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Mindful : February 2018
in the future and make people want it. And the more authentic it is, the more people will want to help you.” After the workshop ended, one question still puzzled me: How does life design evolve as we get older? When I called Evans a few weeks later looking for an answer, he suggested (not surpris- ingly) reframing the question: “Do you mean: At what age do you notice that people don’t care about their life anymore and are just waiting to die? We just haven’t noticed that. Everybody thinks their life matters.” In general, he said, he found it much easier to work with people who’d had some life experi- ence because they appreciated the restraints a lived reality includes and held their plans with a little more looseness. But, he added, older people sometimes get blocked because of their overly well-developed identities. “They’ve been doing the same career for 30 years and they’re scared of becoming a different version of themselves,” he said. “And they’re pretty convinced that the world isn’t going to let them. Twenty-year-olds don’t have that problem.” Evans told the story of his sister who decided to get her PhD at age 59, even though she already had a full-time job as dean of a graduate school. The program would take six years of intense work, and she worried that she wouldn’t have the energy to complete it. But her husband helped her reframe the problem, saying, “Those six years are going to go by anyway. It’s just a question of whether at the end you’d like to be a person who has a doctorate.” “That’s why reframing is such a big deal,” said Evans. “Are you framing what you’re asking of yourself in the most generative, open-minded way possible? Because that’s the context in which you want to make the decision. To give yourself the best possible chance of having things work out.” As he related this story, I was reminded of the sign at Stanford’s design school that reads You Are Here with a big arrow pointing at the floor. “That’s where we’re coming from,” said Kathy Davies. “ You are here. Be present. Be here physically and mentally. Because that’s where it’s happening. “ Very often, we’re thinking about the past. All that backstory. Or we’re worrying about what’s going to happen five years down the road. But you’re here now. What do you want to do today? There’s something beautiful about that. Because that’s all we really have.” ● Ashanti Branch is founder and executive director of the Ever Forward Club, an Oakland, CA-based group that supports Latino and African-American high school students to engage with school and achieve their potential. The Ever Forward Club has helped 100% of its members graduate high school, and 93% have gone on to attend college. Branch studied life design through a Stanford fellowship in 2015-2016. What concepts from life design do you emphasize with your members? The idea that, if you decide there’s something in your life that’s not working, you can change it. If you can’t change it, just name it—maybe it’s something you can’t change right now, but within a few years, you will be able to make some big choices. What can you do to prepare yourself for this? What small things can you do to make it better right now? And then when they recognize that they can help other young people going through similar stuff, it kind of pulls them out of their own problems. With empathy, they invest in others, so not only can they come up with more creative solutions, they also find easier solutions for themselves. Is that part of the “creative toolbox” idea in life design? I use the analogy of an emo- tional toolbox. When I was dean at my old high school, After School Mindful: What led you to study design theory? Ashanti Branch: Ever Forward Club star ted out as a small volunteer-run nonprofit. When we started, I was doing it after work and on weekends and holidays, while teaching math full time. I had this dream of it being bigger, and believed it was going to happen one day, but didn’t know how. How did design thinking change that picture? Before D-school, it was like I was rowing a boat, always rowing and rowing. Now that rowboat is more like a motor- boat, with a perpetual energy of its own. It was absolutely life-changing for the orga- nization. Through D-school, I came to understand three things: who our users are, how to tell the story of what we were trying to change, and how small, easy changes could elevate our work. For Ashanti Branch, life design principles are a key to empowering young people. PHOTOGRAPHBYMCNAIREVANS 66 mindful February 2018 vision