Tips for Designing Your Life

How Many Lives Are You, Really?

This is part one in a two part series exploring the different lives we can and currently do live. This post is meant to get you thinking, and part two will help you apply that thinking. This post was crafted for your enjoyment by Bill Burnett. 

One of the most enlightening exercises in our one-day Designing Your Life Workshop* is the Odyssey Plan exercise.  When participants do their Odyssey Plans they make a graphic representation of three possible alternative lives they might live over the next five years.  To set this exercise in motion we start by asking a simple question: “How many lives are you?” We often get some funny looks at first so we tell the participant the following story.  “Imagine that somewhere in the depths of d.Life Lab at Stanford, our d.Life Fellows have invented a “Time-Duplication”  machine that allows you to experience your life as many times as you’d like, and all of your alternative lives would run in parallel.  You could be a doctor, a poet, a fireman, and a circus clown, all at the same time, and all with the amazing vividness of the real experience.”  Then the question of “How many lives are you?” becomes a variation on “How many different people, roles, and opportunities have you imagined for yourself, before you picked the role you are in today?”

Once people “get it” this turns out to be a fun and liberating exercise of their imagination.  We get answers varying from 5 to “hundreds”, with the average being somewhere around seven or eight.  And the best part – people get a playful look on their face and their eyes light up when they allow themselves to remember how expressive, fearless, and open they used to be – before they got so serious about being the one-person they turned out to be.

So ask yourself the question; “How many lives are you?” and see what comes up for you.  In my next blog post I’ll give you some suggestions on what to do with the answer.