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How to Use Life Architecture to Create the Life You Want

“Goals can be made in the spirit that life is an enjoyable game to be played, and one that can be deeply rewarding.” — Shakti Gawain

Have you ever wished that you had more time for your family? Have you ever wished you could live somewhere beautiful and could spend your days outside? Do you ever think about traveling the world or being location-independent?

Most of us have a picture of the ideal life we would like to live, but few believe that such a life is possible. Tim Ferriss popularized the idea of “lifestyle design” in his book “The 4-Hour Workweek.” That book introduced the principle that a person could set up a business to generate passive income so that he or she could escape the 9-to-5, get cash on autopilot, and spend the day surfing while dedicating as few as hours as possible to “work.”

Well, I read “The 4-Hour Workweek.” Some of the ideas are great. I love the concept of getting off the hamster wheel, eliminating work for work’s sake, getting the freedom to live the life you want, and taking mini retirements throughout life.

But here’s the thing: “The 4-Hour Workweek” and books like it leave me with this feeling that I need to shower. They are so focused on “getting out of” work that I think they miss the mark on what life is all about. If we focus all of our energy on “getting out of” things we don’t like, we may miss things we’d like to “get into” — you know, work and ways of spending our time that are actually fulfilling.

I also think the laser focus on generating more money makes this dream inaccessible to a lot of people. It also asks the wrong questions. What if, instead of trying to scale a business you don’t really care about to maximize your income, you made the time you had “in” your life more enjoyable or looked to minimize your expenses?

What would make you happier? A month off from a job you hate and a Lamborghini or 12 months working at a job you love and no Lamborghini?

Life Architecture is a skill I wish they taught at universities. What would the world look like if everyone became more thoughtful about what they truly wanted out of life rather than following the prescribed formula for what they thought they were “supposed” to want?

What if some high-school graduates did the cost-benefit analysis of taking on massive amounts of student-loan debt and decided to start their own businesses instead? What if college graduates decided they didn’t want to work a 9-to-5 and build a career but rather work when they needed to and couch surf around the world? What if a bunch of Americans decided to move into houses that were significantly smaller and give up one car so they could work less and spend more time with their families?

The world as we know it would be completely different.

To be clear, I’m not saying that one should do those things. I’m saying people should know they have the option to do those things.

I didn’t invent the concept of Life Architecture, but I did shape my beliefs around it on my own. Life Architecture, as I define it, is the practice of creating a blueprint for your ideal life and shaping your vocation, location, partner, possessions, and habits in order to build that life. Of course, that sounds great, but often the life we want requires sacrifice. It may mean adjusting one component of our vision or diverting from social norms to get what we really want.

Let me give you an example: When I was considering moving with the man who is now my husband, I knew I wanted to live in Colorado. I really wanted to stop throwing my money away on rent and purchase a house, but a few days of research told me that there was no way I could afford a house in Denver or Boulder. They were just too expensive!

Between the two of us, we could afford an apartment in Denver, but that wasn’t what either of us wanted. Instead, we decided to move to Colorado Springs where home prices were more affordable. We ended up purchasing an 800-square-foot fixer-upper just outside of downtown. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but it turned out to be a good investment. Now we are ready to give up the city life altogether. We are building a house in the mountains outside a tiny town I never would have considered three years ago!

My brother is another great example. He has dreams of becoming an actor, but he has a good job in a small town that pays the bills. He’s been driving two hours to auditions on his days off and has filmed several commercials. He wants to move out to Los Angeles, but he knows he won’t be earning enough from acting to support himself before he gets there. He plans to transition to a job that will allow him to attend auditions during the day and book more gigs to accelerate his career.

Another friend of mine loves to travel. Instead of taking a job at an ad agency upon graduation, she applied to be a Hotdogger for the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile so she could travel the country. Now she is engaged and relatively “settled” in a Brooklyn apartment with her fiancé, but they just purchased a van outfitted for sleeping and cooking so they could take long cross-country road-trips on the cheap.

