Life Design

2020 Life Design Summer Institute Series: Week Six

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This post is part of the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute Series, which offers a quick lesson recap and 3 teaching takeaways from co-creating a course on life design for students.

Week Six of the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute focused on equipping students tools to tell their stories. This post provides a quick overview of our approach in helping students tell their stories and my 3 teaching takeaways.

This Week’s Lesson: Tell Your Stories

This week, we started to help students start to articulate their personal narratives. The lesson centered on students answering the following questions about each of their imagined lives:

  • Why do you want to?  
  • How might you do it? 
  • What are your next step? 

Patrick created this week’s lesson, which included readings from various disciplines, journey mapping, and opportunities for breakout room discussion.

3 Teaching Takeaways

Here are my three teaching takeaways from this week:

1. Warm-ups that are relevant to the lesson can be powerful

In Week Three, one of my takeaways was that playful warm-ups can transform class dynamics. This week I saw the power of a warm-up that directly tied into the lesson.

We adapted an activity selected by Patrick called ‘Wearable Dreams‘ from The Design Thinking Playbook. In my section, I asked students to choose a piece of clothing and tell a story about it. The stories were entertaining and got students into a storytelling mindset.

This is the item of clothing that I told a story about.

2. Sojourner Truth’s speech catalyzed meaningful discussions

Prior to this week’s class session, students read Soujourner Truth’s Ain’t I A Woman? speech. In our section, I asked students to choose a line from the speech that resonated with them and/or demonstrated connecting past experiences to a future vision.

We had meaningful intersectional discussions that were catalyzed by Sojourner Truth’s speech. On key takeaways was thinking through how to situate past or current hardships and challenges into their vision for the future.

3. Including the past in journey mapping

Customer journey maps are a tool used user experience design. They aim to simulate a customer’s journey using a certain product or service. For life design, we used adapted journey mapping to help students envision the next steps (about 2-5 years out) for each our their imagined lives.

In brainstorming with Hope, we had a joint epiphany about how we wanted to present journey mapping – we wanted to include the past. Students mapped out future journeys for each life and selected key past experiences that would be part of their story for each life.

This helped students see how they could select and frame past experiences in a way that aligned with the vision they had for each possible future.

This is a sample journey map that I showed to my students. The template design is adapted from Sharon H. Kim at the Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School

Closing Thoughts

This week was fueled by meaningful discussions and stories. It helped set the stage for students to start crafting their personal narratives, based on thoughtful reflection from the previous weeks. I am looking forward to seeing how students adapt these narratives for future opportunities.

This post is part of the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute Series, which offers a quick lesson recap and 3 teaching takeaways from co-creating a course on life design for students.

2020 Life Design Summer Institute Series: Week Six


  1. Elizabeth Lugosi Reply

    Hi Smiti,

    This is excellent storytelling about storytelling. It is so amazing that we learn everywhere the power of telling and also listening to stories. It should be used more often in education. You gave a great example of how to do it.

    I just realized that you spent some time in Vésztő. I was born in Hungary, and I am always surprised by how frequently I meet people who have visited my homeland. I hope that you had a good time there.

    Best, Elizabeth

    • Smiti Nathan Reply

      Hi Elizabeth! Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful comment. Hungary definitely has a special place in my heart as it’s the first place I conducted archaeological fieldwork. Once it is safe, I would love to go back. I spent about 6 weeks in Vésztö, but also travelled to Eger and Szeged.

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