Which of The 5 Categories of Life Plans Do You Follow?

  • June 18, 2009 by Corbett Barr
  • 35 Comments

foggy-self-portrait

In your search for finding meaning in your own life, whether consciously or not, you’ve decided to follow some type of life plan. If you’re anything like me, that life plan has probably changed at least a few times.

As I’ve learned things about life, work and myself and met many happy and unhappy people, I’ve continually modified my life philosophies and adjusted course.

Through this process, I’ve found that there are essentially five basic “life plans.” People tend to subscribe to one of these basic plans, and many adopt certain features of multiple plans at the same time. The plan that you subscribe to has a great impact on how you live, and what you perceive as life’s limitations.

Do you follow one of these plans? What other life plans would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!

Deferred Lifers

By default, most people end up pursing the “deferred life plan.” I’ve found this is the most common lifestyle choice. Many people make this choice unconsciously because they don’t know much about the other options. Or, they make it because it’s comfortable, and it’s the choice that most people they know also made.

Characteristics of this plan include a job with a modest salary or hourly wage, little vacation time and little control over how, when and where you work.

People who follow this plan focus quite a bit on their retirement options and look forward to that magic age (usually somewhere between 55 and 68) when they can enjoy life without working.

Sadly, many people never reach the magic age, or if they do, they find that they don’t have enough interests to fill their days. Some end up taking a part-time job just for something to do.

The Working Rich

A more intense version of the deferred life plan is to be one of the “working rich.” This is like the deferred life plan, except you work even harder and have even less time for things outside of work. You make these sacrifices in exchange for more money and a better shot at early retirement.

This was my second stop on the life plan progression. Like most Americans, I spent the first 30+ years of my life fixated on money. I grew up in a lower middle class family, and money always seemed to be the key to happiness.

As I progressed through my career I constantly looked for opportunities to earn more money. It was probably the biggest factor in deciding when to change jobs. There were few things that influenced my decisions more than a bigger salary, or my perception that a move would eventually lead to wealth.

Eventually though, I started to meet people who had achieved what I thought was the ultimate goal. They were rich by most accounts, but surprisingly these people weren’t kicking back enjoying their wealth in exotic places with the company of friends and family.

Most of them were “working” rich, meaning they relied on a job to produce their enormous incomes as partners of consulting firms or vice presidents of big companies.

Most of the “working rich” reach the top of their career ladders because they are incredibly smart. More importantly though, they make it because they are willing to sacrifice their personal lives for their careers in exchange for better benefits and more money. Unfortunately, they don’t have much time to enjoy that extra money.

Wealth Seekers

So, if being a “working rich” person isn’t the answer, what about becoming independently wealthy?

Money can definitely improve a lifestyle, but there are two problems with putting your life on hold for too long while pursuing it. First, simple odds show that most people will never achieve significant wealth. Second, the idea of becoming really rich and spending your days jet setting around the world is mostly a fantasy. People who amass incredible wealth tend to become addicted to working incredibly hard. Withdrawal from working then leads to depression.

If your goal is simply to be a world traveler, there are much easier ways to do it than becoming rich. Tim Ferriss explains it best in The Four Hour Work Week in a story about the Mexican fisherman (originally written by Heinrich Boll).

We’re basically all conditioned that money is the key to happiness, and most of us think money is required to live a lifestyle that ironically poor people in “third-world countries” already live.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take a shot or two at becoming wealthy. Starting a company, for instance, is an amazing experience regardless of the outcome.

Knowing that you have forty or more working years in your life, why not spend a couple of them chasing something really big? Just realize that if you are successful, you still may end up unhappy. At least if you have money, it will be easier to transition to something else that will make you happy.

Dream Jobbers

How about doing what you really love as a profession? Would that make you happy? Most people call this finding a “dream job.” There’s no doubt that this life plan has the potential to be very fulfilling.

Be careful though, because there are a few reasons a dream job might not be a source of fulfillment for you. The biggest hangup for most people is that when you turn something that you love to do into something you have to do (a job), it can take the joy out of it. There are plenty of exceptions to this of course, so it really depends on your specific circumstance.

Also, if you achieve enough success in your dream job that you can dictate the terms of when and how you do it, you’ll be more likely to continue loving it. Successful actors and directors are good examples.

