Life design: Chasing inspiration instead of checking boxes

Farouk Dey explains the concept of life design and finds it resonates with alumni as well as students

Video: TEDx

Farouk Dey never again wants to ask the question, What do you want to do with your life? That's how Dey, the first-ever Johns Hopkins University vice provost for integrative learning and life design, opens "Life Purpose Reconsidered," the TEDxJHUDC talk that captures his thinking on what's wrong with career counseling in higher education—and how to fix it.

Dey warns against planning the next 20-plus years of career moves and accomplishments. Rather, he argues that the people who open themselves to new experiences thrive. They take risks and make "audacious moves." In a world of box checkers and inspiration seekers, he says, the seekers win.

Farouk Dey

Image caption: Farouk Dey

Dey, who left his post as associate vice provost and dean of career and experiential education at Stanford University in August 2018, was drawn to Johns Hopkins by the opportunity to make advancements beyond standard career services. He wants to ensure that every JHU student has access to two key elements of his loose formula for success: 1) immersive experiences, such as internships, study abroad, and scientific research, and 2) mentors, whose encouragement and connections turn inspiration into action. "It is about the question of, What am I going to do after I'm inspired, and who's going to help me?" he says. "Our job at the university is to make the entire process of finding opportunities easy and accessible to all."

At Alumni Weekend in April, Dey spoke at "Our Third Act: Retiring, Reinventing, and Rejoicing," a chance for members of the Class of 1974 to reconnect around the question of what they are planning to do next. At the event—the brainchild of Marguerite Ingalls-Jones, A&S '74, Bus '88 (MAS), Johns Hopkins senior director of alumni services, and reunion chair Mindy Farber, A&S '74, a recently retired civil rights attorney—Dey gave an abridged version of his TEDx talk. The Q&A that followed challenged some of his ideas. Panelist Priscilla Carroll, A&S '74, who has just retired to Halifax, Nova Scotia, after careers in law and the foreign service, recommended an approach that combines both checking boxes and seeking inspiration. Stories like that of Linda Pickle, A&S '74, SPH '77 (PhD), Bus '02 (Cert), affirmed Dey's thinking. In semiretirement from her statistical consultancy, Pickle picked up bass guitar while accompanying her granddaughter to electric guitar lessons. Now she plays in a rock band. Dey's takeaway: "The concept of putting yourself out there, finding inspiration, and acting on it—even if it scares you—resonates just as much with this crowd as with 20-year-olds."