Life design concept appeals to women in San Diego region

Designing Your Life participants at a brainstorming session held over lunch: Beth Nelson, Stacey Clark, Allie Hayase, Kristen Panebianco, Arlene Yang.

From the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley to San Diego’s Carmel Valley, a growing number of women are embracing an approach toward leading fulfilling lives that was developed by Stanford University educators.

Carmel Valley resident Allie Hayase, a member of the San Diego Stanford Alumni Association, attended a workshop in 2016 based on the book “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life.”

Written by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the book is an elaboration of strategies they have been teaching on the Palo Alto campus. Their life design concept was inspired by the ways designers develop innovative structures, systems and products.

“I attended the workshop and, once I heard about the approach and concept, it really resonated with me,” Hayase said.

She and dozens of other women in San Diego communities, including coastal North County, began convening in late 2016 to explore the book’s ideas and go through the techniques prescribed by the authors.

Meanwhile, Kathy Davies, who is the managing director of Stanford’s Life Design Lab and a life design instructor, and colleague Susan Burnett, who is co-author Burnett’s sister, came up with the idea of “Designing Your Life for Women” workshops.

The idea stemmed from their observations that women in Stanford’s mixed gender classes expressed different issues and challenges than their male cohorts.

As an example, Davies said, women with both professional careers and families face the double bind of pressures in their workplaces and expectations about managing their households.

“Women are facing a different set of societal issues,” Davies said. “There’s just a lot of things women are thinking about that men don’t have to think about and vice versa.”

Davies and Burnett launched a “Designing Your Life” workshop specifically aimed at women on campus. Yet, it was the advent of the Trump administration that pushed them to ramp up their efforts on behalf of women.

“We started with a pilot in 2016 and that went well,” Davies said. “We did that here at Stanford, but neither Susan nor I had a ton of time to pursue it further.

“Then the election happened and that really galvanized us to expand our efforts. We said, ‘We can’t wait. We need to do that now. We have an opportunity to empower women to take control of their lives.”

They developed “The Designing Your Life for Women Retreats” format consisting of intensive two-day workshops.A San Diego resort in Mission Bay served as the site for two of the events in January and February, both of which were sold out.

Many of the maximum 48 participants came from outside of California and from foreign countries as well, Davies and Hayase said.

Another San Diego workshop is scheduled May 5-6, while other California retreats are scheduled at Pacific Grove near Monterey in March and June. The organizers will take their program to New York City in October.

“We have quite a mix coming from all over the world,” Davies said. “It has been quite a surprise and really quite humbling. ... It seems locally (in San Diego) there’s a lot of people thinking about these things and we’ve just had a wonderful turnout. The people we’ve met in San Diego have been really wonderful and thoughtful and really bought into this idea of designing your life.”

She gives much of the credit for this region’s strong response to Hayase, who has been actively promoting the movement.

“Allie really has spearheaded a local community and it’s quite amazing, and that’s what we’re hoping for,” she said.

From a personal standpoint, Hayase said, the “Designing Your Life” process helped her come to the realization that she is on the right track with her life, including working at home for her own business.

One of the exercises in the program is for students to create a series of divergent “odyssey plans” — adventurous visions of what they dream of doing in the future.

“I actually created three different odyssey plans — a five-year plan for three different trajectories about how your life could go,” Hayase said. “What I realized was I really kind of like my status-quo life.”

On the other hand, the experience of the workshops and community group meetings led fellow Carmel Valley resident and Stanford alumna Mary Abad in other directions. Those included obtaining a more professionally rewarding banking job, the side benefit of being awarded a fellowship, and the decision of Abad and her partner to have a child. The 42-year-old woman expects to deliver a girl in May.

“A year later, I’m in a new job, I’ve got a fellowship on the side, and I’m pregnant,” Abad said. “Personally and professionally it was great. I enjoyed meeting people on the same journey and going through the exercises, helping each other break out of our boxes and talking about the different choices we have.

“One of the most valuable things I got from the book is learning to choose and not look back. It’s about committing to something and taking it as far as you can until you need to redesign your life again. You never feel unstuck.”

Among the book’s many points, emphasis is placed on the idea of getting “unstuck” and “reframing problems” to overcome perceived dead-ends, whether in careers, relationships or life enjoyment.

The authors provide various examples with break-out boxes such as “Dysfunctional Belief: To be happy, I have to make the right choice. Reframe: There is no right choice — only good choosing.”

“Part of the book is about learning that things change, and it’s good to know that you never have to get stuck. There’s plenty of ways to design your way out of it,” Abad said.

Information about the “Designing Your Life” book, “Designing Your Life for Women,” and the workshop retreats can be viewed at the following website:

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