intentional living - lifestyle design

Are you living your dream life? 

Are you living out the goals you’ve set for yourself? Genuinely happy with the way that your life has panned out? If so, please write a bestselling book so we can all learn how you did it! 

If not, you are not alone. We all have goals, but as we age, most of us end up drifting from our intended course and “making do” with what we have. Which is not to say that we are unhappy; I consider myself one of the happiest people in the world, but have I lived out all of my dreams and goals and am I living the best life I possibly could? No. But I know how I want to live my life and I am willing to put in the work to get there. 

Building your ideal life is not easy. Quite the contrary! But consider again the questions above. Are you ready to stop drifting and start steering your own ship toward a designed life? If so, let’s get cracking.


What Is Lifestyle Design?

Lifestyle design is exactly what it sounds like: intentionally designing your ideal life. 

How do you want to spend your time, money, energy? Achieving your dream life is hard work; like every good thing in life, it comes at a cost. Not necessarily a financial cost, but there are always tradeoffs and you need to decide what is most important to you and work from there. 

My father told me something when I was young that I will never forget. I was moving into my first apartment and was going to be living independently for the first time, paying all my own bills. I was expressing my stress and concerns to him when he stopped me and said, “You can have anything you want in life. But you can’t have everything.” This is something that I live by on a daily basis. I can choose to spend the majority of my income on housing. But I cannot also travel frequently, spend a lot on entertainment, drive a fancy car, and so forth. You can have anything you wish for in life, but you cannot have everything. 


Key Aspects of Lifestyle Design

When you start mapping out your perfect life, start by imagining the key aspects as different categories. This allows you to dive into your priorities for each area of your life.


1. Work

Your work does not define you. However, it makes up a huge portion of your waking hours, and therefore demands attention in sculpting your lifestyle. 

If you dream of becoming a doctor, know that your lifestyle will be very different to someone that wants to be an artist. Decide what your work priorities consist of. If your career is at the top of your priority list, then follow that career. This may take you to another city or country, but keep in mind that in doing so it may impact other aspects of your life, such as starting a family.

There are many exercises and practices you can do to help create a clear vision of finding the right career. Always remember that you can change careers, and your lifestyle and career can both continuously evolve. But they don’t necessarily change or evolve without intentional effort on your part, and when they do, they often take you in a direction you didn’t intend. 

Get clear on where you want to go, both income- and career-wise. Map your route and start taking steps to get there!


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2. Location

Geographic location is a key aspect of your lifestyle choices. Do you dream of living in a certain place? If so, how does location compare to your work when you go to prioritize? They might align perfectly — or they might not. 

Remember, you can have anything, but not necessarily everything. If you know you want to live in a certain city or country, that may affect your job prospects, your housing costs, your property tax rates and other tax rates (see this breakdown of the states with the lowest total tax burden). The cheapest places to live in the US don’t necessarily offer the best jobs in your field. Even so, Generation Z and millennials do worry about real estate prices, and many have moved out of the priciest cities.

On the contrary, if you have no idea where you want to settle down or if you ever want to settle down in a specific location, consider careers that allow more flexibility. Most individuals live where their job is located, however some choose to work remotely — giving them unlimited opportunities as to where they want to live.

3. Work Schedule

What do you want your day-to-day schedule to look like? Do you want to work five days a week? Do you want to work during the conventional 9-5 work day, or are you okay with working at any time of day or night?

Consider the example above. If you want to become an ER doctor, you give up some control over your hours. However, an artist could work from 11pm to 4am if that is when they produce their best work. 

Telecommute jobs and 1099 gigs often offer some schedule flexibility. But you sacrifice other perks, such as the camaraderie of the office, and sometimes other benefits like health insurance or employer-sponsored retirement accounts.

4. Family and Social Life

When creating your lifestyle design, make the conscious decision if you want a partner and children. Starting a family will impact your schedule, career, and location. While starting a family may not be a priority now, consider if you want that in the future before you pack up and move halfway across the world. 

Friends and social life are other things to consider as well. Are you willing to leave your social life now and start a new one? Again, different ages, different stages. Your feelings may differ over time, and that is okay!

Lifestyle Design and Budgeting

Ultimately, the way you live depends heavily on your income. Money shapes every life decision we make in some form. When creating a lifestyle design for yourself, you must inherently plan a budget. 

It may seem like just another thing that you need to add to your “to-do” list. However, if you are someone that hates crunching numbers every month and dealing with the math aspect of budgeting, lifestyle design is the perfect alternative. 

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Where Do You Start?

Make a plan. What are your priorities? What are the key aspects of your life that are the most important to you? Start simple and expand from there.

Step 1: Set Your Top Priorities

Get out a pen and paper and write down what your dream life looks like. You will start to think about your top priorities and what matters most. Consider these questions:

  • Would you move if there were no limitations? If so, where?
  • How important is your work? Are you willing to change careers?
  • Do you want to marry or have a long-term partner?
  • Do you want children?
  • At what age would you like to retire? (You do control this yourself — read up on the FIRE lifestyle and its many benefits in addition to retiring early.)
  • How much time to yourself would you like to have each week?
  • How important is income to you?

Set your priorities before you go out and start sculpting your life, rather than after!

Step 2: Map Your 5-Year Plan

Once you know where you want to end up, you can start planning how to get there. 

Start with a five-year plan to create your ideal life, beginning with your top three priorities. If living in a different country or city is your top priority, start thinking about how you can work remotely or work from a different location. If family is your top priority, think about where and how you can support them in the best way.

If financial independence is of the utmost importance to you, then start by paying off unsecured debts through a structured strategy like the debt snowball method. Look for ways to make some extra cash. Build up your emergency fund. It will likely take longer than five years to achieve financial independence and optionally retire early, but you can still start living your perfect working life in the meantime. 

Once you put a plan in place for your top priorities, the rest starts to fall into place naturally. Don’t try to overwhelm yourself and plan out every day for the rest of your life because, trust me, it won’t happen the way you envision.

Step 3: Make Progress Every Month Toward Your Perfect Life

All the planning in the world is meaningless if you don’t take action. 

Base every decision on your priorities. Make a conscious effort to look at the big picture with everyday decisions you make. If it is your top priority to pay off debt and reach financial independence, intentionally make the decision to live frugally every day. Learn how to score free housing through house hacking. Start learning how to invest and build passive income, and perhaps how to buy your first rental property

It is easy to think about everything you want in life, to envision what you want for yourself. The hard part is implementation: living intentionally every single day. Your life will not change overnight, but through lifestyle design, you can actively plan and pursue the way you want to live.


Final Thoughts

Life comes with tradeoffs and sacrifices. 

You can have anything you want in life, but not everything. You can move to your dream city, but you may have to change careers or work odd hours. 

You’re already making tradeoffs and sacrifices. The question is whether you’re sacrificing the “great” in exchange for the “good” or even just the “comfortable” and “safe.” 

Stop drifting on the current of life, and start steering your own ship. You’d be surprised how quickly you can create your perfect life when you get intentional about every decision you make.

What does your ideal life look like? How are you working toward it? What obstacles lie in your way? 

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