June 8, 2020

Living by Design

Today's post is inspired by a quotation from "Essentialism" by Greg McKeown:

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.

When I first read this, I was struck by this concept of living by "design" (i.e., with intention) versus by "default" (i.e., just going with the flow).

The Proverbial Life Path

The reality is that living by default is the easy path. It relies on systems and ideologies forged by our ancestors and trends established by society. For example, the proverbial life path that is laid out for many people looks something like:

  1. Get an education
  2. Get a job
  3. Get married
  4. Have kids
  5. Retire

To start, there is nothing wrong with this path. In fact, many have lived fulfilling lives and would not regret a moment of their lives. Yet, on the other hand, there are many who end up on this path by default and wind up wondering where their life went and questions of "what if" often plague them as they get older.

Reflecting on My Tech Origins

After graduating from graduate school, I managed to secure a job within the federal government within the midst of a recession which was considered quite a big achievement since it basically meant a secure career for the remainder of my life. I was set to have a nice career with a good path forward for promotions and growth. Yet, while many might have contended with this position, I couldn't ignore the inner voice inside that kept asking myself: "So is this it? Is this the legacy you want to leave behind?"

To better understand the gravity of the situation, you should know that most of my extended family worked in the federal government and they considered it a coveted position (and rightfully so given the security and benefits you get). However, there is a key factor to consider: I am a first generation Asian-American.

Why does that matter? Well, this means that my parent's generation came to this country with next to nothing and learned English as a second language. So for them to get a job in the federal government is a big freaking deal. Or to put it in another way, for them to get that job was to live by design. However, in my case, given the advantages I have born here in the United States and being able to speak English fluently, getting a government job was living by default.

And so, even though many of my family members vehemently disagreed with this, I ultimately chose to leave the federal government to join the riskier world of private contracting (where job security was much less stable) in order to forge my own path. Though it may seem insignificant, that decision to embark on my journey in tech was the first major decision I made where I decided to take the path less taken and live by own design.


Reflect on a decision in your life that has some significance to you and think about whether you made it by design or by default.

If you made it by default, that's okay! The purpose of this challenge is to awaken the instinct for whether you are living life according to your own values and principles (i.e., by design) so you have a fighting chance next time another decision point comes around.