Lifestyle design

So I’ve dropped this phrase “lifestyle design” on this site a few times and it’s been a while since I explained it, at least concisely, if at all.

Lifestyle design is a phrase I stole from Timothy Ferriss’s book “The Four-hour Work Week.” It refers to the idea of taking charge of your complete life and living a lifestyle that you’ve actively designed rather than simply following along with what society or your family dictated for you.

I’d actually been working on lifestyle design for a while, but I was drifting aimlessly until encountering a few key events and people. I began thinking of lifestyle design around Christmas of 2011 when I realized that my life at the time was a joke. I was a second year law student with no real hobbies, no close friends, and seriously troubled relationships within my family. I was also morbidly obese and in denial of some slowly deteriorating health conditions as a result.

The first encounter that started moving me toward lifestyle design at that point was a legal colleague at the firm I was working with at the time, a fashionable and motivated young lawyer named Will. Will was doing ordinary work at a mediocre firm, but he was clearly very good at it, and he loved what he did. It was clear that he loved his life. He was always well-dressed and had a great attitude. I learned a little from him about the law, but really his main influence was to make me envious of his personal fashion. I realized that certain factors were holding me back from dressing like he did and carrying myself with confidence.  Will was also a model of lifestyle design in other ways; he created his own employment terms at the firm, working from home more often than not and setting his own hours, and I would later learn that the firm was a deliberate step in a planned career that would take him to running his own business on his own terms.

The second encounter was with my own father. Some details are personal, but a family crisis made me realize how much of my life I’d been basing on what I perceived as my family’s expectations of me. Christmas 2011 was a minor family crisis that forced me to reevaluate some of those relationships, and somehow it was enough for me to realize that passively accepting these relationships without personally dictating terms was holding me back. So I made a minor adjustment and started including my own interests in the terms of my personal relationships. That is to say, I started setting boundaries and asking that my needs be met.

The third encounter was with a law school classmate. When I returned to school for the spring semester, I took some small steps myself toward developing a healthier lifestyle, like buying a new bike and starting to ride it in the snow. I’d been thinking for years about getting back into skiing and kayaking, since I lived close to places to do those things, but I hadn’t done them for some reason. A few weeks into the semester I met a girl who casually mentioned that she did these things, so I jumped on the opportunity and started doing them with her. In the long run that friendship didn’t work out, but I will never forget the role that she had as a catalyst of lifestyle change.

At that point the pattern of meaningful encounters was set. There were more, many more. The guy who got me into adventure racing. The people who taught me the basics of whitewater. A few lawyers, a few women, a financial guru, and a number of people living lives I found enviable.

When I met Eric Jackson, I was primed and hungry for more information on lifestyle design. That’s why I asked him for his book – and why he shared it with me. I started with that manuscript and then started doing what all competent writers must do: reading. I devoured every lifestyle-related “self help” book I could find. I also focused my podcast habit more specifically on “life hack” topics.

Some of the books that I read and at least somewhat recommend included:

  • Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and David and Goliath
  • Nick Offerman’s Paddle Your Own Canoe
  • Timothy Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week
  • Steves Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics (and the podcast)

And a few others. I also added a few podcasts such as Hidden Brain and How I Built This, and started watching and listening to TED talks. Recently I’ve also been reading and listening to some financial people who talk about early retirement and moving to a “work optional” lifestyle, mainly Mr. Money Mustache.

All of these sources can be distilled to one sentence: To live the life that you want, you need to zealously focus on what you really want, and be willing to sacrifice everything else to get it.

You don’t need to read or listen to anything on this list if you have it in you to do that.

So that’s lifestyle design in a nutshell. I talk about it a lot. I scare women away in bars bringing it up. I sometimes inspire and sometimes annoy by obsessing about it. But it colors my choices and why and how I do the things I do. It is simply about designing the life that you want to live, and then committing to live that life.

And on that note, it’s time for me to take a break from writing, do an hour of real work, and go to the beach.

Called myself out in a bar

2017 10 10

I’m sitting in a bar in Palm Beach where I just had a conversation with a lovely young woman who claimed to be a writer but admitted she had no real reason not to be committing to her writing except she’s afraid to take the plunge.

I told her about what I’d been doing. I told her about meeting EJ and embarking on a voyage toward life without compromise. And in doing so I inadvertently insulted her, but I also condemned myself. Why am I still compromising so much?

I know the answer. It’s economic necessity. It’s temporary. I know my priorities, and I know that what I need to do to serve them is pay off my debts by practicing law, and that means doubling down on the current path for a known portion of the future.

Close your eyes and envision your fantasy life, the life motivated by happiness and not the life motivated by economic necessity. What does that life look like? I know the answer for me. I’m living on the road, with a partner, raising a child, practicing law winning cases and helping poor people while kayaking several days a week. What’s your answer?

Thing is, there are parts of my vision that are out of my control, but only parts. There’s nothing that I could do to forcibly find a partner, but the rest of the vision is firmly in my control. And I know exactly what I need to do to get there. I need to start marketing in places I want to go. I need to obtain a suitable van. And I need to pay off my debts, or at least enough of them to drop my monthly cost of living.

The path is clear. It’s simple. To get from here to there, I need to earn about $400,000 beyond my basic living expenses. That means that I need to win 100 full-fee cases if I’m still with Ramos, or 67 full fee cases on my own, or 200 with outside firms. I know my approximate win rate without screening – better than 50% on average, higher if I’m picky about cases, lower if I keep choosing to take tough case.

So I need to handle 140 cases on my own, or up to 400 with fee splits. Along the way, little things like per diems can help or they can waste time, depending on where the workload falls.

Interestingly, I believe that at “full capacity” I could reach this goal in as little as a year at an insane pace, five years at a diligent pace. There’s no reason it needs to take longer than that.

So this barside conversation reminded me of what I need to be doing. I need to be doing everything in my power to maximize my case load while making subtle changes to edge toward the ideal vision along the way. I need to start getting cases near rivers. And more of them. I need to detour some money into buying the RV. These are all simple things.

So what’s step one?


Struggling to get by after receiving benefits

There’s a great article today in the Washington Post exploring in detail the stories of some SSI recipients struggling to get by in rural parts of America. This is a sad truth about our disability benefits system and social safety net in this country: very often the benefits just aren’t enough to get by. 

It’s worth a read, check it out.