Lifestyle Design: My own case study

The Four Hour Work Week has been out for many years now and in fact, the author, Tim Ferriss, has gone on to author the Four Hour Body, Four Hour Chef, etc.  Of course “four hour” is not literal.  It’s about a mentality.

While Ferriss presents a number of interesting assertions in the book, a number of which I disagree with, I accept the central premise on which the entire book is based: lifestyle design.  The upshot of the idea is that you control what kind of life you want to live through your own choices.  So design that life – along with a  means to make income that fits into that lifestyle.  Such a concept doesn’t just turn traditional 9-5 on its head, it throws it out the window after lighting it on fire.  It discards the idea of having a “good job” or “good business” as a priori considerations.

What do you want to do with your life?

How do you want to live it?

Ferriss says that only after you answer these questions have you earned the right to then ask yourself how you’re going to make a living.  Indeed, these questions are deeply revelatory, and I’m always surprised to share this concept with people older than myself who cannot answer these questions (or worse, have never asked themselves anything remotely close).  They’ve just taken to living their life – perhaps very successful lives in many measures – but there’s not an intentionality behind those lives.  Lifestyle Design demands that intentionality (and accountability).

As I said, I reject several of Ferriss’ assertions, such as the idea that the truth of a religion cannot be known or some of the gimmicky advice he gives regarding automating a certain type of internet business.  The meta with Ferriss is what matters.  There are dozens – hundreds – dare I say thousands of ways to make a living.  Be bold and fearless and you will reap the rewards. And even failure will teach you so much more than conventional success will.  Ask for safety and 3-4-5 weeks of vacation a year and you may – or may not – get it.  And even if you get it you may lose it.  The days of 20 years at one company may be gone but there have never been more fun and innovative places to do something you’re passionate about or more cool opportunities to start your own thing.

Ferris encourages, as a starter plan, making a low to median First World income and then living in Second World situations (Thailand, for some reason, is a popular pick, which is odd as I’ve always considered it fitting well within the “nice to visit” oeuvre), using time differences to your advantage and the saved income as arbitrage towards your next venture.

Ferris holds this out to the everyman, just as the excitable Amway dupe does when he draws circles for you on a flip chart in someone’s home. But lifestyle design, much like entrepreneurship, is not for everyone – nor can it be accomplished by everyone.

There are dozens of inspiring case studies (even for my married-with-kids friends who would call this impossible), none of which I can say I’ve ever read – mostly because I didn’t need proof to believe that this would work.

***

In October 2012 I sold a business.  It was not the first I had built or said goodbye to, either at a profit or at a loss, but it was the largest profit I had ever made and after such a long and hard push (6 years) I took some time off.  Starting in November I went to Grand Cayman, London, and then Paris.  In December I arrived in Australia for a 34-day, 5 state, 2 territory trip of a lifetime.

One of the most memorable days of my life

One of the most memorable days of my life

As I stood on top of Mount Wellington in Tasmania, at the very bottom of the world, in the opening days of 2013, I was overcome with emotion at how deeply God has seen fit to bless someone so unworthy.  I resolved to continue to try to be worthy every single day.

Throughout all these trips I had the opportunity to be deeply grateful, to meet amazing new friends, and to think about my life up to this point, and to reflect on what was ahead.

Rather impetuously in January, while still in Oz, I had  settled on a move to Paris.  It had been a city of my dreams for so long.  If not now, when, I mused.

It took one full year (all of 2013) and all of my effort, concentration, and focus to pull it off.  And I submit that had I not bought a one-way ticket in January of that year that I might not have actually done it.  More than once last Summer I thought – if only I could delay this a few more months…  Living in America, as an American citizen, is desperately easy and cheap.  As articles on this blog have pointed out and continue to do so: life in France is “harder” and more expensive in many ways most Americans would find unacceptable and intolerable.

