Designing Your Best Life – Part I: “What & Why?”

Your sustainable life, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, December 2011

Designing Your Best Life – Part I

How to live a life that is fulfilling and satisfying is actually simpler than you might think. You already know what makes you happy, what fulfills and excites you so start the process of designing your life with this in mind. You can lead an intentional life and refuse to live a life by default.

‘Sustainable Life Design’ is about designing a life by you and for you that you deem satisfactory to you – meeting your needs, wants, and standards. So stop living a life that is prescribed by others. I am inviting you to this awareness space because ultimately a life examined and planned is far superior to the alternative.

I believe that we all deserve the opportunity to live the life that we desire. Far too many people live day to day by societal unwritten and written rules. That is someone else’s life they are living. Life is not really theirs. I am challenging the status quo and asking you to claim your life, which is 100% yours by design. You can and you should. This time you start anew, clear-eyed with a solid vision for your life.

“The What & Why”

What is life? What does your life consist of and why does it matter? There are many answers and many elements to life but let’s start with listing some that many people would agree to be part of life – life purpose or cause, work/career/job, money, family, relationships, spirituality, health and recreation.

1. Your Cause/Your Fulfillment

What is your cause?

According to the dictionary, fulfillment is “feeling happiness and satisfaction”. What fulfills you in life? Are you living a fulfilled life right now? Or do you wish you did? What would you make your life more fulfilled? What would be the indication of your fulfilled life? When I was leading a group of dedicated professionals as a leader, my fulfillment largely came from seeing them develop into better versions of themselves – as professionals and persons.

Contributing to people’s growth at work was exciting and fulfilling. I know my leadership might then have inspired the next level of leadership which then also helped their teams to develop and grow and got their fulfillment from it. Now my fulfillment comes from living a sustainable life and sharing the ‘gospel’ of doing all good, doing no harm to the beings around us, humans and all living things. Now my community extends to people whom I don’t know. I am excited about contributing to their quality of life.

I know friends who live for their kids. That is where their life fulfillment comes from. I have some friends who have great compassion for animals – especially abandoned ones. Others are passionate about taking care of our environment and planet. What is your mission(s) in life that ‘fully fills’ you with happiness and satisfaction?

One life and one legacy

You only have one life. What will your legacy be?

We live only once – in this life form anyway. If you can time travel back and forth between now and the end of your life, what would have really mattered in your life? As a result of that travel, what would you change now? We will do time-travel exercises a few more times during this course of your life design. What would have been your cause that you took on to help others and one that is bigger than your own self-interest? What would be the biggest compliment about you that people could say at your funeral when the time comes that you‘d appreciate?

There is no effect without a cause

What would be your cause? Would it be that you were the best mom or dad that anyone could wish for? You were always there for your daughter. Would it be that he fought tirelessly for the country’s democracy? How about being a great advocate for the homeless? Be it grand or humble, public or intimate, we can pick our causes. It really doesn’t matter as long as it is adding value to our bigger community. Your cause is life’s driving engine. It propels you into a ‘full’ life. You get out of bed easily. You know your cause. Ok, then what about your work or career?

2. Your Job/Career/Work

What is your relationship with work?

You “work” 40 hours per week. Is it for money, a great cause that you believe in, or is it just filling your day’s hours? I’ve met people whose reason for staying at their job is not the money but rather due to the fact that they wouldn’t know what to do with those 8 hours per day otherwise. What is your attitude towards work? Do you call it “just a job”, or is it a career calling or somewhere in between?

Some individuals like myself no longer subscribe to 40 hours a week and I may be in the minority and still, the majority of society puts in ‘full-time’ hours to make their ‘full’ salary. I also know a whole tribe of people who now work for themselves and determine their hours – part-time, full-time, working from home or going to their offices, a few different jobs or one job, contract work versus employed? Is your focus stability and security or are you about having flexibility? Or are you in one and yet really hoping to be in another category?

Is your life serving your work? Should it be? – Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

You spend most of your waking hours working, and the remaining time gearing for work

We spend about 8 hours at work, another 8 waking hours at non-work, and we sleep for the remaining 8 hours. Out of 8 non-work waking hours, we spend approximately 2 hours grooming and commuting for work. We now have 6 hours left to spend with our family and friends and thinking about and preparing for work. We spend time on various online communications during those precious 6 hours. Real quality time out of those 6 hours with our loved ones tends to be fragmented around our work arrangements.

I used to travel extensively for work – a good third of any year. That would mean that I would spend regular work hours in our clients’ or branch locations and evenings and early mornings on a usual day-to-day job – easily 18 hours per day work. Even when I was home, I would have a lot of client dinners, which meant that I sacrificed my personal time for work. I enjoyed it at the time but it is beside the point. I was still prioritizing my work schedule over my family and friends and they fit in between those work arrangements. ‘Work’ is THE priority in our society. My friends and family, all the same, appreciated this reality and it wasn’t difficult to prioritize work over anything because they would have done the same. ‘Society’ sanctions it, right?

If your ‘work’ is so important and you spend most of your life energy doing your job, it’d better be worthwhile. So is it? Is it aligned with your values? Does it support your life purpose? Or is it merely for money?

Are you settling for mediocrity?

You don’t mind your work. “It’s not so bad”, say you but should you really settle for mediocrity? Since the majority of our waking hours are spent on work, it is critically important for us to align our life passion, purpose and our job. If we are not fulfilled at work right now, it is a good idea to start planning for a change. What would you rather do? Where would you rather be? If this change means that you will make less money, you need to ask if it is still enough money to support your life. If it is, should you make a move?

