I first knew I wanted to be a writer the moment I defined my life purpose; to help people think differently by communicating and sharing different ideas about how to live. Recently that’s evolved to the idea of living by design.

Writing is bigger than words on paper or screen. It’s designing a story. Creating the narrative, understanding the players. It’s also taking into account the ideas of others and changing variables that affect the outcome. It’s the same skill set that enables me to facilitate a room full of senior corporate stakeholders and wrangle 4000 teenagers at a time. Listening, understanding, reflecting the emerging story I hear and designing a way forward through creating, evolving, testing and shaping the story based on the outcome.

What’s the outcome you are living towards? 

There is a difference between author and writer. People frequently use the metaphor of ‘author’ to talk about how we create and shape our own paths. It’s a powerful idea to think we take our future and our narrative into our hands as simply as pen stroke to page or keystroke to screen. I have a few ideas about this difference and the use of the metaphor.

A writer is skilled at understanding, translating and then communicating the thoughts and ideas of others into meaningful narrative or work. This is the work of design, the link between story and strategy.

An author is one who creates and develops the idea, the plot or the content of the work towards a pre-determined outcome. There is a role for authorship in our lives, as we determine unique outcomes but I’m not sure it’s enough. Moving towards the outcomes you desire requires a proactive writing of your story, or what I call life by design. Adapting to the context, circumstances and characters that exist outside of my control. I’m engaged in authorship but I am not an author. I’m writing my story and designing my life as the variables move around me.

With all that in mind, I’ve been thinking on the following points

  • We develop authorship over time
    The ability to create, develop and communicate (or execute) unique ideas and futures of our own is something we learn. The societal framework we live in across the developing and developed world is a series of pre-determined paths. Those who choose to create their own paths inevitably experience a learning encounter or drastic change that precipitates new solutions or pathways. Therefore, authorship is a choice and not a necessity.
  • If we choose authorship, we must be collaborative
    We are creatures wired for relationship at an individual and collective level. Our lives are not as singular in focus as the plot of a novel or the arc of a TV series, not as concrete or resolved as the script of a movie. We interact with hundreds of individual ideas in a day and have to live amongst our own needs and desires as well as the desires of others. Therefore, authorship of our personal stories must include those we live in relationship with – an intersection of unique storylines.
  • We are authors of an evolving narrative
    Our world view craves systematic thinking and process. Anything that simplifies data and our ability to rely on programmed responses (you can read more about categorization here) is a natural fallback. Therefore the challenge of authorship is how to deal with a changing context and the variable data we have to process. In the truest sense, an author has absolute power over context, character and circumstance. We can wind our plot towards the pre-determined outcome. That’s the truest problem with the metaphor because real-life authorship is a constant re-writing of the story with uncontrollable context, characters and circumstance.

It’s this evolving narrative that makes the practice of writing or designing our story even more powerful than the metaphor of authorship. Design works with variables and evolving contexts to help us continue moving towards the outcome. But it also gives us permission to change the outcome over time and redirect our energies and strategies should our context change.

Writing or designing an evolving story might look like the art of nudging, to see where your organic growth takes you. Or if your current context is painful, you might like this reflection on being in the graft. Maybe you are at the very beginning of recognising the life you’re meant to live. Your story is in infancy. Welcome aboard!

A few reflection questions to consider as you engage in life by design:

We develop authorship over time > Where or what are the learning encounters or drastic changes giving you opportunity to develop your own authorship or begin designing/re-designing your life?

If we choose authorship, we must be collaborative > Who are your collaborators? They might be authors, teachers, spiritual leaders or family/friends. They should definitely include people you share physical space (face time) and aspects of daily life with. How might you invite them into collaboration?

We are authors of an evolving narrative > What are the variable contexts, characters and circumstances in your narrative? Which of them cause you anxiety or pain and which bring you joy? How might you engage differently to empower or disempower those variables in your life?