The other major reason you might not be a good candidate for a dream job has to do with your attention span. It takes considerable dedication to remain interested in a particular topic for two or three decades or more. Many people have no idea what their dream job would be, and if they found one they would probably get bored with it quickly anyways. I definitely fall into this category.

Lifestyle Designers

Lifestyle designers believe there is a better way. They essentially ask, “why wait until you’re rich or retired to live the life you really want to live?” They start with the concept of an ideal lifestyle and work backwards to plan a career that will suit that lifestyle.

The ideal lifestyle will be different for each person, but there are a few common ingredients. Time to enjoy your life outside of work is often first on a lifestyle designer’s wish list. Flexibility to work where, when and how you want to is another common desire. Finally, enough money is sought to make the lifestyle possible.

Like wealth seekers and dream jobbers, lifestyle designers have their work cut out for them. It’s definitely not an easy or guaranteed route.

However, technology and creativity (and hopefully communities like this one) are making it easier for people to design and live an ideal lifestyle. I’m on the lifestyle design train, and if you are too I hope we can help each other achieve our lifestyle goals.

Do you follow one of these plans? What other life plans would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!

photo by Thomas Hawk

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Colin Wright June 18, 2009 at 4:39 pm

I’ve actually been all of these, except for the Working Rich. I’m fortunate enough right now to be straddling the Dream Jobber and Lifestyle Designer categories, though I’m still very much seeking wealth. Definitely not planning on going back to the Deferred lifestyle again, though!

Corbett Barr June 20, 2009 at 8:22 am

Yeah, I’ve been most of them too, except maybe a dream jobber. I do think there’s a lot of overlap between the lifestyle designers and dream jobbers though. It really depends on where you seek fulfillment, I guess, and whether you make a living doing what you love.

Dan Harrison June 19, 2009 at 5:14 am

I’ve definitely been in the “Deferred Lifers” and “The Working Rich” categories. However, I’m now moving towards the “Dream Jobbers” phase as I’m leaving my full time job in just 2 weeks! There’s not a great deal I want to do with myself yet, but as I discover what I do want to do, I hope to move to the “Lifestyle Designers” phase.

Dan

Corbett Barr June 20, 2009 at 8:23 am

Congrats on the change. What’s the “dream job” you’ll be working on?

tresnap June 20, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Dan – I’m also about to move in to the “Lifestyle Designers” phase without really knowing what I’m going to do with myself. Three weeks and counting! Blogs like Corbett’s are really getting me psyched up.
I hope you get everything you hope for!

Colin Wright June 19, 2009 at 7:35 am

Good luck on achieving that Dream Jobber status, Dan!

John Bardos June 19, 2009 at 7:39 am

I am a firm believer in lifestyle design. I believe in choosing my own path and living my own way. However, I think too many opportunists have corrupted the idea with quick rich quick schemes purporting to make you rich while you are traveling from beach to beach in your private jet.

At the end of the day, a worth while life will be judged on the basis of how much you have left behind to the world. It will not be based on how few hours a week you worked or how many countries you have been to.

I am all for escaping the rat race, moving to another country and becoming self-employed: I have down all of those and have enjoyed the process. But I think there may be one more category of life design that is worth mentioning; “the contributors.” There are many people that devote their lives to the betterment of mankind. To me that is the ultimate in lifestyle design. And it doesn’t happen by working four hours a week.

Corbett Barr June 20, 2009 at 8:28 am

Well said, John. It seems the “get rich quick” people will corrupt any concept if they think they can dupe some of the followers of it. One of the things people often tell me is that they have a hard time determining which advice and opportunities online are legitimate.

As for the category you suggested (“the contributors”), I think it’s great. I know that helping others less fortunate is the main focus for a lot of people. It’s definitely a form of lifestyle design as well, structuring your life to maximize the time and resources you can spend helping mankind.

Elizabeth June 19, 2009 at 9:15 am

I really like how you manage to categorize these lifestyles, Corbett. They’re very succinct and cover most peoples’ lives at this moment – in first world countries.

Recently the “lifestyle design” concept has become a hit; people are looking for new ways to live, and new forms of communication can help this happen. I’ve been designing my life for 15 years, though never thought of it in these terms. Typically it was because the standard options were uninteresting or unavailable to me. My unconventional decisions have led to many small successes that have grown much larger than I’d hoped. Some examples, big and small: I created my own internship and artist residencies, apprenticed to a sculptor in Italy, created a study-abroad program when I couldn’t afford a traditional one, made my wedding dress from failed photos I’d printed on silk, collected cameras so I could teach photography to kids in Cambodia.