I know one of my former colleagues left her position, once it stopped being fulfilling, for another job although it offered less money and prestige. She and I have one thing in common: finance was not a big concern. I had achieved my long-term financial goal and she too had few financial constraints. The freedom to choose what we want comes from our financial security, which in return comes from good planning.

Plan to have work serve your life – not the other way around

Let’s do a bit of time travel. Assuming that you continue your current work trajectory, let’s travel to the end of your life. If you could amend a few things about your job/career, would you? Or would you leave it exactly as is? For those of you who say, “I have to stay at my job for my family”, is it possible that you stay because of fear of change or perhaps you stay because it’s “easier”?

Family obligations are usually a very good excuse for inaction. I strongly urge you to take a hard look at your work and time travel back and forth. If a change is due, make a plan. Obviously quitting your job impulsively is irresponsible but planning towards it now will serve your life well.

3. Your Money/Finance

What is your relationship with money? Does your money serve your life or the other way around?

Money is what money does. Are you at a comfortable place with money? Does money give you power? Or does money serve as a source of your anxiety? Is money a means or the end? Here is a simple question we can ask ourselves: “Do you work for money or does money work for you?”

When you spend more money than you have, you will perpetually work for money. Whereas you start investing your money, you now have money work for you. When you have reached a point where you no longer need to work at all because your invested money provides you more than enough to support your living, you have arrived at an enviable place. Some people call this ‘Financial Freedom’ or ‘Financial Independence’. Your invested money will now perpetually work for you.

Money is what money does. It buys you the freedom to work when, where, how you want and even who you work for, hence the term ‘Financial Freedom’. It can afford you the life you desire. Depending on your lifestyle, the size of your financial freedom dollars will of course vastly vary.

Make a concrete plan for your financial freedom

If you work for money, do you have a plan for when you will have reached your financial freedom? Do you have your financial freedom number? Well, the irony is that you won’t know your financial freedom number unless you know how much money you will need per year. And you won’t know how much money you need per year in the future unless you know what kind of lifestyle you want to live – where you live, how you spend your days for fulfillment and money etc. So, where to start?

First, start with your current expenses. The amount that you spend per year in expenses will tell you the minimum dollar amount you must have invested in order to cover your costs from your investment portfolios. Whether you have rich family members to help you or not, it is eventually your planning of money around your lifestyle that is going to determine your financial wellbeing and longevity. The question is really not about ‘more money’ but about ‘enough money’. The ‘more money’ aspiration is a mirage. ‘Enough money’ is a specific dollar amount and therefore an achievable goal.

4. Your Relationships

Your relationships will be your life legacy. Choose wisely!

I write this during the COVID Pandemic and I really miss our friends. We chat and message. However, I truly miss having meals and spending quality time with them. We humans are social animals and we define ourselves in relation to others. Having our allies in our lives is extremely important to our well-being.

Do you have supportive and nurturing relationships? Or do you, unfortunately, have one or more less- than-nurturing (even destructive) relationships? Your relationships should add value to your life or they take away your life energy? Like many things about life, relationships, too, are a choice. We choose to keep some, work on some others and discard or deprioritize others.

Given the finite amount of time that we are given, we don’t have any other choice but to select and focus on our best relationships- those which add value to our lives – with whom to share our lives. This includes your family. Don’t waste your time on ‘looking nice’. Rather focus on the people to whom your heart easily finds it to be nice.

Consider this. At your life’s end, what matters is your relationships and your life mission, not your job unless it was aligned with your life mission and certainly not your money. My mom, poor and single, worked extremely hard to raise us. She could have given up but she didn’t. She left me zero dollars when she passed away. But I am eternally grateful for her for having done her best to raise me and my siblings. In the end, what people remember is what kind of person she/he was and what impact they had on the lives of others.

5. Your Mental & Physical Health

“A healthy person has a thousand wishes, a sick person only one.” -Agnes Karll Schwest Krankenpfleger.

Quality matters, not duration. Plan to be healthy in mind & body.

Some of us take chances with our health. We say, “You only live once, so I am going to do what I enjoy now.” The consequences of not taking care of our only body (and mind) could be that we live our last years lacking life quality. But of course, those of us who take chances will say, who knows!??! Nevertheless, the last few years of our lives can be torturous (as it was for my mom).

Modern technology may lengthen the duration of life but doesn’t necessarily ensure quality. Here is a story that speaks to it. In Greek mythology, Tithonus was a handsome young mortal who fell in love with Eos, the goddess of the Dawn. Eos realized that her beloved Tithonus was destined to age and eventually die. So she begged Zeus to grant her lover an immortal life but unfortunately didn’t ask for his eternal youth. So with time passing, Tithonus became a very old man, feeble and left to babble in a room by himself. So much for his immortality. As the myth continues, Tithonus was turned into a cicada that spent eternity asking to be granted death.

The quality of our life a lot depends on health. How do we ensure that we take care of our health as best as we can? We cannot alter our genes but we can certainly work on our lifestyles that support a healthy life. The goal is to live a healthy life – as healthy as we can – until we die. Regular exercise for the mind and body is a great way to lead a healthy life now and later. What are you currently doing to look after your health?

6. Your Fun/Excitement in Life

Work hard, play harder!

I love travelling, gardening, cooking and eating. I love connecting with people and learning about their lives, their wants, needs and passions. I genuinely enjoy getting to know people – what drives them, what irks them, what inspires them. These are not hugely expensive activities and give me the greatest pleasures.

What is your fun in life? Is there anything stopping you from enjoying your life right now? How will you ensure that you will have a great dose of fun moving forward? If travelling around the world is what you’re aiming for, how do you plan to achieve it? If singing in a choir is your hope, what steps would you take to make that happen?

“IN THE END… We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have and the decisions we waited too long to make.”― Lewis Carroll

See you in Designing Your Best Life Part II – “How”
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