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Retirement Redefined: Eight Tips to Creating a Sustained Lifestyle
In 2004, I left Microsoft so Patty and I could homeschool our son Trevor. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age five, and as he entered seventh grade, we decided he would need more help than his public school could provide. I was his math and science teacher for two years until he re-entered public school in ninth grade. After my homeschooling period, I decided to focus on writing and consulting, and later Patty and I started a publishing business. From that point until now, I have been regularly asked if I am “retired”. At first, I would answer with a resounding “no” because of my opinion that retirees spend their days on the golf course or playing bridge. Over time, however, I recognized that I needed to give a better description of what I do as a profession. It’s not an option on the golf course or the 8-to-5 grind. For me, it’s something I call sustained lifestyle.
So what is a sustainable lifestyle? Here’s the definition, then we’ll unzip it:
The sustainable lifestyle is when you have a high sense of achievement accompanied by a low degree of stress, making it something you can sustain for a long time.
Let’s talk about success first. It’s about doing something meaningful that achieves the desired result that brings you joy. It could be delivering a project on time, helping people in need, or training less experienced professionals. It’s about doing something you care about and seeing the fruits of your labor.
Next is stress. This is the degree of mental, physical or emotional effort that is carried out to achieve the desired result. Delivering a project on time with high-pressure executive meetings, project team infighting, and an unreasonable client is much more demanding than one with cooperative executives, project team members, and clients. The end result is a finished project, but the execution was like pedaling uphill in tenth gear.
When stress and success combine in the context of lifestyle, one of four outcomes occurs:
A lifestyle of frustration is the result of high stress accompanied by low performance. Consider burning the midnight oil on projects that get canceled at the last minute or never get used.
A boring lifestyle is the result of low stress accompanied by low performance. Think of getting up every morning with nothing to do.
A burnout lifestyle is the result of high stress accompanied by high performance. Think about successive strategic projects with demanding clients, a dysfunctional team and irrational management.
A sustainable lifestyle is the result of low stress accompanied by high performance. Consider volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about in your work environment.
Now don’t get me wrong; I am by no means saying that a sustained lifestyle means no stress. There are certainly things in life that come up and cause great stress. However, a sustainable lifestyle gives you room to handle unexpected stress more effectively than if your stress bucket was already full.
Here are eight tips for creating a sustainable lifestyle that’s enjoyable and fulfilling:
- Run towards a vocation – Creating a sustainable lifestyle involves having a post-career plan that you work towards after you leave work. The plan could be to discover your calling for a sustainable lifestyle or, if you already know what you want to do, how to make that sustainable lifestyle a reality. Painting a picture in your head of what it will look like will help you get excited about bringing it to life.
- Be clear about your decision criteria – Deciding what your sustainable lifestyle looks like means being very honest with yourself in your decision criteria. Is maintaining income important or necessary? Will you need something to keep feeding your ego? Is the flexibility to say no to things important? There are no right or wrong answers to the criteria, but be careful how you define them. This Excel-based assessment tool will help you think through your criteria using nine crucial elements of satisfaction.
- Make each day have a purpose – I have a topic for each working day that focuses on some aspect of my vocation; Monday is Amazon’s book announcement day; Tuesday is article writing day (Yes, I’m writing this article on a Tuesday.); Wednesday is mentoring day, etc. While I can move things around around schedules, I know what my core activities will be each day of the week.
- Agree on guiding principles with your spouse/partner – Patty and I have several guiding principles about our sustainable lifestyle, the most important being the freedom to do what we want from where we want. We love to travel and regularly go on winter hikes in warmer weather. We can keep publishing books and I can write no matter where we are. Having an understanding between you and your spouse/partner about what is important and what you want to protect is crucial to a happy and sustained lifestyle.
- Have at least one goal you’re working toward – After my father-in-law sold his locksmith business, he took up other hobbies that made him grow, especially photography. Having goals not only keeps you learning, but also satisfies the need for a sense of accomplishment.
- Be responsible – I am a member of a men’s business group that meets twice a month. Three of us want to lose a few extra pounds, so we agreed that before each meeting we will share our current weight with each other. It’s amazing how much more I think about what I consume because I don’t want to report poor progress to my peers. Being accountable to someone else helps you focus on your goal and work harder to achieve it.
- Be aware of what stresses you out – Keeping a great distance between achievement and stress means being honest with yourself about what stresses you and putting things in place to reduce stress to a minimum. Know your stressors and keep them under control.
- Create a comfortable space – I have a standing desk in our den with three monitors and a big screen TV on the wall. Every morning, after I drink my first cup of coffee, I go to my workstation and use it throughout the day. It’s a very comfortable setup that I like and don’t mind spending time on.
Whether you’re at retirement age, close to it, or just thinking about it, keep the concept of a sustainable lifestyle at your core. Think high success and low stress.
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