What Lifestyle Design Really Means and How to Make It Work for You

Nov 21, 2013 - Joe Matar

“Enough of this corporate BS!”

Your anxiety boils over into a muted hiss, only loud enough for cubicle mates to hear, as you look at yet another social media post with a photo of someone’s laptop with the ocean in the background. It has more than 100 likes and 32 comments. More than any 10 of your photos combined.

Another person who’s living better than you.

Maybe your faith in the corporate ladder has been steadily eroding since you took your first post-college job. Or you just want to avoid the suburban black hole. Either way, you think making your own rules will keep you one step ahead of chronic stress and existential stagnation. Entrepreneurship, location independence, digital nomad — these become the buzzwords of your life.

You sell all your stuff, buy a plane ticket and, after whatever travels your savings will allow, crack open your computer and get to work in your inspiring new surroundings.

Soon, you’re consumed with work. You’ve got to-do lists, clients, deadlines and bills to pay. Before you know it, you’re feeling stressed out again and the anxiety is compounding like interest on your student loan. That bamboo beach hut feels more like a cubicle every day.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. You’re living the dream, yet you’re still the same neurotic, money-obsessed worker you’ve always been. You wonder, “Does the guy with the laptop at the beach and all the Facebook likes feel like this? Or am I missing something?”

The lifestyle design fallacy

Lifestyle design is the idea that you have the power to choose how you live your life — that you’re not tied to the 9-to-5 — and becoming a lifestyle designer implies you will soon be the one posting those amazing Facebook photos.

But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Why did you want to become a lifestyle designer in the first place? Whatever your answer is, doesn’t it come down to how you want to feel? You want to feel fulfilled in some way. We all do.

Lifestyle design can often be an extension of the misconception that tweaking career and location will create lasting satisfaction. It’s nothing more than aimless movement dressed up as progress. (Click here to Tweet this idea.)

But all is not lost

As disheartening as it may be to discover you’re still adrift on an ocean of angst, arriving at this point is cause for celebration. The delusion is over. You’ve always acknowledged happiness comes from within, but you’ve never really accepted it.

Admit it: Your travels were a search for external satisfaction masquerading as “living life on your own terms.”

After accumulating an impressive number of air miles, you can accept there’s no place or thing to be found. You can begin to work on yourself without being encumbered by the illusion that the secret to life is “out there.”

The next step

So what now?

Don’t quit. Nothing in your present circumstance needs to change this instant. Take the same courage you used to pursue your dream and focus it inward. This isn’t easy. To uncover the obstacles between persistent discontentment and inner peace, you need to develop awareness.

Awareness can be tough to describe, so I’ll leave it to the expert:

Awareness is the greatest agent for change. The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is. — Eckhart Tolle

Lifestyle design is about creating situations. They’re neither good nor bad and are completely incapable of generating meaning on their own. If you accept that, you can release your expectation that the external conditions of your life are responsible for how you feel.

The location independent advantage

Awareness is available to anyone, anywhere. You don’t have to be a lifestyle designer. But location independence has distinct advantages:

Distance. You’re a long way from home. No one’s watching. Be the person you want to be, free from the scrutiny and judgement of others. You have the space to search, stretch and experiment. Use it.

Location. If you find yourself in a foreign land, dive into the culture. The variety of cultural perspectives is astounding. Much like organisms seek to strengthen the gene pool through genetic diversity, adopt a new point of view and see if you aren’t wiser for it.

Lifestyle design flips some of the rules of society on their heads. But it’s not necessarily a better way of living. Life doesn’t have shortcuts or hidden paths. If, in a clear and calm state, you feel a change needs to be made, then make it. But don’t fool yourself: Making a change as a reaction to feeling discontent will only lead to more discontentment.

Roman Locke is conducting his own lifestyle design experiment at Libertad Apparel. Watch him bring a new concept in travel wear to life, from concept to crowdfunding.