Have you ever met one of those people who seems to live at a different frequency? They go hard in life, with their family and at work, but they seem deeply fulfilled. They know themselves, so they have a pretty good grip on saying no. They’re life seems to weave together in intentional ways, and they still have margin. These folks are living from their unique design.
There are others on the other end of the spectrum. They are straining against the grain of their life and work and priorities and side activities. They always seem tired and behind, even in calmer seasons. I’ve certainly lived in this space before, and it’s a tough place to be. This is a slow fade toward burnout.
Before we talk more about unique design I need to clear a few things up about burnout. It usually doesn’t just happen by working too much. It’s also not simply a matter of your career. There are so many other factors to our lives that fulfill us and drain us beyond our work day. One of the most joyful people I’ve ever met is a trash man, a waste specialist. He’s so full of joy! He picks me up off the ground whenever I see him.
Burnout is, however, often a result of living and leading how we were not designed to live. It will throw us off kilter. One danger of social media is everyone else’s highlight reel shaping our perceptions of how we should live. I post the delicious tacos and salmon I cook for dinner, not the grilled cheese and dinosaur nuggets I put in our air fryer.
Early after the pandemic hit coaching sessions were heavy. Our lives were in disarray and we all had to find new patters to work, care for our families and stay sane. I was coaching a leader in a major urban metroplex. He was working long hours through the computer screen with added meetings on no time alone in their condo. He was visibly getting more tired each time I had a coaching session with him. I began to ask him to rate his encouragement level and energy level each session. It was steadily going down on both areas. I helped him take direct action with his boss to find a break (think sick leave), get outside and alone more often and limit meeting length. He found restoration and made healthy decisions. He was living against his unique design, and it could’ve been costly to his health and his family if left unchecked.
I often hold up a large toy penny during coaching sessions. I remind clients that on one side of the coin they are completely unique; no one has ever had their wiring, their experiences and their spiritual fingerprint. Then I turn the coin over and remind them they are completely normal; everyone feels fear and disappointment and anger and loss. We’re all completely unique and completely normal. We’re not freaks and we’re also not a dime a dozen. Both are beautifully true.
The “unique” part is pretty easy to understand, but what about the “design” part? Design is composed of both form and function. Form is the visible part where we see beauty. Function is about functionality, making sure it works. Design involves form and function, beauty and practicality, meaning and purpose.
It’s important to understand uncovering unique design is not just about your job or career. We don’t live out your unique design through just one activity. I live out my unique design when I’m talking to my kids about something that feels overwhelming, hearing my wife share about her vocation, coaching leaders on Zoom or sitting with a team who is dreaming and host Right Side up Leadership Podcast.
So, how do I actually uncover my unique design?
Identify your drains and fills. Begin to add fills and eliminate the drains.
Evaluate your capacity in this season. Be honest if you’re living beyond it.
Assess your energy and encouragement levels weekly. Give a 1-10 answer.
Take time to discern your unique design. We have a resource to help you.
Reevaluate how your work role and pace align with your unique design.
Give yourself time. We need to try a variety of things to uncover ourselves.
Resources to consult
We crafted a tool called the Unique Design Framework for this exact purpose. We host leaders in Colorado to take a few days to go through this. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the Unique Design Framework tool and we’ll send it to you.
Questions to ask
What activities am I passionate about and find deep meaning doing?
What activities am I gifted at and others have affirmed?
What are a few ways I can live out my unique design?
Director of Culture and Coaching
Alan is a mountain guide for the leadership journey. He loves outdoor adventures, but the greatest adventure of his being a father and husband. Alan is crazy about helping hungry leaders conquer overwhelm and navigate with courage. He serves leaders and organizations around the country through coaching, speaking, consulting, designing experiences, hosting mastermind groups, writing his own books and ghostwriting for others. He co-hosts Right Side up Leadership Podcast and regularly writes for Outreach and Field Notes .