What is lifestyle design?
“Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward.” - Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox.
If you've ever marveled at travel bloggers, successful solopreneurs, or those Starbucks regulars whose workday lasts as long as their venti, soy, no-foam latte, then it's time to learn about Lifestyle Design.
Lifestyle Design is the deliberate, conscious construction of one's way of living. It challenges the traditional paradigm of working, saving, stagnating, and counting down the days until retirement. The movement focuses on defining and creating an ideal life here and now, not deferring happiness and fulfillment until some ever-distant point in the future.
The concept was popularized in The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, the first in a series of hugely successful books by entrepreneur and best-seller Tim Ferriss. In it, he stresses the importance of ditching the “slave, save, retire” life plan, focusing instead on “doing what you want as opposed to what you feel obligated to.”
Lifestyle Design purists - like those featured in Ferriss’ book - demand an adventurous lifestyle, traveling the world, learning new languages, and building an exceptional life resume. But the Lifestyle Design spectrum includes more accessible goals, like freeing up time, working more flexibly, and dedicating more hours to family or creative pursuits.
Students of The 4-Hour Workweek are encouraged to think clearly about their end goal or ideal life scenario, and whether it's necessary to sacrifice 40-50 years in a cubicle to get there.
So what does ideal look like?
A recipe for life
The deliberately designed lifestyle is amorphous, but usually characterized by at least freedom, mobility, and minimalism.
Freedom can take many forms - financial freedom, freedom of choice, freedom from obligation, free time, etc. This is the end goal of most people grinding through a 9-to-5, but lifestyle designers would argue that their approach is flawed. Freedom is within reach with some sacrifice, but not 40+ hours a week for most of one’s existence.
Practitioners also prefer a highly mobile lifestyle, whether that means independence from any one specific location, or being a full-on nomad. Importantly, being untethered to a specific geographic location gives one the choice - the freedom - to live and work where they please.
Minimalism is not just a minimal, efficient way of living, but also exercising the minimal necessary effort to support one's ideal lifestyle. In pharmacological terms, the “minimum effective dose.”
These characteristics make the recipe for a thoughtfully designed life, but getting there is no small feat.
A new type of business
The 21st century has made Lifestyle Design possible with the right mixture creativity, decisiveness, business acumen, and technology.
Practitioners’ travel-oriented, experience-demanding lifestyle is often funded by a relatively autonomous small business or venture. In the case of Tim Ferriss, it was a health supplement company run largely via clever automation strategies and virtual assistants.
Others leverage freelancing, investing, affiliate marketing, social media promotion, and other low-touch or passive strategies to generate income. At the end of the day, it’s about living the “work smarter, not harder” mentality.
Critics argue that not everyone is a world-class travel blogger, a prolific freelance designer, or Tim Ferriss. They claim that such a lifestyle is impossible for someone older, someone with “real” financial obligations, someone with a family...
But this begs the question, is the real limitation one's circumstances, or their beliefs?
The old maxim “nothing worth doing comes easy” remains true, but Lifestyle Design supporters would challenge critics to question the validity of their fears, and to be honest about just how catastrophic - and likely - the dreaded “worst case scenario” would be.
Sometimes getting started is the hardest part.
Resources and next steps
If you're ready to learn more or take that first step, there are incredible resources to help take you from 0 to 1. To give you a head start, here are a few of the best and most well-recommended:
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich - the bible of Lifestyle Design, this book covers every detail, from inception to implementation, all in a can-do style that will help you burst through any mental blocks holding you back.
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel - In this classic the author lays out the process for achieving the dream of long-term international travel. He explains how to finance the travel, choosing the right destinations, finding work opportunities overseas, and more.
Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You - Easily one of my favorite entrepreneurship books. In a narrative format the author takes you through the strategies and mindset-shifts necessary to create a business that can run without you, and ultimately be acquired.
1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler's Life List - For some travel motivation (as if you needed more), a great place to turn is this comprehensive, compelling log of bucket-list travel destinations.
About the author: Jon D'Alessandro is an entrepreneur, freelance copywriter, and human capital specialist. Visit his blog bringambition.com for more thoughts on Lifestyle Design, starting and managing your venture, freelance writing, and more.