Warning: Is Lifestyle Design Making You Miserable?
Lifestyle Design’s Appeal
Ever since I heard about lifestyle design, I’ve been wishing I coined the term. It’s proving ridiculously popular, so much so that good, old-fashioned personal development or self-help seems to have been elbowed aside by its cooler little sister, lifestyle design.
It’s easy to see why.
Lifestyle design sounds far sexier than self improvement, personal development or self help, doesn’t it?
First of all there’s the lifestyle part which seems to indicate that not only do you already have a life, but it’s a stylish life too. Then the term ‘design’ reinforces these hip associations. Together those two words,’lifestyle design’, conjure up an image of a Versace clad entrepreneur supping Crystal champagne while planning their next trip.
Self Improvement Falls Flat
Meanwhile self improvement, self development or personal development lacks the exotic ring of lifestyle design. Here the inference seems to be a personality that’s lacking, somehow in trouble or in need of guidance with daily living.
Today qualified personal growth experts like Dr. Phil with his balding pate, dodgy facial hair, stuffy suit, old-fashioned values and sensible advice, are being usurped by galavanting young risk-takers who jet around the world with hardly a care in the world. Apart from that the ebb and flow of the passive income trickling into their bank accounts of course.
The Pressure of Lifestyle Designing
When I started this blog I’d never heard of lifestyle design and sometimes I’ve wonder if I should have designed my blog to appeal to lifestyle designers rather than for people seeking self development.
As far as I can tell there are three main points to lifestyle design:
- Being self-employed and, preferably, living off a passive income.
- Living where you please.
- Having plenty of freetime to pursue travel and leisure activities a regular job might not leave you time for.
As such, lifestyle design is certainly something I know a lot about and have been engaging in actively and successfully my whole adult life. It’s just that I never labelled it as such.
Over the past 20 years I’ve lived in the UK, France, the US, Thailand, Laos, Zimbabwe and Costa Rica and travelled in many other countries. To date I’ve been self-employed for 14 years. It looks as if I was ahead of my time.
A lot of people think I’m lucky to have traveled so much but they could have done it to. It’s just about setting your priorities, having guts and choosing to do what pleases you. I wouldn’t have it any other way but lifestyle design isn’t for everyone.
Take another look at those three points above. It’s a big ask. Maybe too big.
How Lifestyle Design May Be Making People Miserable
People who aren’t ready to lead this type of lifestyle or just don’t want to may see themselves as failures because of it.
Some people who are striving to achieve this type of lifestyle may be setting themselves up for failure and buying into a concept which for most people is actually unrealistic or even unattainable.
There’s a presssure to fit into the lifestyle design movement and those who don’t fit in might be making themselves miserable by trying to conform to it and feeling that in order to succeed at life and fit in with the cool crowd of lifestyle designers they have to be self-employed and jet around the world non-stop.
The lifestyle Design Revolutionaries
Even though I love the concept of lifestyle design sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit of a flash in the pan. I’m also aware that type of lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Some people crave stability which is understandable.
The funniest thing is that some of the new lifestyle design writers are barely out of diapers yet they style themselves as experts on living well and are eager to tell others how they can do the same thing.
Most of the lifestyle designers whose writing I’ve come across are single, childfree young men, without the responsibilites that come when you have kids and all the expense that entails. How their experiments in lifestyle design will pan out and end up ten or twenty years down the track is anyone’s guess.
Of course, I’m not saying that you can’t travel or live an interesting life when you have kids. You most certainly can and I’ve done so myself, most recently on a jaunt round Central America for 18 months with a 2, 5 and 8 year old.
Before I had kids I was gallavanting round the world with only my backpack and my self to care about. Once the kids came along the travel slowed down as I had to take into consideration four other people including my husband, plan a trip that would also keep them happy and often pack and carry their bags too.
When you travel with kids the logistics of it are harder, the emotional and actual costs far higher than when you were childless. Lifestyle design becomes a real challenge when you’ve got a family.