There is also the issue of a built life. It is no accomplishment for the unattached, still-keep-stuff-at-my-parents 20-something to quit a job and see the world.  But someone in his/her 30s, with big boy/girl furniture not self-assembled, with a deep and rich social network, memberships to art museums, subscriptions to the ballet and symphony, etc. would find it hard to leave all these things behind.

This is to say nothing of the fact that you may have young ones in your life, like this cutie, who would miss you.  I’m unmarried and have no children but those nieces and nephews are the closest thing and it’s tough not to be there as they grow up – so much more quickly than you thought they would.

There’s also the perception, for the first few months, that you’re just on some kind of vacation.  People don’t realize you’ve moved and that you have to work in order to pay for your new life.  At times it will be as basic as “What are you doing working – you are in Paris!!”  Other times I laugh myself at what would be outrageous dream material for an American girl: dinner in Paris followed by a walk on the Seine in the shadow of Notre Dame.  It’s just a typical weeknight date with a French girl here (I confessed as much the last time such an incident occurred with said French girl.  “I’ll never take this for granted,” I said in French while standing on Pont Neuf.  She made the typical expressive pout-cum-eyebrow-raise that parsed the attitude of “is that cute or just annoying?”).

It’s now over three months into my adventure and I’ve loved every minute – even the alleged “hard days.”  It’s also the first time in my life that I have been out of my home country for a period longer than 90 days (my Rome study abroad semester came with a visa that was good for exactly 90 days and no longer).  I cannot begin to tell you the questions you will ask yourself when you are completely immersed in an alien culture and language – even one you may love and be conversational in.  You find yourself re-examining basic questions, like, “What do I actually like to eat?” or “What do I do for leisure?” or “What do I want out of my life and work?” not because you are unhappy with the answers you’ve always known but because you’re completely out of context here (well, except, happily, for access to the Mass of All Time which will always make you feel at home anywhere in the world).

You also experience this cheek-by-jowl with whatever businesses you are owning and running.  In my case, I have several, but a great deal of time and energy is taken up by Word Works, Inc. and Paris Foot Walks.

The final consideration that an American so used to freedom of movement must keep in mind, no matter where you are thinking of relocating to, is immigration policy.  I managed to obtain a long-term-stay visa which is not at all easy to get.  My renewal is by no means assured and I’m not even allowed to apply for it until 60 days before my current one expires.  I had read and understood, through various sources, before my visit, that it was easier for someone already here to stay, but your own thought process has to tie into the state of the businesses you are running.  Will I get to be in Paris long-term?  Only the immigration authorities know. 🙂

What I do know is that this was one of the 5 most significant choices of my adult life, and I couldn’t be happier that I made it.

In future articles on this theme I’ll talk about what it took to get here in terms of breaking up my life in America.

4 thoughts on “Lifestyle Design: My own case study

  1. Thanks for sharing Stephen. It is well composed and really hits home. I am very familiar with Tim’s book and his approach to “lifestyle design.” Looks like you have adapted well to the “Nuevo Rich” culture he speaks of.

    I commend you on following your passions, and I as well am pushing for the wonderful lifestyle design myself. Yet, I have to remind myself that designs can take a lot of building time to make into a reality. You have to stick to the dream, heck sometimes I feel like I am still finding the dream for my life. It is a journey that we battle each day and can also enjoy in the moments along the way! Tim didn’t get there by 4 hour weeks, psshhh, he likely put in more like 80. I think there is a unique balance to both contributing toward a healthy lifestyle for you and yours, and freeing yourself to chase after “less stable” passions.

    Overall, I know I have passions, goals, and hope to be uber passionate about something that also generates an income that I can be saving off of / sell for lots of money! Thanks again for sharing!

    May our soccer talks always be blessed with joy and interesting conversations!!!

    Smile,
    Ryan

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    I am st the precipice of this decision after a recent trip to Paris and other issues. I do have the ability to come for a graduate degree ( I’m a scientific researcher) so that may make immigration a little easier in this regard.

    What I’m wondering is how long you wrestled wiyh this decision before finalizing it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *