Designing your life

Written 23 February 2018

#600words Designing your life


The self-help movement was in full flight in the 1980s.  I was teaching in Bowral and was using the union’s financial planners to do my taxes.  Within two years of full time work I was called in for a tax audit in Parramatta. In a financial sense I never do anything wrong and then would have had no idea about the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance.  

I had to take time off work drive to Parramatta, not filled with confidence with my financial planner whom I met in a dodgy park, and he looked nervous.  The truth be known I was nervous and had no idea what I was in for in the ATO offices.  

Prior to meeting him I popped in to Dymocks and came across a self-help section.  I found a book by Christian Humphries on Buddhism and was drawn to the chapter on Buddhism and the West. The book calmed me and the tax audit went ok, even though they would not let me claim my tracksuit as a teacher of PE. I copped a $140 fine and moved on.    


The chapter and the experience had an impact on me.  Some of the new age literature, a genre of the self-help movement, was quite weird but a few of us in Bowral were quite taken by Dan Millman’s The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.  The partner of my local doctor ran relaxation classes akin to new age philosophy. The closest I came to embracing the movement was by taking on board meditation techniques that I used myself and employed in my lessons and school camps.

After spending a number of years in Bowral researching the writings of Carlos Castaneda, Paulo Coelho, Edward de Bono and a pile of books on Buddhism, I found I was able to integrate the ideas into my running, life and work.  Castaneda’s later books were better and perhaps more realistic than the earlier ones which focussed drug related experiences. Coelho’s The Alchemist was a bell ringer which completely drew me in with its spiritual and religious imagery. De Bono was cool and applied really well to the classroom. The Buddhist reading confused me as I guess  Zen koans and mondos are meant to.

Soon I moved on to other things but it was a period in which I learned to relax and meditate.


In the next wave I dropped the new age and embraced the more practical self-help approaches. I was reminded that I had read as a teenager the The Power of Positive Thinking and How to Win Friends and Influence People which helped me through a difficult time in Year 10. 

Recently I have found Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ (2016) Designing Your Life as most informative and useful. Only this week I adopted some of the principles in a workshop presentation at school.  

They suggest the reframing of dysfunctional myths by thinking in different ways.  It’s too late vs it’s never too late to design your life. I should know where I’m are going vs at  the very least I can be going in the right direction. Networking is hustling people vs networking is asking for directions. Happiness is having it all vs happiness is letting go of what you don’t need. It’s my life, I have to design it myself vs you live and design your life in collaboration with others.  

As I experienced in 1986 in Parramatta, ideas for self-help come from many sources.  I just need to be open to see them while not been swayed by the weird ideas.

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