Retirement by Design

I just completed reading Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Although I have slowed down on researching “How to do a Retirement Transition”, when someone highly recommends a book in this space, I’m still curious enough to purchase and read. You never know when a new nugget of information will help continue the transition. I wish I had read this book much earlier in my transition!   While more career focused, it can definitely help someone create their own “retirement by design”.

The core premise of the book is to use the process of Design Thinking to design your life. Design Thinking is a well-documented approach (with tools) that helps you delve into creating the “right solution”, since every design is considered to be a solution to some defined problem.  The tools are not checklists or answers, but provide the basis for gathering insights, generating possibilities, and driving to action. In this case the “problem” is the what is your best life, so the insights help in defining who you are, what you believe, and what you want to do. While most examples in the book are examples of designing the right work/career path, the tools are completely applicable to designing the right retirement life.

A few of the elements presented were consistent in my own approach to retirement transition, but they used some cool terminology:

Life Compass – a summary of your Life View and Work View. It’s basically answering the questions of: what are your values, what’s important to you, what engages and energizes you, and why do you work. I’ve explored these areas in some of my blogs like where I discussed the key needs work provides (Status and Identity; Achievement & Utility; Social Affiliation; Time Management & Structure, and Financial Compensation) or understanding how to design in happiness (Level 1 happiness is connected to enjoyment in our interests, Level 2 intensity of happiness is connected to utilizing our strengths or talents and being engaged, and Level 3 happiness is linked to our core values and helps us feel part of something bigger.) Your Life Compass is really discovering and articulating who you are and what you need.

Life Dashboard – a snapshot measurement of core elements of life – health, work, love and play. This concept is similar to my Life Domains concept (7 retirement life domains: Health/Wellbeing; Work/Career; Hobby/Leisure; Relationships/Connections; Location/Lifestyle; Personal Development; and Finances/Prosperity), but adds the idea of actually measuring each element to aid in identifying where you want to spend your time in creating your next life design.

Prototyping – actually doing something, a small step, trying it on.   Prototyping comes after brainstorming (creating the possibilities list) and narrowing down choices. Design Thinking has a bias to action – getting to a choice and starting to do is important for designers.   Taking action moving into a design direction allows you to experience and learn, adjust and reiterate. There is a fundamental belief that doing something is better than doing nothing – by doing something you can always learn what doesn’t work!  I most recently blogged about the 10 Lives Approach – pick a “life” and do it for a month – and my month of becoming a yogi.

The book also provided me with a couple of insights into areas I’m still struggling with:

Passion – passion comes after you try something, do it for a while, and discover you really like it. Most people do not have one thing they are passionate about – the one thing that infuses every waking moment. (This was a very liberating thought!)   Most people have multiple, different things for which they have a moderate passion. So try on various things, see what resonates, and become the “hyphenated person”.  You know… the “foodie-wanabee, yoga-novice, blogger-extraordinaire.”

Paths – there are many different life paths you could take. You have the talent and energy and interests to live many different types of lives, any and all of which could be authentic, productive, and fulfilling. You shouldn’t be afraid to just start walking down one path and adjusting along the journey. Or living one life path now and starting another life path in the future.


I agree with the recommendation I received – this is a great how-to book for designing the life you want, whether it is the encore career/work you want or the retirement lifestyle you want or some combination of the two!


Picture Credit: Pixabay





18 thoughts on “Retirement by Design

  1. I’m going to check that book out! I’ve done a lot of work with new product development and design thinking, so I think it will be interesting to apply to lifestyle design.

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  2. Hi Pat The book sounds interesting, or parts of it maybe! I liked the observation that “Passion” is over-rated and that most of us don’t have one. Like yourself, I like writing and keeping a journal, but can usually only manage fifteen minutes to half an hour. Perhaps an hour with good coffee and a rainy morning. If I force it, it feels like work and unpaid work at that! I am discovering that structure and routine works for me and am quite surprised by how much it helps me get things done. I’m continuing to work on that at the moment.

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    1. My morning journaling is often just 15-20 minutes while I have coffee! It still helps me ground myself for the day, touch base with my emotions and “recite” my affirmations. I started it after reading Julia Cameron’s book The Artist Way. Don’t freak at the artist element – her premise is we all have creativity within us. Writing is my primary creative outlet these days! I believe she’s recently done one specifically for retirement. As I’ve mentioned to you before, I am a structure girl and need to-do-lists. I find if I write something in my journal, I get it done that day…even if it’s addressing something I’ve been putting off or restarting a mind-set on goal achievement. While Julia recommends 3 pages of long-hand into a journal, most mornings I’m about 2 pages. Unless something is really bugging me. Yes, it’s often my way of talking out things! And, I jot down blog topics in there are well. I love multi-purpose tools.


  3. Sounds very interesting Pat. But I am one of those people who doesn’t have the patience for theoretical. Practical is the name of my game. Could someone like me benefit?

