Lululemon, Life Directions, and the PhD Process

Tadayoshi Kohno (Yoshi Kohno)
10 min readJul 22, 2023

When I think about direction-setting and the PhD process — and life in general — I often think about Lululemon’s 10-year “vision and goals” worksheet. Lululemon’s worksheet is a wonderful tool for exploring, developing, and refining a “life direction”.

I write “life direction” instead of “life plan” because I don’t want to imply that a direction needs to be set in stone and immovable. Rather, it is merely a direction — an orientation of one’s life compass along a certain path and, as new information or life experiences arise or as the world changes, that direction may change.

This post is about setting a 10-year life direction, and then about approaching that life direction with compassion as life unfolds.


Lululemon and setting a life direction.

I would not know about Lululemon’s 10-year “vision and goals” worksheet if it were not for Libby Ludlow. Thus, I begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to her for sharing that worksheet with me — and all the other students in her yoga class — nearly 10 years ago. I love this worksheet, and I revisit it at major junctures in life, e.g., at the transition between one academic year and the next, on a birthday, and at New Years. I have found the worksheet to be an incredible tool toward:

  • Helping identify what is important to me and not important to me in my 10-, 5-, and 1-year visions of the future;
  • Helping identify the key steps toward achieving that vision.

At a minimum, I encourage PhD students to read the worksheet at least once, so that they know what the worksheet is about and can decide for themselves whether they wish to use it.

Moreover, and assuming that the reader agrees with what I write in this post, I encourage readers to consider completing the worksheet at least once — e.g., try to create some time this week or this month, if you can — and then again at major personal or career junctures. For example, and inspired in part by when I’ve used this worksheet, a PhD student might complete the worksheet:

  • When starting a PhD;
  • At the transition between academic years;
  • When trying to decide what career path to pursue, and then periodically again after the PhD;
  • On birthdays;
  • At New Years.

At this point, I should probably mention that I also was a yoga instructor. I loved teaching yoga and wish I still did! Yoga and yoga teaching, along with Japanese martial arts and Shinto traditions, deeply influence my perspective on the PhD process and life in general. Those familiar with yoga, martial arts, and Shintoism may see echoes of those practices in the rest of this post and my other posts. Indeed, as I re-read this post, I believe that my philosophies here are most deeply influenced by Shinto priest and Kannagara Aikido founder Koichi Barrish Sensei of the Kannagara Chikyu Jinja and Kannagara Earth Shinto Dojo.

What is essential, and what is not?

If you complete the Lululemon worksheet, you might experience what I experience: clarity into what is essential for one’s current life vision and what is not. In academia, there is (I believe) always pressure to do more — write more papers, review more papers, do more service, learn something new. Each and every one of these things is important in some way or another. So, how do we choose which to do and which not to do?

Naturally, we want to be kind, caring, compassionate, and fair to others, and not doing certain things can create hardships on them, so the point of the Lululemon worksheet is not to selfishly identify only the directions in life that are best for us. Rather, when considering the spectrum of things in life that we might want or need to do, the Lululemon worksheet can help separate what is non-essential from what is essential, empowering, and fulfilling. And, indeed, it is also important to be kind, caring, compassionate, and fair to ourselves as well as others.

Create space for pausing, writing, and reflecting, and view the worksheet as a process, not a product.

In today’s age of modern computing and meetings via video calls, it might be tempting to work through Lululemon’s worksheet purely inside one’s own head (i.e., not writing anything down on paper) or with digital notes separate from the worksheet itself. If that is your only option, e.g., if you do not have access to a printer, then of course that is a great option for you! But, if you do have access to a printer, I encourage you to print the worksheet and then adopt some or all of the following practices, as your time and schedule and personal life situation allow:

  • Create a dedicated time to work through the worksheet.
  • Make the time a meditative, relaxing time for you — a time where you can step away from the needs of your everyday life and really sit with and savor your thoughts and the process of thinking.
  • If you are uncertain when in the day to hold some time, I suggest the early morning, as the sun rises and before your day is filled with interactions, obligations, and the business of everyday life. Alternatively, you might consider sometime in the evening, after you have put to rest all the other obligations of the day. If I were to work on this worksheet in the evening, I would try to exercise a little first, as a way to create a buffer between my work day and this visioning exercise.
  • Find a physical space different from where you normally work. Finding such a space can help further separate your explorations of the future from your existing activities. For example, someplace outside, or a library, or coffee shop.
  • Not bring, or at least not use, any digital devices during your visioning session unless you need to. Just sit with your printed worksheets and a pencil or pen. If you can’t print the worksheets, then using blank paper or a notebook is also a wonderful replacement.

Not everyone’s life will allow the above possibilities, however. So, if none of these possibilities work for you, then simply find the best time and place that works for you and know that the practice of completing the worksheet is the most important thing, not the time of day or location.

Then, I encourage you to:

  • Work through the worksheet on paper.
  • View the working on this worksheet as a process, not a product. I.e., it is okay — and perhaps even expected — not to complete the worksheet in a single session.

On the value of writing, I recall the book Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee by Shannon Lee. In it, Shannon Lee discusses the significant role of writing and journaling in Bruce Lee’s life. Something transformative can happen when one writes, then sees their words on paper, reflects upon those words, and then thinks and writes some more.

This worksheet can enable growth in multiple ways. Of course, the final artifacts from this worksheet — your 10-, 5-, and 1-year visions and the identification of what is essential and what is not — are valuable. But, I think one of the most valuable aspects of this worksheet is the thinking it induces as one works through it. That is, the process of working on the worksheet is just as valuable or maybe even more valuable than the final output.

