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The Three Elements of Lifestyle Design: Wealth, Freedom, and Meaning

Thanks to the Internet it’s now easier to start a business than ever before. You can now live and work anywhere in the world (be “location independent”).

In addition, you can experience greater levels of personal freedom than past generations, in terms of where you live, how you generate income, and how you spend your time.

Why work in a cubicle the rest of your life or for an organization you don’t believe in? If you’re smart and motivated, you can design your own lifestyle and fund it through income streams or businesses of your own creation.

For example, back in 2005, I created a location independent business in the United States. Because the economy was terrible where I lived in West Michigan — and there were no good jobs available for people with my kinds of skills — I wanted to be able to work for any client, anywhere in the United States. My financial survival and happiness depended on it. So I started a business that creates books for publishers, where all the work is delivered over the Internet.

The business turned out to be a success. And five years later, I unexpectedly ended up moving to Southern Europe where the cost of living is much lower. So what I now earn from my clients in U.S. dollars goes a lot further. The cost of food is about 25–50% less than the cost in the United States — and you can easily live here in a luxury home for a fraction of the cost of renting a one-room apartment in a major U.S. city.

There are three key areas involved in lifestyle design: wealth, freedom, and meaning. The sweet spot is where they intersect.

There are three key areas involved in lifestyle design: wealth, freedom, and meaning. The sweet spot is where they intersect.

Whether or not you want to be location independent, there are three key areas involved in lifestyle design: wealth, freedom, and meaning. The sweet spot is where all three intersect! Your life will be far more interesting — and far more fulfilling — if all three elements are present and working in harmony. Why not flourish and thrive instead of just survive?

Let’s start with wealth — because if you don’t have an income, it’s nearly impossible to do anything else.

True wealth is more than just a paycheck. It’s also the time and ability to chart the course of your life and the freedom to create future opportunities. That’s why the three circles intersect.

Which one of the following individuals is the wealthiest? Someone who makes $100,000 a year, working 60 hours a week at a law firm, with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and with no room to breathe or to create their own future? Or someone making $40,000 a year at their own business, who works 30 hours a week with no daily commute, and lives in a location that is 1/2 the cost of the United States, and has the time available to create future businesses and passive streams of income?

Who Is More Wealthy?

Lawyer — working 60 hours per week and making $100,000 per year in the United StatesEntrepreneur — working 30 hours per week and making $40,000 per year in a less expensive location
Actual hourly rate: $32 per hourActual hourly rate: $26 per hour
Free time: NONEFree time: 10–30 hours a week
Buying power of hourly rate, based on location: $32 (minus student loan payments)Buying power of hourly rate, based on location: $52 (with major tax benefits)

The actual amounts people make at the moment are somewhat relative, once you look at them in the complete context. Having the ability to choose that context along with the ability to create your own opportunities is the essence of lifestyle design.

If you are raking in tons of money but your life lacks meaning and freedom, are you really going to be wealthy or happy? People flourish when they are able to harmonize the circles of wealth, meaning, and freedom — and when they possess the competence to create their own lives.

If you are raking in tons of money but your life lacks meaning and freedom, are you really going to be wealthy or happy? People flourish when they are able to harmonize the circles of wealth, meaning, and freedom — and when they possess the competence to create their own lives.

If someone makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year but his or her life is lacking freedom and meaning, is he or she going to be happy? In addition, the person only making $40,000 a year has the additional time and opportunity to create new businesses or products. So given time, he or she could accumulate more real wealth than the $100,000-per-year lawyer could even dream of.

Alternately, if you possess a great deal of freedom and meaning in life but don’t have enough income to pay your bills — either now or in the future — things aren’t likely to go or end well for you. That’s why you need to get the three circles in balance.

So take a look at the above diagram and think about how the three circles intersect in your own life today. Are you happy with your work? If you continue down the path you are on today, will you be satisfied where you will be in five years? In ten years? Are you generating real value for others and making a contribution to the world, or just shuffling papers around? Do you have enough personal freedom and meaning in your life? Would you be happier owning your own business — or even multiple businesses? Do you feel that you are currently wasting your time, which, in the end, is even more valuable than money? Or have you found a good way to balance wealth, freedom, and meaning in your personal life? If so, how did you do it?

Asking these questions is the beginning of lifestyle design. Don’t be afraid to address them honestly. And when you do, let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

— D.R. Fideler

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2 comments… add one
  • Eva Rider September 13, 2015, 6:51 pm

    Hi David,
    I am so intrigued by your idea and know that you have made it work. Reading this made my day. Just the idea that it may be possible to work anywhere in the world is freeing.
    Thank you,
    Eva

    • D.R. Fideler September 13, 2015, 8:27 pm

      Thank you, Eva. There are many, many places around the world where you can live, all expenses paid, for $1,000 a month or less. In this article, I discuss the cost of the various places I rented over the last five years: http://www.brainstormeveryday.com/the-secret-of-geoarbitrage/

      At the end of the article you can download a free resource I compiled called “The Lifestyle Design Resource Guide,” which allows you to quickly locate the least expensive and most interesting places in the world to visit or live. It’s quite in depth and basically covers everything except getting a long-term residence permit, which will vary by location.

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