When I gave up my 9-to-5 to become a full-time author, I traded income security and a built-in social group for freedom, more leisure time, and increased self-confidence in my ability to provide for myself. (You can read all about the trade-offs of becoming a full-time writer here.) My income fluctuates from month to month, and there are periods of time when money is tight, but I would not trade a larger income for the autonomy and life experiences I’ve gained.

There is no wrong way to do Life Architecture. You do not have to quit your job and move into a van. You don’t have to be a professional couch surfer or Rob Greenfield. And yes, you can do this even if you have children. (My in-law’s sister and her husband moved their two kids to a remote house with no running water in the Italian countryside to live the life they desired.) Here’s how it works:

1. Take a moment to envision your ideal life. How do you spend your time? Who are you with? What possessions do you have? What do you not have? What activities do you partake in that you don’t currently do (or don’t do as much as you’d like)? Fill in as many details as you can. This is the brainstorming phase, so don’t be afraid to go big. You can have anything you want.

2. Seek out people who’ve done it. Sometimes when we think about what we want, our minds begin to lay out all the steps we believe we need to take — even though we’ve never done it. Think about that fallacy: If you’ve never been an author earning a six-figure income, how would you know exactly how it’s done? If you’ve never spent a year circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat, how could you anticipate everything you’d need to get there? This where the experts come in.

Seek out several people who have achieved something similar to what you have in mind, either in person or through books and podcasts. Try to find people who seem like “your kind of people” — people you could see yourself being friends with, for instance. Take notes on how they achieved their dreams. (It may not be in the ways you expect.) Their life paths should not be considered blueprints — only you can design your blueprint — but they may give you ideas you had not considered.

3. Consider what you need to get from point A to point B. If you know you need $20,000 in savings, write that down. If you need a different job, write down the sort of job you would like. This is the part where it’s important not to get discouraged. Some of the requirements may seem daunting — impossible even. If so, proceed to step four.

4. Question your basic assumptions. It can feel defeating if we start thinking about how we don’t have enough money, education, or experience to do or have the things we want. But make sure you ask yourself what part of the dream you’re really after. Do you truly want a six-figure income, or do you just want to be able to support yourself as an author? Could you live on less? Do you really want to travel the world in style, or do you just want to travel the world (style optional)? Remember, there is no “right” way to build your dream life. Which brings me to step 5:

5. Get creative, and begin integrating aspects of your designed life. As I said before, sometimes designing our perfect life requires sacrifice. That may mean downsizing, moving to another city, or adjusting aspects of the plan as needed. But even if you cannot get cast in a major Hollywood picture tomorrow or move to a Caribbean island next week, there are aspects of life in your blueprint that you can begin integrating today.

Maybe you expand your social circle to more creative and interesting people. Maybe you implement a new exercise regimen to get camera-ready six-pack abs. Maybe you make more time for leisure wherever you live right now. In the book “Wired to Create,” the authors refer to a study led by E. Paul Torrance, who found that it is not enough to fall in love with the dream of our future self; we must fall in love with the process of becoming that person.

6. Stay vigilant for detours that take you farther from your desired outcome. In life, we are constantly being bombarded by choices. Some choices give us the option of immediate gratification or making a decision that is better in the long run. If, for instance, your dream involves working less so you can spend more time with family, you may need to pass up a promotion that will require longer hours. (Or, if that promotion comes with a big raise, you may need to accept the job and begin saving that money to take an early retirement.)

But sometimes we make choices without fully considering how they impact the blueprint of our life. If you make a choice that takes you farther from the life you want, acknowledge that you’ve taken a detour and commit to getting back on track. (Or acknowledge that the blueprint has changed.)

Whatever choices you make, don’t beat yourself up about them. Life is not a straight line like a freeway. It is a series of winding trails. The hike is what it’s all about, so remember to look around every now and then to take in the scenery.

Do you feel that you are the architect of your life? What does your ideal life look like? What steps can you take this week to bring you closer to your perfect design?

If your perfect life involves becoming an author, I can help you with that. I offer one-on-one coaching for aspiring writers, so shoot me an email to get more information or to set up a consultation.

Photo by Sven Mieke

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