In fact most aspects of life get harder once you’re a parent. I’d like to see anyone put their mind to writing about lifestyle design while five kids run round their house having a light-sabre battle which is what I’m trying to do right now.
Is Self-employment Essential For a Good Lifestyle?
But my main problem with lifestyle design is that you don’t have to be self-employed to design a life that suits you. You can still be the hip and cool designer of your own lifestyle even if you’re a nurse working shifts, an office worker, a teacher or a bank teller.
Self-employment is good. It works for some of us, like my husband who has taken a vow never to wear a suit, tie or even socks ever again.
But self-employment isn’t for everyone and there are many jobs where you will be employed that are still valid ways of living and earning a living. We need people who are passionate about nursing, policing, teaching and accounting and I hate to think that they feel under-valued in what they do because the world doesn’t value that type of job any more.
Life isn’t all about being a business person, setting up an empire or having a passive income and since that seems to be an integral part of lifestyle design I reckon it applies to some people but not to everyone.
Meanwhile self improvement is something most of us could benefit from with the possible exceptions of people like the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. Most of us have flaws and while many of those are what make us interesting let’s face it there’s always room for improvement.
Why Self Improvement’s Been Popular Since 2500 B.C.
Self improvement is about so much more than lifestyle design. Self improvement is about:
- working out, understanding and loving who you are;
- developing your strengths and talents;
- realising your potential;
- improving the quality of your life;
- planning for sucess on your own terms;
- making the right choices;
- realizing your dreams;
- building your happiness;
- improving your relationships;
- tackling your fears;
- Staying on track with you goals.
The Secret of Leading a Happy Life
Some people who are learning about lifestyle design might be making themselves feel unsatisfied with their own lives right now. Reading about how we are supposed to aspire to endless travel, a first class lifestyle with a passsive income might be making some people feel downright miserable because they don’t have that and they never will.
But it’s okay because that type of lifestyle isn’t everyone’s dream life.
The secret of leading a happy life and living your dream isn’t about struggling to design a first class lifestyle, a passive income and leading a rootless existence.
The secret of leading a happy life is self acceptance and being content with what you’ve got now.
What’s Your Take?
Is lifestyle design set to go out of style while self improvement remains a timeless classic?
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Part of the problem with personal development is it spills over into self-help. There are two main camps:
1. Self-help – I’m broke, fix me. This is also the DIY mental health bucket.
2. Personal Development / Growth / Excellence – help me kick arse and improve my capabilities.
On the web, self-help gets lumped with personal development, so you get an overloaded bag with mixed goals.
In bookstores, it makes a big difference whether you’re a book in the self-help section or the business success rack. I think the same goes for online.
That said, there’s no reason why you can’t tackle lifestyle design or any other sexy topics under the umbrella of personal development.
Personally, I’ve chosen to focus on the “personal effectiveness” niche to differentiate from the self-help bucket.
J.D. – It’s true that a lot of blog directories call personal development by different things or don’t even mention it at all so I usually plump for the lifestyle section if there is one.
I like the sound of personal growth or excellence but haven’t come across those terms before. I think there’s less interest in such things in the UK and Australia. Maybe they just aren’t interested in improving themselves!
Personal effectiveness sounds good too but it’s a bit long… Maybe personal success is the way to go.
Lifestyle design has come under attack lately. I think it’s completely been stereotyped negatively unfortunately. As a result last week J.D. Bentley have asked the community to help us define it better.
Maybe you can help us too. :)
I think you hit on some of the points of “lifestyle design” that either:
a) I am too old to understand or
b) “lifestyle designers” are perpetuating a lifestyle that isn’t sustainable for most people.
I think lifestyle designers (and there are quite a few female ones too), live a lifestyle that isn’t sustainable unless you are 26 and carefree. From the outside, it seems like a pretty lonely lifestyle. How could you develop any meaningful relationships if you are traveling all the time?
Maybe it is just my short-sightedness?
The one person that I have found who seems to be living the type of lifestyle that I would like to pursue is Baker at manvsdebt.com. Of course, he was already married when he set out to conquer the world. Although, I don’t think he proclaims himself to be a lifestyle designer.
