Lifestyle Design

Wikipedia describes Tim Ferriss as “an American author, entrepreneur, angel investor, and public speaker.” While this is all true, it is far from an exhaustive list. He seems to love the fact that the typical question “so, what do you do for a living?” has become difficult for him to answer. In addition to the Wikipedia list, he is also a Chinese kickboxing champion, a world record holder in tango, a power lifter, the creator of an award winning blog and podcast, a philanthropist and activist.

Tim Ferriss is essentially doing what I’ve always wanted to do (more or less) and haven’t exactly been able to define in words. His work is focused on lifestyle design. Put simply, he calls bullshit on what he refers to as “the deferred-life plan”: the 9-5 work day repeated over a 30 year career in the name of acquiring a pension at 65 whereby you will magically be able to do anything you’ve ever dreamed of (which is, all too often, simply “not work”) despite the fact that you have very likely sacrificed much of your health in the process and not taught yourself the skills or significantly expanded your comfort zone to allow this amazing post-retirement life. Ferriss rejects this plan as outrageously illogical and proposes instead that each of us take the time to THINK for ourselves about what we actually want. How do we want to live? It is possible that you want to work from 9-5 everyday, but have you asked yourself the question? Have you considered alternatives? Or have you defaulted to adulthood, where “reality” takes over and makes all of your decisions for you?

Lifestyle design is about thinking for yourself, taking responsibility for your life and creating the life that you want to live. Tim Ferriss’ work strikes a cord with me because I have believed in lifestyle design for as long as I can remember, even though I never called it that. I have 2 memories that I credit most with shaping my views about the evil of the “deferred-life plan”, or “The Path”, as I’ve always described it, and the possibility of living outside of it. My Dad is a 30+ year IBMer, now retired. He was happy to be hired in the 70’s when big corporations valued loyalty, community, and taking care of their employees. He worked hard there, knowing that IBM would do the same for him once he had put his time in. Sometime during my middle school years (as I remember it) it started to get very stressful to be an IBM employee. Business was struggling and layoffs came regularly. They seemed to be random and while there were always rumors, no one ever really knew when new rounds of layoffs would hit. I watched this stress and fear take a toll on my dad. I wondered often, sometimes out loud, “why doesn’t he just quit?” It seemed to me in all my middle school wisdom that whatever horrors might result from dad’s leaving IBM, whether voluntarily or otherwise, could not be worse than what he was living through in order to stay there.

Dad’s response often included the magic number, 30. Once he had 30 years in, he would be eligible to retire. That did not seem worth it to me. I have a better understanding and appreciation for my Dad’s work now (my ability to criticize “The Path” is a direct result of his walking it for so long); and while I’m not 100% sure that he felt the way I interpreted, the impression it made on me was deep and remains to this day: I refuse to get “stuck” doing anything, or to be held hostage by money.

During that same impressionable time in my life, my great-grandmother died. As my family went through her papers, we discovered that she had purchased stock years ago and hidden it away. No one knew about this at the time, but she picked pretty well and we found a significant inheritance. This showed me the alternative: If I could take responsibility for my own retirement, then I would never need to depend on a company to do it.

The summer before I entered my senior year at Penn State, my mom and I were talking and she told me that she had graduated from college in May, found a job in June and been working ever since. I was horrified and let her know it: “Well, if you expect ME to do that, you are crazy!” Mom didn’t bat an eye because she already knew full well that that was not for me. I had no idea what I WAS going to do, but I was full of college optimism that it would “work out”. As you know if you’ve looked around this blog, it did work out and I spent the decade after college living the dream of a semi-professional athlete in Europe, traveling back and forth from the States on the team’s dime, and generally basking in my non-9-5 lifestyle. I decided, definitively, that “9-5 was not for me” and that I would not be attending grad school unless A. someone else paid for it (i.e. a college coaching position or grad assistantship) or B. I did so in Europe where the evil socialists subsidize higher education, making an average year of master’s work run about €2,000 today.

This second decision was the result of the realization that debt is another trap door to “stuck”. After years of Commuting to Europe, I moved here to avoid “stuck”, but I haven’t designed exactly the lifestyle that I want yet. I haven’t reached high enough and I have allowed myself to be too susceptible to the possibility of failure, too open to the criticisms from and pressure to conform to the deferred-life plan that I am rejecting.

Tim Ferriss’ podcast, where he attempts to deconstruct excellence by interviewing people who have achieved it in a variety of ways, has been an inspiration to me and a confirmation that there are more people out there who reject “deferred-life” and make their own rules, achieving great things in the process. Now Ferriss is offering an opportunity to fly to San Francisco to chat one-on-one about lifestyle design and whatever else over dinner with him to the person who best promotes his most recent interview. I want to be there.

The interview, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, is worth a listen for its content alone, but if you check it out via the link below, you may help me get to SF. While this as an exercise in shamelessly enlisting the masses to do his promotion, it is also one more example of Tim Ferriss rewriting the rules to match the lifestyle he is designing. The contest frees up more time for him to do other things, whether that means producing more content or lounging in a hammock like on the cover of his first book.

So here’s the deal, just click on this link and check out Tim’s blog. If you are so inclined, go ahead and listen to the Arnold interview and let me know what you think about it or anything that you learn. While I don’t yet have the resources to offer a round trip ticket to San Francisco, you will earn my sincerest appreciation and, if I win, I’ll write a kick-ass blog about the experience. Thanks and happy listening, Kate

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