On Thursday, September 6, Boston College welcomes Dave Evans, co-author of Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, as keynote speaker at its First Year Academic Convocation in Conte Forum. 

The book, a breezy (240 pages) but robust instruction manual Evans wrote with Bill Burnett, his fellow co-founder of the Stanford Life Design Lab, is based on the pair’s wildly popular Stanford University undergraduate course on navigating moral, ethical, and foundational choices in careers and lives.  

Designing Your Life, which was distributed to members of the Class of 2022 at orientation, is both their first college reading assignment and the centerpiece of Conversations in the First Year, an Office of First Year Experience (FYE) program that provides students with a common text and reference for discussion while preparing them for a Jesuit, Catholic education.

FYE has sponsored Conversations in the First Year since 2004, bringing to campus such notables as Senators Barack Obama (Dreams of My Father) and John McCain (Lives of Moral Leadership); Partners in Health founder Dr. Paul Farmer and author Tracy Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains)New York Times columnist David Brooks (The Road to Character); and Steve Pemberton ’89, former chief diversity officer of Walgreens (A Chance in the World).

More than a useful guide for students launching their undergraduate years, Designing Your Life offers practical advice for parents navigating this transition with their student.

Through anecdotes, psychology, and thought experiments, the book helps students conscientiously and rigorously answer “Big Questions” such as “How do I find a job that I like or maybe even love?” “How do I balance my career with my family?” And “How can I make a difference in the world?” Along the way, the authors explain how to “reframe” common “dysfunctional beliefs.” For example, rather than think “work is not supposed to be enjoyable; that’s why they call it work,” students should begin with the notion that “enjoyment is a guide to finding the right work for you.” “I need to figure out my best possible life, make a plan, and then execute it,” should be reframed as “there are multiple great lives (and plans) within me, and I get to choose which one to build my way forward to next.” As the authors note, “Living coherently doesn’t mean everything is in perfect order all the time. It simply means you are living in alignment with your values and have not sacrificed your integrity along the way.”

Mike Sacco, executive director of FYE and the Center for Student Formation, invites students to use Designing Your Life as preparation for their Jesuit education. As students read, says Sacco, they also should contemplate the “Three Be’s of Jesuit Education”—be attentive, be reflective, be loving—and the “Three Key Questions” developed by Theology Professor Fr. Michael Himes: What brings me joy? What am I good at? Who does the world need me to be?

—by Zachary Jason