Lifestyle Design? Call it whatever you want. Welcome to my experiment in personal development.
Most people who know me are aware that I’ve felt this way for a long time. However, until last year, it was just a vague idea; something that was always in the back of my mind, but something that I never truly followed through.
In the summer of 2009, after going through some soul-searching, I came to a revelation. It was partially brought on by an event that marks an important point in most people’s lives: turning 30. Sure, it’s just an arbitrary date which doesn’t really mean anything. And yet, it carried a significant impact. It pushed me to stop and reflect where my life was going, and most importantly – to question myself whether or not I was on the right path.
The conclusion I came to was not surprising, and it made everything clear, jump-starting a process of re-defining myself and looking for a more meaningful and fulfilling way of living. I made a decision, and a pretty dramatic one: to leave my comfortable, well-paying, yet mind-numbing and creatively stifling full-time job within a year in order to pursue my dreams and aspirations.
Some of my friends and family were skeptical. In this economy? When most people are struggling to stay above water, many of them living paycheck-to-paycheck, paying bills and mortgage, hoping and praying that they won’t lose their jobs? Am I really that arrogant, ungrateful, delusional or just plain stupid?
Well, the last part may be true. However, I realized that life is just too damn short and fragile to be wasted on working for a large corporation, doing meaningless work that robs you of your precious personal time and kills any creativity or higher ambitions you may have in exchange for a steady paycheck, health benefits and a measly few weeks of vacation.
For many people, it’s a worthwhile arrangement. Most of my co-workers have families, children, a house and a 30-year mortgage. I respect that. Working 40-60 hour weeks to pay for it all, at what is essentially a variation of a desk job, is not such a horrible thing, right? Certainly, nothing compared to being a coal miner, highway construction worker or having another physically demanding blue-collar job.
Still, something is wrong with this picture, and it has little to do with the job itself, but more with the entire corporate system and this commercial consumerist culture that has gone way out of control.
The truth is, modern media and corporations have conditioned people to spend their hard-earned cash on things they don’t need, convincing them that buying things on a regular basis (bigger, better, faster) will make them happier. Guess what? It’s all an illusion.
This is the popularized American Dream. To get a college degree, find a well-paying job, buy a car, purchase a house, get married, have children. Put your children through college. Rinse and repeat. But, what does it all really mean? What’s it all for? Where does happiness and meaning in life truly set in?
Here is how things really work, the way I see it. After finishing high school, you go to college to get a degree, so that you can get a good job when you graduate (you’ll need that job to pay off all the student loans you’ve accumulated – and it will take years). Unfortunately, the higher education you receive, in most cases, will carry very little value by the time you graduate. Most of the classes you’ll take, while good for your overall well-rounded knowledge, will have zero practical implementations for the rest of your life (unless you’re studying to be a doctor, a lawyer or perhaps going into a specialized technical field like engineering or IT).
In any case, you graduate and eventually find a decent job. Chances are, it is probably not something you’ve always dreamed about, but it’s good enough, and you convince yourself that you’ll only stay there long enough to save some money and pay off those student loans, or until you find another job that is more fulfilling or pays better.
Years go by. Maybe you find a better/higher-paying job, maybe you don’t. Either way, you get used to the steady paycheck, the benefits and the comfort that comes from making a stable living. You decide that it’s time to settle down, so you get married, have kids and/or buy a house. Meanwhile, your original hopes and dreams are slowly fading away, replaced by what you feel is a more practical reality. You can’t escape it, so you just get used to it. After all, life isn’t so bad — you have food on the table, a roof over your head and a family you can support. All you have to do to keep this stability is to continue working for most of your life, exchanging your time at the office for the money to pay for all the things you have bought and are continuing to buy, occasionally taking a painfully short vacation to get away from it all and recharge your batteries.
The problem with this system is that the majority of people (particularly, the middle class) are living well beneath their full potential as human beings. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are conditioned and brainwashed into the idea that happiness and fulfillment come from making money and buying things. The more, the better. And to make money and buy things, we need to work for most of our lives, often in jobs that we don’t necessarily like or that provide any kind of meaning or fulfillment for us, other than purely monetary.
