Defined as, “the design of one’s ideal lifestyle, especially an unconventional one, providing good opportunities for personal growth, leisure, and adventure,” this term was coined and popularized by Timothy Ferriss in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek. Ferriss claims, “People don’t want to be millionaires—they want to experience what they believe only millions can buy.” As someone who values getting outdoors while still having the comfort of not living on the road, I found this concept to be inordinately powerful, opening my eyes to the truth that our way of living does not need to be either daring or secure- and that my truth lied in the beauty in-between.
Lifestyle design is intentionally creating the life you dream of and living it out, instead of letting life happen to us and trying to fit the fun parts in the cracks; it plays into making the outdoors a more integral part of our lives. Too many of us are stuck in survival mode, dishing out our time, energy, and money to whatever is next on our to-do list. It is easier than ever before to fall into this way of living as so many of us know it to be “normal,” watching generations do it before us. Lifestyle design is counter-culture in this way. It asks us first to define it for ourselves then work our asses off to get it.
One perspective I want to punctuate, before going any further, is that the pure essence of my own design is that I, a white woman making a decent salary, even having the time in the day to write about the topic, is rooted in privilege. There are millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck in this country, and now more than ever as many surveys show. According to Nielsen data, the American Payroll Association, CareerBuilder, and the National Endowment for Financial Education, between 50 and 78 percent of working Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. I can’t help but roll my eyes when self-help books talk about just “working hard to create the life you love,” when it simply isn’t that easy, especially for minority communities and low-income households in an economical environment set up against them. It is hard to pull yourself up by the bootstraps when you don’t have any boots to begin with.
This being said, I still believe the concept is open to anyone- we all have different goals and definitions of happiness that might not align with the van-dwelling, “relationship goals” we see online. Lifestyle design may include going outside more, carving out more time for family, building financial stability, or even just giving up the societal idea of what success is. Here are a few steps to harness lifestyle design and use it as a tool to make your goals happen, no matter what they may look like.
Step 1: Be clear about what you want
You cannot build a dream lifestyle without knowing what it means to you, and you can start by identifying three priorities that are important in your unique situation. For me, this consisted of being in nature as much as possible, having a secure job that I am passionate about, and grounding myself through rest and presence enough to do it all. The expeditiously modern world may try to convince us that we cannot live in a way that fulfills each one of these priorities, but the concept of lifestyle design challenges us to step out of our comfort zone and reimagine our limits. The idea is that by living as if you are the main character in your life, you get to decide what makes the most sense to you- and that might be a life away from a cubicle and hanging out by the water fountain to simply get a break from your screen.
Step 2: Build your life around it
Instead of letting life just happen and hoping that you can plug your hobbies and priorities into whatever time you have left (which we know never works), this model requires backward thinking that may feel foreign at first. Start by re-structuring your routines and habits to fit within your prioritized area, and don’t be afraid to be bold in asking for flexibility from others. In the goal of being outdoors more often, this may mean inviting your loved ones to come along with you or asking your boss to work remotely. I find that so often we hold ourselves back from our full potential, fearing that counterculture expectations will be denied. It is true, this perspective requires unconventional choices and habits that might not make sense to everyone. Part of this daily devotion is realizing that it might not fit within other’s expectations of us, and we must ask what is worth being sacrificed- our ambitions and dreams, or the ambitions and dreams others have for us?
Step 3: Rest and evaluate
The previous step may mean sacrificing a full night’s rest for a glorious sunrise or roughing it by camping to better afford a road trip rather than waiting until you have the money to pay for a hotel. Like anything, these exchanges require balance and are not long-term solutions to fulfillment. Over the last few years, I finally learned the ongoing lesson of radical acceptance and that we can’t do it all, even though we may want to. To be fully present for our meaningful relationships and hobbies, we must have our own cup filled first. I tend to overpack my schedule with plans for adventure, thinking that it will replace my exhaustion from work with inspiration when the packed days topped with physical work are also depleting. Lifestyle design is about finding the equilibrium of meaningful work and time to play and restore. This looks different for everyone and constantly changes as life does, but reflecting on how you built your schedule and the flexibility to change it as needed might be just as important as the things packed inside of it.
Living a life designed by you
Grasping the reins of your own life gives us a more intimate appreciation for our work, time, and experiences. By implementing this frame of thought in my own life, I found that I didn’t need to feel guilty if I wasn’t a slave to my work. I found my professional value in the quality of my work and its impact, instead of the amount of time I was sitting in front of my screen. I set this same expectation for my colleagues, and funny enough, this has allowed for even more authenticity within my team, leading to more meaningful relationships and a more genuine commitment to creating work with pride.
This approach has helped me build self-reliance and trust my intuition. Lifestyle design has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and in turn, learn that it isn’t as intimidating as we allow ourselves to believe. Although the concept on a grand scale may not be feasible for everyone, I believe that elements of this notion can be applied in even the smallest ways that we perceive our sense of being and strive for growth. It may even help us identify the small fears and lies that hold us back from taming the wild horse of life, letting our guard down and trusting the unknown, proudly synchronizing with our truth.
Thank you for reading,