How to Draft Your Life’s Instruction Booklet

How to make Your Life?

Remember the Venn diagram you learned about in school? The overlapping circles illustrate the similarities and relationships between groups. Similarities between those groups are represented in the overlapping portions of the circle. Yes, the sweet spot where all your various strengths, interests, assets, and aspirations meet.

In his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams calls this being the best “combo deal.”[1] Instead of being in the top 1 percent in a field, aim to become very good (top 25 percent) at two or more things to find your focus.

For Adams, his overlapping circles were cartoon drawing and his in-depth knowledge of corporate America and its foibles. Adams realized, “I’m a cartoonist and I’m a recovering corporate person. I could make money off of that.”

We can no longer rely on somebody else telling us where to go. We need to find our own way. What combination of disparate interests do you have that will allow you to make a contribution and become a category of one?

Let’s look at some examples of people who have “found their Venn” in their own special niche. Learning about them may give you some ideas on the various paths you can take and how you might discover your own Venn.

Finding Their Venn

Mohammed Sam Shoushi, who was formerly in a government relations role at Google, realized he could better align his passion for mindfulness and conscious business with his skills. When he pursued this passion, he was immediately inundated with lucrative offers to teach mindfulness and yoga. Taking a step back to reassess his skills and assets against his focus, he realized he could use his past experience working governmental systems and his interest in mindfulness to find where the circles overlap.

From this, he had a vivid image in his mind of one day speaking in front of the United Nations. His vision was a culmination of his interests to help people individually, help people in corporate settings, and then to the highest calling of helping governments come together for a more peaceful world.

John’s Lifelong Mission

Once you find that interesting intersection, it can become a lifelong mission. John Wood is the founder of Room to Read. In his book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, he talks about being an executive at Microsoft but with a deep sense of wanting to do something greater. So, he took a trekking holiday to Nepal. While out on his adventures, a school headmaster showed him an empty library and 450 students who were eager to read. He then challenged Wood with a quote that would forever change his life: “Perhaps, sir, you will one day come back with books.”[2]

So began his journey to change the world one book and one child at a time by building libraries across the developing world, leading some to call him a “21st Century Andrew Carnegie.”

Years later, he has raised over $500 million in capital commitments, has built a worldwide team of 1,600 people across over twenty countries, and launched education programs that have benefited more than 16 million children. He drastically moved the needle on literacy in the developing world, which is amazing in and of itself. However, what stands out the most is that he knows himself well, and like most great problem solvers and leaders, he has begun looking for additional challenges and opportunities.

After hearing so many people ask how they could find purpose in their work, John again combined his exceptional leadership skills and passion for education to co-author a book titled Purpose, Incorporated: Turning Cause into Your Competitive Advantage. He’s consulting on this topic, and that of leadership, with cutting-edge firms that include Facebook, Netflix, Nike, and Salesforce.

Much like the Bill Gates philosophy of seeking “to unlock the possibility inside every individual,”[3] John is giving others room to grow beyond themselves and exploring ways to expand his work and to impact the world in new ways.

Lale’s Life Values and New Business

Lale Kasebi is another person who has found her sweet spot of focus. I met Lale when she was the global communications director of Li & Fung, a consumer product trading and sourcing company with over $13 billion in revenue, 17,000+ employees, and 15,000+ suppliers across the world. Established in 1906, Li & Fung is one of the oldest and largest companies in Hong Kong.

Lale has always had a focus on innovation and was a champion for those initiatives within the firm. While bringing people in to collaborate with the company, her ambition to have more impact flourished. As she told me, “the company wanted to do things that transformed it and were unconventional. We moved fast and went right up to the edges of that. We knew we could do more. At forty—almost fifty—I just didn’t have it in me to wait anymore. There were great examples of companies in action. I knew we could do more. I knew I could do more.”

When she thought about leaving to do something else, she found jobs aplenty but what she really wanted was a place where her full self could show up every day.

She returned to her values and thought, “I’m a leader, but I don’t really care what company I’m in. My best experience was with my team, but I don’t really need to lead a full-time team anymore.”

She began to think she could lead with ideas and create a movement without all the cumbersome infrastructure of office and staff and hierarchies. Lale then started, a company that shows CEOs how they can initiate culture change, transformation, and trust. “It’s about creating ideal conditions for humans and not just machines.”[4]

In a world where most people are focused on computers replacing jobs, Lale used her innovation, leadership, and aspirations. She wanted to focus on creating workplaces where people can truly realize their value as humans.

OK, So Where’s the Instruction Booklet how to make your life?

My son loves to play with LEGOs. Whenever he opens a LEGO box, it’s completely overwhelming to me to see all those little blocks and how they’re going to fit together. For him, it’s perfect. Approaching the future of work is like that LEGO box. There are a lot of moving parts, and you have to figure out how they all fit together. Modern-day LEGO sets come with instructions. But master LEGO builders will tell you that to make something truly unique, you must throw away the instruction booklet. There are a few things you can do—instructions to follow—to begin defining your Venn.

Define the Big Themes

Deeply exploring your big themes offers the opportunity to discover what’s important without having to quit your job in frustration. It’s an opportunity to reframe and re-craft your job to something more fulfilling. We live in an age of reinvention, inside of our job and out.

Decision Making

Big themes are useful but combine the broad inputs with some structure around how you will make decisions day-to-day. Set yourself up for success with a process. In her book, The Art of Choosing, Columbia Business School Professor, Sheena Iyengar, suggests we develop a sense of what the high quality quantitative and qualitative inputs are in our field.[5]

Design Your Life Around You

People in positions of leadership within a company regularly create space for their teams to achieve great things on an individual basis. We must also do that for ourselves. One of the issues I hear with people who have taken a portfolio approach to work or have started their own company is that they may know what their big goals are, but they don’t have enough structure. A good place to start is thinking of your perfect day and where you get your energy.

Leave Your Legacy

Instead of building from the ground up. There is the other possibility is to consider what life will look like at the end and work backwards. Writing one’s own obituary has long been a trope of personal development. In part because death serves to focus the mind and give us some perspective. The angst over the café running out of nonfat milk pales in comparison.

By following these steps, you can reach clarity on what you want out of life and how to achieve it.

Adapted from Future Proof.


[1] Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013).

[2] John Wood, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children,” Leaving Microsoft Book, accessed October 28, 2018,

[3] Bill and Melinda Gates, “Who We Are,” Gates Foundation, accessed October 10, 2018,

[4] Lale Kasebi (reinvention), interviewed by Diana Wu David of Future Proof, May 10, 2018.

[5] Sheena Iyengar, The Art of Choosing (New York: Hachette, 2010).