Bradley – I think I was thinking of the same thing as you really. That this type of lifestyle is great when you’re young and single but a lot of people get over it and settle down when they get older. Baker’s doing a fine job of traveling with a small family but he’s quite young too and I expect he’ll eventually decide on his favourite place and settle down there. That doesn’t mean an end to travel of course.
Interesting comment about people proclaiming to be a lifestyle designer. I’m definitely not making that claim either. I’ve been called a motivational writer which I loved and a success or inspirational writer sound good to me too. In fact a lifestyle design writer sounds good too but being called a lifestyle designer makes me feel rather uncomfortable.
This is a very nicely written article. I really enjoyed listening to your story, Annabel. I’m jealous that you were able to travel to so many places around the world!
There was a part when you said that we often see the creators of lifestyle design as young, single men that do not have the many responsibilities as adults with children. I also have this picture in my mind (men or women) and it seems like you had a lot more freedom during that time as well.
The way you described carrying your backpack around really made it seem like you were a fearless wanderer. I’m glad those passionate times have still poured into your heart today, as I can see from your writing. It is very admirable that you can do so much with a big family. Thanks for inspiring a younger man who isn’t married yet. :)
I only subscribe to a few blogs and two of you wrote about happiness today. Interesting.
I think part of my quest is realizing that I HAVE choices in the first place. Too much of the time I allow myself to feel trapped/suffocated when I don’t have to.
I like the term lifestyle design and it will have its own meaning for me :-)
This seems to be what everyone is talking about lately. It is a great topic to discuss. The discussion is really helping me to realize that just because I may not be in India or Thailand right now I can still design my own life!
There can be a little stress for you if you always compare yourself to a twenty something who grew up with computers and has figured out to support themsleves online and travel the world! I have nothing against my little brothers and sisters out there who do. More power to them! I wish the internet was around when I was growing up too!
Lifestyle design is just that, design your OWN life, on your own terms. If it means living in one place all your life that is great if it is great for you! You have designed it. What we don’t want to do is to ever limit yourself and say, well, that is for someone else. We all have limitless possibilities! We are only limited by what we believe. Like the blind mountain climber we can all do greater things in life. I think Annabel you were and are ahead of the curve on this one. Thanks once again!
Connie – Yes, it does sound good:) I believe we really can do anything today. Sometimes that freedom is over-whelming but happiness comes first.
Randall – Hehe, yes good luck to all the young people who are gadding round the world living off their Internet income. I did it by teaching english and weaving friendship bands and hairbraids! It worked and I got to meet lots of locals and travelers too. Yes, the possibilities are endless. It’s exciting!
I think lifestyle design has a lot to do with working your butt off for a long time while keeping your eye on what’s important to you without letting your work suffer. Eventually the seal breaks and suddenly you’re an authority or indispensable in your field and you have more options because people NEED you. But faking authority, authenticity in order to get something you want isn’t sustainable. I see a lot of people become disillusioned with lifestyle design because they don’t put one foot in front of the other and aren’t honest with themselves about where they’re at in relation to where they want to be.
Great post and thanks for visiting my blog too!
JR – Thanks for swinging by:) That’s funny – and probably a well kept secret that lifestyle design is aboutworking your butt off:) Yes, most of all we have to be honest with ourselves and our needs/wants do change too. Sometimes a certain thing sounds great but then we try it and find it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
A very well written article–I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also noticed that many of the lifestyle design bloggers seem to fit a certain demographic, at least in terms age group (primarily mid-20s to mid-30s) and to some extent their work/professional experiences.
My sense of these blogs is that the underlying message is based on a call to be true to yourself and design a life for yourself that supports your best, most creative, inspired self to come and play on a regular basis. My thinking on this is that the bloggers’ personal lifestyles are meant to serve as an inspiration and provide some ideas for the readers to design their own style– in the same way that most people get ideas from fashion or interior design magazines and then adapt certain elements of the total “look” to suit their own circumstances.
I suspect that the danger for some individuals might come about if they focus on the trappings of the lifestyle (the image)–or try to replicate the life style exactly–rather than doing the personal growth and introspective work that will empower them to figure out the unique lifestyle that works for them, and even more importantly understand the true source of happiness. The best take home message or theme I’ve seen in many of the lifestyle design blogs is to challenge our assumptions–both personal and cultural–and to find the courage to break away from the herd mentality: In other words, learn to think independently and critically.
Well that’s more than my two cents worth on the subject. Before I sign off, I also want to congratulate you on your equally wonderful recent guest post at Zen Habits, “Five ways to travel more for less.”
Sue – Thanks for your lovely long comment and for joining us here. I think you’re right. The key concept of lifestyle design (because it is a brilliant term) should be that each person’s lifestyle will be unique. It seems that most of the lifestyle design bloggers are all after a similar lifestyle – passive Internet income and location independence. I think any type of lifestyle is desirable – whatever makes people happy. Living off the land with chickens in a rural haven, living on a boat and sailing round the globe, running an import/export business which allows plenty of travel. There are so many possible opportunities and permutations. I want to encourage people to strive for their dream no matter what it is:)
Perhaps the popular blogs about travel and 4 hour work week lifestyle design are the most popular because they are the most obviously exciting lives.
Lifestyle design, to me, means living your life with awareness. As Sue says, doing the work to figure out what you want and making that happen in your life.
There are plenty of bloggers living the life they want but it’s not the glamorous travel life, so we don’t recognize that they are living a life of design.
Having said that, I’m turning 50 this year, so I plan to take my 3 youngest kids (9, 11 and 12) on the road for a Cross-Canada odyssey with the kids/sabbatical. Age, kids and sex has nothing to do with it. Living the life you want, is about understanding what life you want and making it happen.
Frances – Thanks for joining us. I love your last sentence: Living the life you want, is about understanding what life you want and making it happen. It really is that easy, you jut have to be determined and persevere. Have a fabulous trip with your youngest kids. They sound as if they’re a good age for a road trip. I wonder how many you have in total? They’re lucky to have a mum with a winning attitude and adventurous spirit.
Extremely insightful post. I do agree with you that the term lifestyle design is being thrown around quite a bit right now.
I think this is because most people want what lifestyle design promises, freedom from the drudgery of an “average” life.
I would venture to say that lifestyle design is not something all that different or separate from self-help.
Think about it this way: the idea behind lifestyle design is to improve and automate your income, so you can focus on more important things. The goal is to work less and enjoy life more.
The general idea behind self-help is to improve yourself and your life to the point where you can be content and happy regardless of what life throws at you.
If a person were to achieve both of these things, I’d say they were living an “extraordinary” life.
If a person were to achieve only one of these things, I’d say they were living a good life but still had some work to do.
A person that has all the money in the world, but no understanding of themselves is playing a losing game.
So would be the individual that has a clear understanding of themselves among but no free time to pursue their passions.
I’d love to hear your opinion on this :-)
Excellent article. So-called “Lifestyle Design” (don’t we all love that phrase) a double-edged sword. Much of Timothy Ferriss is just hype — the four-hour work-week doesn’t exist and he certainly never did it, not before and not now. And yet there are some profound ideas there that I have to give Timothy credit for. My response for finding meaning and profit in life http://lifestyledesignschool.com (and you don’t have to be a 20-something unattached)
My take on it is similar to another author on the web (sorry, forgot your name).
The top-down approach (Lifestyle Design) and bottom-up (Life Hacks/self-development) are best taken together so they can complement each other.
The argument goes both ways. If someone was obsessed with life hacks masters certain techniques yet only applies them to minutiae, their life doesn’t improve at all. (ex. an excellent speed reader mostly reads irrelevant/pointless material | A Time Ferris example would be negotiating some dollars off a product). What’s the point of being good at something when it doesn’t contribute to anything significant?
[ LifeStyle design can help make choices so we can focus on the details. Cal Newport over at Study Hacks gave a good example. When faced with two choices: A) Get a high position job at a firm after graduating, B) Go to graduate school. A person who chose a Power Broker lifestyle would get A, a Serial Entrepreneur would choose B to develop his ideas. ]
The other argument is what our author just mentioned.
I think the most basic problem here is our basic human insecurities/logical fallacies winning over our ability to see the nuances/technicalities in a situation. The general public (“we”) see something the wrong way, panic, then second doubt our choices because of it.
Tim Ferris isn’t explaining the concept of LifeStyle Design in 4 Hour Work Week. He’s espousing the lifestyle he calls New Rich. In his book, first he tries to convince workers whose lives feel full of drudgery that there’s a better way of living. Then he shows then a way how to do it.
Of course, Tim Ferris is a salesman. He uses such techniques to sell the idea to a demographic who have probably been socialized (and possibly defensive) to believe that working hard is the ONLY way. The fact that such a lifestyle seems so attractive to an overworked group led to its popularity. Unfortunately, he inadvertently made his lifestyle a StereotypE of lifestyle design. Those with the same preferences and lifestyle choice joined in on the opportunity to show others how to enjoy the way did. Hence, our stereotype and problem as our author mentioned with lifestyle design now.
The top-down approach of Life Style design is an old concept. The main proponents of lifestyle design now only served to promote it. Not bad timing though. After all, it serves to balance the bottom-up approach of Life Hacking/Self-development that’s been hyped over these past few years.
Hi Annabel – I am a Candy too!! How cool! I am glad I found your article on lifestyle design. I used to have all 3 of that desired design – the passive income, freedom to live anywhere, and the time and ability to persue what I wanted. Unfortunately, I married a man who began to run away from problems, and instead of enjoying my life, we became subject to his tyranny. The crushing blow came when the stock market dove down, I lost all my income, developed fibromyalgia, lost my looks, developed severe back problems, and am now back living with him due to an inability to make a decision on where to reside on my own! What would
you suggest for me to do? This is a true story -thank you, Candy
I wanted to add to my comment I just posted, that ALL of my possessions are STILL in storage – 7 units in 3 different states -pretty wierd, right? And, we were going to leave here, but didn’t go, so my car holds the immediate “necessaries”, and it’s really full and just sitting there.
I know I have arrived late to the part with this article, but I just found it and find I have to agree with you.
Having subscribed to the majority of ‘lifestyle design’ blogs about 18 months ago (after picking up the 4 Hour Workweek), I instantly got hooked to the idea of traveling the world, having no responsibilities and basically living a ‘retired’ lifestyle.
However, after a couple of months of the same regurgitated information I came to realise that most of them only move to SE Asia because it is incredibly cheap and that is only place in the world their ‘passive income’ (or the money they make from promoting lifestyle design products on their blogs) allows them to live.
I also found that their focus seemed very short term (and I wonder when they finally decide to head home, if they will have to just get a regular 9-5, because they won’t be able to afford living back in the western world).
I’m married and have a 1 y/o daughter, so maybe like you, I realise that I have other people to think about. But living a ‘glamourous’ playboy lifestyle on a budget doesn’t really have the glimmer that it once did.
Travel is still definitely on the cards, as we are planning a move to Canada for a year, and I love the idea of experiencing other cultures so long-term travel is definitely going to always be on the cards – but I now don’t think of it as ‘lifestyle design’, it’s just us living life the way we want to – and that seems to be a much more freeing though.
Hi Thomas, great to see you here. I think we’ve had the same journey re lifestyle design – excitement shortly followed by disillusionment. There’s a lot of spin out there but I love your new, improved definition of lifestyle design as “us living life the way we want to”. What could be better than that?!
Obviously a topic that a lot of people are interested in!
For me what you describe is more of a “freedom lifestyle” – work from anywhere, travel the world, passive income – although not necessarily less work!
Lifestyle Design to me is more about being conscious of what you really want in life and then designing your lifestyle to make that possible. As you say, for some that might mean a career while for others it’s starting a business that gives them control, flexibility and freedom to choose how and when they work (often long and hard!).
I like self-improvement and lifestyle design :)