So, we work and we buy crap that we don’t need. As we start to earn more money, we start buying more expensive things. Perhaps, deep inside we understand that most of the things we buy are really useless or unnecessary, but they distract us and give us temporary moments of relief from our problems and general dissatisfaction with life, so we continue to do it. Sure, not everyone is spending all of their hard-earned money on stuff. Some of us choose to save or invest some of our income, little by little, just so we can have enough to retire in peace and get a chance to do all the things that we really want to do when we’re in our golden years.
There are variations to this societal entrapment, and while some of them seem more attractive than others, I feel that they are all part of the same illusion spoonfed to us in order to keep the majority of the population constantly working and/or in debt so that the wealthy few who run corporations and media conglomerates can continue to make profits.
Honestly, in my opinion, this system wouldn’t be so bad if workers were allowed to take extended vacations or have flexible schedules. However, in this country we get an average of 2 weeks of vacation PER YEAR. If you ask me, this is just criminal. That’s roughly 4% of our time during our working lives that we get to dedicate to relaxation, personal fulfillment and other things that we like to do. The other 96% is spent working for someone else. Even when you factor in weekends and holidays, we are still spending at least 70-80% of our lives working. For what? Just so we can afford to buy food, a house, a car, healthcare insurance, education for our children and a few other things here and there. Does that seem fair to you? Sure, it may be fair if you actually love your job and your work is providing you with a sense of purpose and satisfaction in life. But honestly, how many middle-class working people can say that? A disturbingly small percentage.
And, when the economy takes a dive because people are no longer able to afford the things they spent their money on, corporations are forced to downsize, people lose their jobs and find themselves up to their ears in even more debt. The house of cards comes crashing down.
There is a way out of this downward spiral, but it requires a fundamental shift in perception and erasing the very notions of how we are supposed to live our lives. It requires saying no to the endless pollution of consumerism, greed, destruction of our environment and our health. It calls for overcoming our fears of failure and instead finding the inspiration and motivation to pursue our dreams.
I am talking about something that has been recently popularized, but has, in fact, existed for a very long time and in virtually every western culture. The current “hip” term for it is Lifestyle Design.
There are countless books, websites and blogs dedicated to lifestyle design. The basic notion being, that virtually anyone of us has the power to change our life; to free ourselves of the status-quo 9-5 routine of the corporate world and to pursue our hopes and dreams, either through enterpreneurship, starting a small business, traveling the world, decreasing our spending and simplifying our lifestyle, or a variation/combination of any of those things.
I am not going to attempt to reinvent the wheel, or to regurgitate information from any of the wonderful resources that already exist online. A simple Google search will reveal a wealth of information, if you would like to learn more about lifestyle design.
The purprose of this blog, from now on, will be to document and share my personal journey into the unknown and everything that comes out of it, including mistakes (inevitably, I will make some), failures (I’m sure there will be some of those, too), and (hopefully) — eventual success. And, if success doesn’t come, at least there will be a satisfaction in knowing that I tried and did my best. I can live with that, but first I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I don’t have to. So, this blog is for all of my friends and family, and everyone else who is curious and wants to follow my endeavor.
I should stress that the risk of failure is always there, and I acknowledge it. But, I believe the rewards that could come from success (financial rewards being the least of them; I’m talking about freedom, independence and a sense of fulfilment and purpose in life) are absolutely worth risking for.
My goal is to be as honest and transparent in this blog, as possible. It is my hope that this will also help all of you who are looking to get off the beaten path and find your calling in life, just as I am. I’m not planning on making any money with this blog, as many other lifestyle design and motivational self-help websites are doing. I wouldn’t even know where to begin if I did. I’m the farthest thing from a social media guru. I know next to nothing about SEO, affiliate ads or building traffic. I’m not a business-savy person and this is not that kind of a site. I’m simply here to organize my thoughts and ideas, and to share my experiences in an informal and honest way. It’s a learning experience that I’m willing to publicly document. Until I decide not to.
Having said that, this blog is as much for you, as it is for me. Feel free to comment, discuss, share your advice or your own experiences regarding the topics I will write about. I am learning as I go, so much of this will likely be experimental and unpredictable. This whole little project may or may not last. Unforseen events may come up and force me to abandon it altogether. However, I promise that I will do my best to post here on a somewhat regular basis.
So, welcome to the new world of vadimonkey, and wish me luck! I’m going to need it.