Thus, I encourage you to not force yourself to complete the worksheet in a single session, but rather let your thoughts unfold during that session. If you don’t complete the worksheet in a single session, and as your life situation allows, give yourself more time in the future to continue your thinking and experience the growth that happens while you think.

Letting go.

One of the biggest challenges in setting a “life direction” is identifying what to let go of in order make progress toward what is more essential to one’s vision, i.e., to identify the non-essential that, if removed, makes space for the essential.

Next, one of the other biggest challenges is learning to be okay with letting go. Even if not an essential element of one’s vision, the non-essential elements can still be important and emotionally significant.

There is only a limited amount of time in each day and in one’s life, and in many cases, it is only through the letting go of the non-essential that one can truly create the space needed to fully embrace the essential. I therefore recommend the following perspective: Instead of viewing the letting go of the non-essential with sadness or regret, I encourage viewing the welcoming in of the essential with gratitude and openness.

Embrace change.

The world and life are constantly changing. Change is part of the world’s natural cycle. Fires make way for new plant growth, for example. Below, I talk about embracing, with self-compassion, two different types of changes: changes in the path toward a vision, and changes to the vision.

Changing directions / paths.

Imagine a river. Water heads from the top of the mountain to the bottom along the river path. Now, suppose that a landslide happens. The landslide blocks the original path. The water responds by carving a new path to the bottom.

As life happens, the 1-year path or the 5-year path to achieve your 10-year vision might similarly need to change. When one’s path toward a vision needs to change, that is not a failure. Rather — just like the river that carves a new route towards its destination — changing paths is the organic and appropriate response to changes in one’s life and the world.

I encourage anyone experiencing such a life change to revisit the Lululemon worksheet.

On changing the long-term goals and objectives.

There is a reason I suggest filling out the form periodically. Life happens and the world changes. What today might seem like a wonderful 10-year vision might, tomorrow or next year, no longer feel right or authentic to oneself. That is okay. It is okay to change one’s life vision.

I began this post by observing that a life direction is not an immovable plan set in stone. Rather, a life direction reflects one’s current life compass, and as time progresses, the direction of that life compass may move. The path toward a 10-year vision might change (as discussed above), or one’s entire life direction might shift. Again, such shifts are natural and okay. In my opinion, it is natural and appropriate to embrace such shifts rather than try to force oneself to continue along a life path that no longer feels genuine, authentic, or right.

The above does not mean that it is always easy to change one’s life direction. Changing directions in life can be very difficult! It can be difficult for so many reasons, including emotional, logistical, and more.

For example, when one enters a PhD program, they typically enter with a clear, high-level direction in mind: to obtain a PhD. They might also enter with the expectation of working with a particular advisor. They might enter with the expectation of working on a particular topic or subarea within their discipline. And, they might enter with the expectation of pursuing an academic (or industry) career after graduation. As one gains experience in the PhD program, one might start to feel that maybe a PhD would not be as fulfilling as one originally thought, or they might learn that they and their advisor are not a good fit, or they might learn that they prefer to work on a different topic or in different subarea of a field, or they might learn that industry (or academia) is their true calling after the PhD.

Changes like those above can be very (very) difficult. E.g., choosing to leave a PhD program often requires significant self-reflection, changing an advisor can be administratively complicated, starting to work in a new subarea might require significant more foundational study and a new advisor, and deciding to pursue a different life path after graduation can also require significant self-reflection.

The discussion here does not offer advice on how to make such changes easier. Rather, the discussion here is meant to acknowledge that sometimes changing one’s life direction is the right thing to do and to acknowledge that changing one’s life direction may not be easy. Such changes are difficult, and anyone experiencing such changes deserves to give themselves self-compassion. For me, I try to view the changing of a goal as neither the ending of one thing nor the beginning of another, but rather a form of continuous motion along one’s life journey — a natural, organic transition from one orientation to another — like a river carving a new path to a new destination.

If any readers find themselves in this situation, I hope the Lululemon visioning worksheet, and the process of exploring one’s life vision in a structured way and on paper, can help.

(Important note: In this post, I do not consider adversarial scenarios — scenarios in which someone or something is actively standing in one’s way. In the real world, such situations also arise. Even when one is surrounded by support, visioning the future, letting go of the non-essential, and giving oneself the self-compassion to revisit and change their vision over time can be fundamentally challenging. This post is focused on the latter.)

Identifying unknowns.

Returning to the worksheet, one of the beneficial side-effects of the worksheet — or, more precisely, of using the worksheet — is that that the use of the worksheet can help uncover unknowns. For example, if one has a particular 10-year vision, as they try to formulate a 1- and 5-year plan toward achieving that vision, they may realize that they have knowledge gaps that make it hard to know how to, concretely, work toward that 10-year vision in small steps. A short-term goal might therefore be to fill this knowledge gap.


I learned so much about the PhD process from my own advisor, Mihir Bellare. After obtaining a faculty position, I continued to develop my own philosophy on advising and the PhD process through the advising of my own PhD students. Much of my thoughts on advising and the PhD process have also been shaped through the co-advising PhD students with UW Security Lab co-director Franziska Roesner. Thank you to all the students and postdocs that I have advised, past and present! Thank you to Libby Ludlow for sharing with me (and all her other students) the Lululemon worksheet, and the wisdom she has shared. Thank you also to Koichi Barrish Sensei of Kannagara Chikyu Jinja and Kannagara Earth Shinto Dojo for all the wisdom and insights that echo throughout this post.



Tadayoshi Kohno (Yoshi Kohno)

Tadayoshi (Yoshi) Kohno is a professor in the UW Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. His homepage: