Collecting the tools of a sustainable, self-directed life


02- Three Ways Lifestyle Design is Like Everything Else


Stagnating wages, job insecurity and the rising costs of education and housing have birthed a movement. In it many lifestyle designers prescribe entrepreneurship, investment and location independence for becoming "the new rich", an alternative to the traditional view of the American Dream. Like that old view, these new models perpetuate the idea that money funds self-actualization, making fulfillment out of reach for most of us. 

In truth, you don’t have to scrap your life and become rich to reach your potential or to be happy. You can start anywhere, at any age, with any set of circumstances, and at your own pace. It's not a privilege for the few. In fact, lifestyle design is like everything else and more common than you think. Here are three examples:

1. There’s more than one way to do it.

When Karl Benz’s patented his motorwagen in 1885, he added a new branch to the transportation tree. Twenty years later, Henry Ford changed the automobile from a luxury good to an item affordable to even the workers on his factory floor. Today we have not only different brands of cars, various models, fuel sources, motor sizes, and comfort options, but also a variety of other modes of transportation from walking, to public and private trains, buses, planes, bikes, etc. And we can customize our method of transportation based on our needs, resources and abilities. 

Lifestyle design is no different. The choice is not one easy, prepackaged option (Hybrid coupe) over another (Gas SUV). The options are so much more diverse (like ridesharing) and nuanced (safely hitchhiking for free, paying for a seat with a contracted driver app, or paying for one via peer-to-peer app, etc). Lifestyle design isn’t simply taking someone else’s idea of “the good life” and trying to replicate it. It is the process of planning and creating your desired reality and begins with deciding what you want your life to look, feel, smell and taste like. 

2. It builds on revision. 

Laureate Sonia Sanchez says it’s not until “the ninth or tenth revision, when you are practically despairing about it, [that a poem] turns that corner and that is the most exquisite moment when it happens.” I’ve seen that exquisite moment in my own life. 

In 2013, I set my heart on getting a tiny house in the woods an hour outside of NYC. I wanted a weekend place where I could live the quiet, simple, natural, creative life that I craved.  In 2017, I bought a piece of wooded property in a small town an hour and 45 minutes outside of NYC. Because of revision, I live here full time.

Over the course of my adult life, I’ve lived in cities, forests and rice paddies; I’ve lived in the Northeast and Southwestern United States as well five other countries. I’ve been a salaried employee, an independent contractor and a temporary worker.  I’ve made money from 9-5’s, rental properties and lived frugally on my savings. I’ve owned my own home, rented an apartment and even spent a couple of years moving from one bi-monthly lease to the next. And I did most of that between 2013 and 2017. 

With every change, I was  constantly reexamining, correcting, improving (even the tiny minutiae of my life) and taking note of what worked and what didn’t until I reached my desired outcome. The process was an incredible labor of self-love and -investment but came with extraordinary return. 

3. It exists—whether you participate in it or not. 

Google the word "design" and you’ll find that it is “a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made.” But it is also the “purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object,” making design present even in the biology of a daisy. 

In the same way, planning or intention is embedded in the path you’ve taken. 

Much of that latent design is the social order (the flow of the culture) that we are born into. James Truslow Adams was so aware of how this cultural current impacts our achievements, development and fulfillment that he defined his “American Dream” as one “of a social order that helps its members become best versions of who they innately are.

So yes, your life has design whether you participate in it or not. A lifestyle designer chooses not to simply be moved along by the current and but takes control and makes their best life.

If you have personal lifestyle goals or questions that go beyond the traditional 40-hour work week and homeownership or location-independent entrepreneurship, put them below in the comments. We all have the right to define work for ourselves. Let's become the resource we need!