Once upon a time in a faraway galaxy, I used to plan and style destination weddings for a living. Then I had a burnout episode. My business model was utterly personal and yet not entirely viable, psychologically speaking. As I sometimes do, I hadn’t entirely followed my own advice.
Three years later, I still haven’t made up for all my mistakes, but I am confident I have finally designed myself a viable lifestyle, and one that fosters well-being. The word choice behind ‘lifestyle’ and ‘designing’ is entirely purposeful, as I feel ‘organization’, ‘life’, ‘work’ can be limiting concepts, taken by themselves.
This post is where I take the time to explain what I mean by “designing a lifestyle”.
I came up with the ‘lifestyle design’ definition back in 2016, to market a series of personal consultancies revolving around strategy and organization. The service was built off my planning skills, my knowledge of organization and strategy tools, and my stance, steadily on my clients’ side.
These consultancies allowed me to lend my expertise, capacities, and approach to those women who couldn’t seem to build a life aligned with their identities and their aspirations, without being influenced by outside expectations.
Why lifestyle design
I immediately embraced the concept of lifestyle design for a number of reasons.
First of all, work is not necessarily central to a lifestyle.
I find the idea that work defines our lives culturally biased. Not everybody has aspirations to build their lives around a career.
When Dave Evans and Bill Burnett created the Designing your life method they used the term ‘life’, but they were actually focusing on helping people find a professional vocation that would ultimately allow them to achieve a ‘joyful and well-lived life’. Life was the by-product, not the focus.
But what if I wanted to build my life around a different vocation, something not work-related? What about people who choose to accept a menial job just to get an income to finance their free time and more personal passions? Do Evans and Burnett think that a bus driver could not achieve a ‘joyous and well-lived life’?
The idea that the quality of everybody’s life should be determined by their choice of profession and work is not only culturally biased, but it’s also very typical in Northern American US culture. I for one don’t identify with it. I personally think we are more defined but who we are than but what we do. I personally think that even people who legitimately built their lives around their careers (and accordingly they would benefit from Evans and Burnett’s method) did so because of a choice stemming from their identity.
But contrary to what Evans and Burnett (and generations of North American motivators) seem to think, the job we choose cannot always be determined by our vocation and motivation alone. Our choice is always determined by a variety of factors, like chance and opportunity (which are sadly not equally available), by the choices other people made for us, by our gender, the color of our skin, our accent. And the list goes on.
There is something that can be exempt from this outside influence, if we try, something less determined by chance, timing and other people’s choices. And that’s our identity, who we are.
When I say ‘lifestyle’ I mean the application of our identity to our life.
The choice we make to try and live a life aligned with our identity, the purpose we find in life, the people whose company we decide to keep, the way we employ our time; all of these decisions can be entirely ours, regardless of the work we do.
So why don’t I simply use the word ‘life’, but I chose ‘lifestyle’ instead? Because unlike our choices and decisions, the life we live is not exclusively influenced by our will. We are not traveling to time and place in an enclosed tunnel, we’re more weaving in and out of viscous ecosystems, where the tiny choice of a toddler on the other side of the world could have an impact on what happens to us.
It is arrogant and irrealistic to think that we could willfully and completely shape our lives. I think our time is much better spent focusing on shaping the style we’d like our lives to have, the broad design of its picture. Focusing on the direction we want to wander towards, rather than expecting to pick every single stop on the journey, allows us to stay flexible during its course, thus being more reactive to unforeseen changes.
In 2016 I didn’t know about Evans and Burnett, because their book was still relatively unknown in Italy, but I chose the verb ‘design’ very purposefully none the less.
By ‘design’ I don’t mean a method, I’m not suggesting to apply design thinking to the creating or a lifestyle. Mainly because I feel like there is never one method that fits all, precisely as there is no one right way to learn any skill or art.
To me, designing is an approach.
Designing is drawing the outlines of an existence that will make us feel fulfilled, creating a blueprint within which to move more assuredly, free from the blank page panic that often leads to us turn back towards the past rather than facing the future.
I always thought writing was a great metaphor for lifestyle, so I found serendipitous this quote about outlining by Laura Carrada:
The secret to avoid anxiety and white page panic is… not to have a white page in front of you. Fill it with your journey plan, one that you will refine and rework as you go. It won’t limit your freedom, on the contrary it will free you of many a qualms.– Luisa Carrada, Scrivere, che bello!
An approach for females only
As I did introducing lifestyly design in 2016, so today I am considering a consultancy for female clients only. It’s not a matter of positioning and target, but a choice based on the belief that the people who need guidance in this matter more are females. Women by birth or by choice alike.
The world weights down female humans with expectations and a heavy gaze, if anything because of that pesky biological detail that places the responsibility of procreation on our bodies. Women’s bodies have been a battlefield since the dawn of time.
It’s a gender issue, and for a woman to purposefully design her own lifestyle is a political act, precisely because we’re often expected to have nothing to design, but simply to choose if we want to breed or not. And even that choice is often taken from us.
To offer this kind of consultancy only to women means not to place more responsibility on them to keep a balance. On the contrary it’s a way to even the field, to provide tools to make more informed choices and decisions without being influenced by the expectations, the opinions and the demands of everybody else.
Over the past here I have resumed lifestyle consultancies, and they will be available to book from my website. I hope this post clarified what’s behind a seemingly meaningless definition. More than anything, I would like it to be crystal clear what lifestyle design is not.
Lifestyle designing is not coaching, nor therapy, nor a personal organization service
It’s not coaching, because there is no hierarchy between a consultant (me) and a coachee.
Every analysis, answer, decision, and choice coming out of a lifestyle designing consultancy is entirely produced by the person whose life is the focus. My role is to provide tools, looking for them if need be, to provide questions and a sounding board.
Could you do it alone? By all means, yes! I didn’t invent the tools and questions involved in the process. My personal contribution is my ability to effectively listen while withdrawing judgment and biases. ‘Anything goes’ is my guiding principle.
It’s not therapy because it doesn’t involve solving or treating imbalances, mental issues, uneasiness, and it doesn’t delve with the unconscious.
Designing is a very active and intentional process. It might draw on thoughts, emotions, desires, but its work affect the physical reality around us. It’s not about working on the self, but on manifestations of that self.
Do you need therapy? If you asked me, even without knowing you, my answer would always be yes. I think everybody would benefit from therapy, if they can afford it, and have the time and energy to allow it.
It’s not a personal organization service because it doesn’t necessarily start from a point of disorganization. It’s not about applying a system to sort through the mess.
Lifestyle design is useful to very organized women as well as to unorganized women. It could be repeated multiple times during one’s life, because we might grow out of our choices, or some vital circumstances might change.
Does it teach you to be organized? It could, but that’s incidental. Organization is one of the tools it relies on, but only if your path needs it. After all, consultancies always mold around the focus and the specific needs of the person who’s being consulted.
I hope this was clear and easy to understand. If you have any more questions, please ask away!