Is Lifestyle Design a Bunch of Crap?


If you could live your life on a hammock by the beach, would you do it?

One of the biggest fads as of recent (last 5 or so years) is the concept of “lifestyle design”.  Popularized by Tim Ferriss in his book “The Four Hour Work Week“, lifestyle design could be described in a lofty, “I want to sell you my book” way as:

…those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lfiestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility.  -Tim Ferriss

I had to read that sentence 5 times to figure out what the hell it actually meant.

I think an actually-useful, non-inflated definition of lifestyle design goes something like this:

Lifestyle design is the ability to craft your schedule in a way that you can essentially spend time doing things you want, without having a large series of obligations around work or other things you’d prefer not to do.

Basically, you “design” your life so that you can do what you want most of the time, get paid passive income for doing nothing, and have a grand old time each and every day, usually (but not exclusively) while spending your days in a hammock on the beach with a Corona at your side.

Yay passive income!  You'll have so much money you can play in it.

Yay passive income! You’ll have so much money you can play in it.

How do lifestyle designers design their life?

Most of the “mainstream” lifestyle design stuff I’ve seen is actually very extreme: people that quit their jobs, establish 10 sources of passive income, and use geo-arbitraging (living in countries where things are really, really cheap, like Vietnam or Thailand) to save money.

On the surface, this seems to go well for some.  Of course, lifestyle advocates supply “proof” that it works, such as these videos of 15 people who have done it successfully.  Some people in their early 20′s spend their days wandering from southeast Asia country to southeast Asia country, making big money from their laptops.  Some people have made successful blogging careers writing about lifestyle design: take Location180, for example.

You: “Dude this sounds like so much fun!  I should go do it now!  I’d love to live in China / Vietnam / Laos / Indonesia for a year and buy expensive stuff for cheap!”

Me: “Slow down there champ…and think this through”

Sidenote: Did you know that even though many items are cheaper in Asia (like China, where I lived for 8 months), a lot of Western items you’d actually want to buy are often twice as expensive?

For example, take the Brooks Brothers in Shanghai, China, where the average item cost 2x as much as a Brooks Brothers in the US-

Most expensive Brooks Brothers ever!  Damn you Shanghai

Most expensive Brooks Brothers ever! Damn you Shanghai

Oh, and I almost forgot: salsa costs $7.

The worst $7 I've spent in my entire life.

The worst $7 I’ve spent in my entire life.

So unless you want to buy only shitty below-WalMart quality clothing that is not made to fit Westnerners (take it from a 6’3″ guy who lived in China), and want to spend $20 for a home-cooked spaghetti dinner (no joke) you’re still going to be paying handsomely out the a$$ for a fair number of things you take for granted living here.

How do you know if lifestyle design is for you?

I’ve written before about the value of setting goals (including how I almost sunk my ventures because I was bad at it!) and the importance of taking action NOW.  So before just assuming lifestyle design would be awesome, consider the whole picture first:

1. Is travelling around the world living under a hammock really that appealing, or does it actually just suck?

Maybe if you’re in your mid 20′s without a family, student loan debt and tired of drudging away in your coffee-stained cubicle, lifestyle design sounds like a slam dunk.  But some who have gone down that road find it to be horribly miserable or lonely (read the part about the “lifestyle designer” living in Japan who was so lonely, he broke down crying in a park after seeing a young family enjoying their time together, realizing that he would never be able to have that for himself).

Poor lifestyle poor, poor thing.

Poor lifestyle designer…you poor, poor thing.

2. How easy is it to establish the “passive income” streams needed for lifestyle design?

“Dude I’m just gonna set up 10 passive income streams and I’ll be making bank”

What a doofus.

Setting up passive income streams is one of the hardest things to do.  To establish passive income streams, you have 2 options:

#1: already have a lot of money to begin with (think real estate investment),

or #2: spend a long time building up your brand since you don’t have any actual money to spend to multiply your efforts (think of the slow process here in writing my blog: if it ever does produce passive income, it’ll need tons more subscribers than it has now…that’ll be at least a year in the future, after writing at least 2 blog posts per day and working on other content).

All and all, that doesn’t sound too goddamn passive to me.

Find me a rich uncle to sponsor some real estate investments, then it'll be passive income for REAL!

Find me a rich uncle to sponsor some real estate investments, then it’ll be passive income for REAL!

Don’t just take my word for it:  Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich decries the misconception around passive income, vowing never to produce a course on passive income because most people would be unsuccessful in doing it (even though, according to him, he could make 6-figures by releasing a course on passive income).

3. Would you actually want to do the kind of work that “lifestyle design experts” do?

Do you like writing long blog articles?  How about SEO?  How about web development?  Do you like carpal tunnel syndrome and pale skin from sitting in front of a computer all day long?

find those things fun…but do you?

If your interests lie in something that doesn’t involve typing shit and doing long-tail keyword searches all day long, maybe you should reconsider.


Pick me, pick me!

Pick me, pick me!

4. How many so-called lifestyle design experts are “experts” just because they wrote a book about it?

The absolute best blog post ever is Penelope Trunk’s 5 time management tricks I learned from years of hating Tim Ferriss (author of the 4 Hour Work Week I talked about earlier).  She writes:

The week that Tim actually works a four-hour work week will be a cold week in hell. Tim got to where he is by being an insanely hard worker. I don’t know anyone who worked harder at promoting a book than he did. But the thing is, he didn’t call it work. Somehow, sliming me into having coffee with him to talk about his book is not work.

Penelope Trunk

Pwnd by Penelope Trunk!

When you think about it, many of lifestyle design’s main proponents are people that work insanely hard.  Some of them admit it (like the writer at Tropical MBA, who essentially admits that he spends 10 hours per day in front of a laptop; look at Rule #3); others try to hide it.

My take on lifestyle design:

Lifestyle design is something that comes from meticulous planning and learning.  It’s not easy, and unless you like one of the limited skill sets that would allow for lifestyle design (hammering out code or SEO on a laptop all day), I don’t see how you could really pull it off.

I would suggest considering “lifestyle design” in terms that make sense to you.  Suppose you just want to have more time to spend with your family and children when you’re 30, or retire at 50.  What steps can you take now to start a business or establish sources of income that work with your desired lifestyle?

Thinking about “lifestyle design” in terms of things that actually matter to you–instead of chasing dreams of palm trees and living in cheap hotels in Bangkok–makes a ton more sense to me.

Though, come to think of it, maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all... (Image: The Peninsula, Bangkok)

Though, come to think of it, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all… (Image: The Peninsula, Bangkok)

What’s your take on lifestyle design?

Write in the comments below about what you think about lifestyle design, Tim Ferriss (and his pwnage by Penelope Trunk).  Do you like the idea of “living in a hammock on the beach”, or do you see lifestyle design more in terms of working towards spending time the way you want?


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