnett, B., & Evans, D. (2016). Designing your life: How to build a well-lived, joyful life. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.  

Review by Nik Rowan, University of Arkansas, [email protected]

The overarching goal of this book is to move readers away from trying to think their way out of problems and instead learn to build their way forward (Burnett & Evans, 2016, p. xxv).  The authors point out that in order to determine what to do with their life, “many people operate under the dysfunctional belief that they just need to find out what they are passionate about” (2016, p. xxviii).  Burnett and Evans explain that this kind of thinking often leads to indecision when people either don’t know what they are passionate about or have too many passions from which to choose. 

Five essential mind-sets that will lead to building a well-designed life are proposed. They include being curious, having a bias to action, reframing problems, being aware of the process, and asking for help from trusted people (2016, p. xxvi-xxviii).  The section on being curious provides ideas for how to actively learn about oneself, the world, and new career or academic paths in an intentional way. Readers are asked to answer questions such as, “What is work for” and “What defines good or worthwhile work?” (2016, p. 34). While exploring having a bias to action the activities are focused on how to try new things with low risk/high reward approaches.  This section also de-stigmatizes failing at something by framing it with a learning mindset.  The section on reframing problems provides tools and techniques for getting to the true essence of one’s goals without framing a question that assumes the answer. Being aware of the process is a mind-set that builds on the idea that failure is a part of growth.  Burnett and Evans write that the purpose of a life design model is to be “after something much more valuable than just failure reductions. We’re after failure immunity” (2016, p. 181). This concept highlights that change and failure are part of a never-ending growth cycle when done with a design mindset.   The last portion of the book on asking for help highlights the importance of mentorship and collaborative partnerships with others who are invested in your life. 

Throughout the book, each step in the process is explored through chapters full of examples, stories, and tools, which demonstrate how readers can actively explore skills related to the specific mind set.  An example from the section on being curious explores how readers can make decisions based on a compass grounded in their personal beliefs about the world.  The activity begins with a free association mind-mapping activity and culminates in readers creating a comprehensive statement about what they believe about the world and their place in it.  Each activity is connected to the next but can also serve well as an independent exercise. The concepts and tools in this book connect closely with the Relational NACADA Core Competency (2017) that advisors to be able to facilitate problem solving, decision-making, meaning-making, planning, and goal setting. The tools in this book provide quick, useful activities that can be easily adapted to an advising appointment or structured into a more formal long-term format.  The ideas in this book also serve to support the NACADA Core Value (2017) of empowerment by teaching easily applicable tools to help students take charge of their own decision-making processes. 

This book provides language to bridge the gap between the services that academic advisors and career advisors provide their students.  Its content would be especially useful for advisors working with first year and exploring students as well as students who need help making connections between what they study and who they want to be. It is also an incredibly accessible read, making it an excellent recommendation for students. The activities associated with each step move making life decisions out of a goal-oriented mindset and into a process-oriented mindset.  Burnett and Evans write that, “it’s not hard to imagine that if we added up all the hours spent trying to figure out life, for some of us they would outweigh the hours spent actually living life. Really. Living. Life” (2016, p. 29).  The purpose of this book is to provide readers with the tools to determine how to go about living the life of their choice.  While academic advisors might not find that each section or activity directly relates to their advising practice, the concepts in this book can be easily adapted to conversations about goal setting, major choice, and long-term planning.



Burnett, B., & Evans, D. (2016). Designing your life: How to build a well-lived, joyful life. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.  

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx

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