By Joni Lindquist

One of the questions I hear most often as a financial planner and career coach is: How do I know if I’m making the right decisions now to get to where I want to be in the future?  An exact answer would require a crystal ball, which I haven’t been able to find yet on Amazon.  Instead, most of use a variety of tools and processes when faced with the major milestone decisions in our lives.

Stanford’s Business School created a methodology to create technology products and spaces called Design Thinking.  The concept is now being used to help us make important decisions, essentially designing for your life.  The process has five major steps:

  1. Empathize with a user
  2. Define a problem
  3. Ideate or brainstorm
  4. Prototype solutions
  5. Test

Using Design Thinking, when we hit a turning point – either considering a new job or preparing to retire from our primary career – we can learn from others, define the problem, develop options (ideate), prototype solutions and test them.  Bill Burnett, who co-founded the Stanford Life Design Lab, helps students apply this thinking to their future careers.  “There are many, many versions of you that you could play out, all of which would result in a well-designed life,” said Burnett.  He also stressed the importance of dispelling “dysfunctional beliefs” such as asking people “What’s your passion?” because research shows most people don’t have just one area that interests them.

Next time you are faced with anxiety about your possibilities, try following the design thinking steps:

  1. Empathize with a user – Talk to others who have been through similar transitions to gain useful perspectives.
  2. Define the problem.
  3. Ideate or brainstorm and develop options – I recommend jotting down at least three different decisions you could make to solve the problem you just defined.
  4. Prototype – In life design, prototypes are experiences you create to answer a question. Prototypes are also a great way to get realistic data about your possible future. You want to create brief, cheap (don’t invest too much time or money!) prototypes.
  5. Test – Play out your options. For example, when I conduct my Retirement Readiness program, I encourage clients to “sample” their ideal retirement life prior to retiring. If you are considering moving, rent a place in your destination for a month and “live” there.  Take a sabbatical or extended time off work and schedule that time as if you are retired – what will you do?  By sampling or prototyping, you can identify the activities things that really interest and engage you, make you feel productive and valuable, and/or those that you simply enjoy.  You can stop stressing about finding your “passion.”

If you are considering a job move, it may be harder to prototype, although you can at minimum talk to people at the new company to get a feel for the culture.  Reach out to those in your network who have held similar jobs – what did they like, dislike, what are common challenges, etc.?  You may request to shadow someone doing the job to get a feel for it.  These are close approximates to prototypes.

Rather than just letting life happen, you can use the Stanford Business School’s Design Thinking process to help outline your life as you face key turning points.  If you feel stuck and unable to make a decision, I can help.  Schedule a meeting by clicking below, contact Joni Lindquist –, or call (913) 345-1881.