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    1. Marian, what I like about the process of Design Thinking is it is very action based. Yes, it does require you to think…which can take patience. 🙂 Self-discovery – really figuring out who you are -can be challenging. For example, I learned I’m a “structure girl” – I need schedules and goals, not days on end of open time. Which retirement can quickly become. And defining your own life vision and creating possibilities are more mind-based activities, but they are things/activities you “do” and have outputs that you can then activate. I liked some of the tools I’ve discovered along the way to do this stuff – creating vision boards tapped into my creative side, writing future stories tapped into my storytelling and writing interests. I’ve activated quite a lot of my first set of visioning…. from blogging to yoga. Being the structure girl, I like having a process defined to work through – to me it is not theoretical but active steps to follow. 🙂


      1. Glad I stumbled upon your blog. You mentioned “For example, I learned I’m a “structure girl” – I need schedules and goals, not days on end of open time.” I’m looking at retirementin 5 years, and I too need schedules. I will look up the book you recommend. Thanks!

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      2. there are a number of books that are good to help you create your next life. I’m so thrilled you’re thinking ahead… I didn’t and the first year of retirement was all about planning, versus executing the plan. It’s OK as I learned a lot about myself in the process and I believe you will as well. let me know if you want a couple of other book recco’s!


      3. hi – here’s a few more … from my summary of fav books on the topic — Don’t Retire, Rewire by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners. 5-star – A “how-to” on defining satisfaction drivers , separating skills and strengths (with examples), examples of others “accomplishments”, and a how-to guide for working through what in your work life was satisfied by your drivers and how to brainstorm possibilities. Introduces interesting concept of 4 types of work: work for a wage, work for a fee, work for free, work for me.

        The Joy of Retirement by David C. Borchard. 5 star – Lots of how-to for defining who you want to be in retirement and the lifestyle that will help you be that person. Big sections on roles, talents, and values in defining your vision statement. Love the fact he does not assume where you will be on the continuum of working versus traditional leisure-based retirement. Combines easy to use tools as well as insightful examples of practical next steps.

        How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free by Ernie J Zelinski . 5 star – An easy-to-read conversational style. Introduces the possibilities “get a life tree”; real people case studies (as opposed to all professional, CEO types), focus on “leisure” (not work).


    1. lLet me know what you think when you read it! Since I was a designer – not academically tried, but worked that area for years – it felt natural to me. And it is what I’ve done in my transition. I’m in the prototyping and re-assessment mode still. And having fun with it!

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  4. First, it must be gratifying to know that you had such a similar approach that was developed independently. The fact that you didn’t see any gaping holes in your strategy says that you did a good job thinking through retirement transition.

    On the topic of passion, I totally resonate with their conclusion. I have never been one to be totally wrapped up in ONE interest. As I’ve confessed before, I have many, many interests, most of which range from 3-7 on the 1-10 passion scale, although an individual interest can probably spike up to an 8 or 9 for short periods. I happen to think that this is a much more interesting way to live than being totally devoted to one thing, but that’s just me. 😃

    I also fully agree with their thoughts on choosing various paths. One specific example is choosing a life partner. I have never believed that there is only one person for you that is preordained. I have ALWAYS maintained that one can build a happy, successful life with any one of hundreds, maybe thousands of different people and it just depends on who enters your life that happens to be suitable for you.

    So, to offer you some encouragement, don’t make yourself crazy over a long list of “must dos”. Continue to follow your try-it-on strategy and when something piques your interest, go for it! But remember to keep up your someday-maybe lists to track those things you don’t have time for right now, but might want to investigate some day.

    I have not put in a lot of explicit design work on my retirement life in the same way that you have, but I still feel very satisfied with where I am right now. Let’s hope that continues!

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    1. Sometimes I forget that, even though I’m not an academically trainer designer, I was a product designer for years and naturally think Design Thinking”! It was gratifying to see how close much of what I did (and shared with you & Jackie) was to this published book. I’m trying to pick my next try-it-on activity, but right now some other life elements are taking front & center (it’s also why I’ve been a bit slow on on-line game response).


  5. Hi, Pat – I love your reviews on retirement/transition/wellness books. You do a great job summarizing and giving great nuggets of information that I am often left feeling that I had actually read the book myself! This is totally cheating on my part (I know)! But I do appreciate it and look forward to more!

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    1. Back in my working life, I did this with work focused books and many of my colleagues took my notes and recommendations on action steps… and also never read the books! They loved “Pat’s Cliff Notes”! Not cheating… it’s effective use of your time and connections.

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  6. That sounds like an interesting book. I’m especially attracted to the concept that no decision or path is set in stone – that adjustments can be made along the way, as well as whole new paths can be taken. I think some people are afraid to make a decision, or try something out, because they don’t want to “fail.” They think that changing direction is admitting failure, when in actuality it is successfully discovering new paths and interests to explore. Although constantly changing focus will get in the way of progress, tweaks and adjustments can give us much more satisfying outcomes.

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    1. I also liked the path thinking. I am often afraid of failure and therefore it’s hard to start something. I liked my month of yoga experiment though… and have kept up with yoga – twice a week classes. I’m trying to gear myself up for another try-it-for-a-month challenge. Nike has it right with there “just do it”! But sometimes it is hard to get started.

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