After over a decade of doing web-based travel-writing & photography for free or next-to-nothing and refining my voice/vision, I now get paid to work on projects at my dream job.

Today I read this quote by Robert Genn, a painter who writes over at http://painterskeys.com/
“I’ve always thought that in an ideal state people should do only what they love–perhaps an impossible, hedonistic position. I’m sticking to it. The pursuit of personal joy is serious business. ”

Pretty much sums it up for me. I never wanted a comfortable life, but an interesting one.

Corbett Barr June 20, 2009 at 8:42 am

Hi Elizabeth. Great comment. My wife and I were just talking about which category artists fit into yesterday (she’s a painter). We agreed that all serious artists by default are either dream jobbers or lifestyle designers. It really depends on how you intend to make a living and structure your life.

It’s great that you’re able to support yourself through your art. So many people have that dream but haven’t found a way to make it happen.

Liz June 19, 2009 at 11:51 am

Corbett,

I really enjoy your writing and the invaluable resources you offer. You are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

Cheers,
Liz

Corbett Barr June 20, 2009 at 8:31 am

Thanks, Liz!

Nate @ thewaythatyouwander June 19, 2009 at 1:32 pm

I’m definately in the lifestyle designers group. I not only think that there is a better way, I know it.

I have a real problem with the deferred lifers sort of living. It seems like I am forced in that direction on a daily basis and to be honest it’s annoying.

Very cool post. I just found your blog the other day and from what I’ve read so far it’s really incredible stuff you have here. Cheers to you!

Corbett Barr June 20, 2009 at 8:34 am

I agree, Nate. Individuals and society both seem to push everyone towards the deferred life plan. It’s important to connect with people who understand that there is a better way and listen to them. I’d love to hear more about what you’re up to. Thanks for stopping by!

Celes | CelestineChua.com June 21, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I love how you have very adeptly identified the 5 categories of life plans – each of them ring really true to a particular group of people in the society. I’ve been the Working Rich and jumped right into Lifestyle Designers last year when I left my corporate job. Loving things absolutely now! :D And thanks a lot to technology, which opens up a lot of options in the whole designing process.

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Congrats on making the move, Celes. I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing now that you left your corporate job, and how technology is helping you. Best of luck!

David Walsh June 21, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Hands down favorite insight I gleaned from this (as always) exceptional post: “…when you turn something that you love to do into something you have to do (a job), it can take the joy out of it.” (regarding dream jobs).

There’s such a noticeable switch that flips when you’re suddenly obligated to do something you otherwise would do out of genuine passion.

Solid piece Corbett.

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 3:03 pm

It definitely takes a special situation (and special person) for a dream job to lead to long-lasting fulfillment. In some ways, I wish that would work for me. My attention span is just too short, I guess. I also know that personally I don’t like being obligated to do something, really no matter what it is.

Dustin Huibregtse June 22, 2009 at 10:39 am

Very interesting post. I enjoyed the part about finding your dream job, but more and more people are saying that turning your love and passion into a career may not be the best plan…so my question is should you follow your passion? Some people I know (and one of the major quotes on our website @ http://www.emergingtiro.com) follow this idea that if you pursue your dreams, the world will chase you. Do you believe this?

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 3:06 pm

There’s definitely something to be said for following your dreams. I just think it’s equally important to be honest with yourself about what will make you happy. Advice is rarely one-size-fits-all, and the old “do something you love” mantra may be outdated (just as the pattern of “college – good job – kids – retirement” is).

Susan June 22, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Great post. I guess I’ve always been a dream jobber/lifestyle designer working in the worlds of the working rich and deferred lifers. I found that those can’t co-exist. So I’m trying to design my lifestyle…solo. Interesting to look at it this way!

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Do you mean that your dream job involved working with people from the other categories? How is it that those couldn’t work together? I’m not surprised that you found it a difficult situation, I’m just curious about the specifics. Best of luck with your new design.

Thom July 14, 2009 at 8:55 am

“start with the concept of an ideal lifestyle and work backwards to plan a career that will suit that lifestyle”

I think, of all the articles on all the lifestyle design sites I’ve seen, this phrase sums up most succinctly the idea of lifestyle design. Begin with the end in mind, as they say.

Being made to consider this idea really should be a compulsory activity for university / high school graduates as they plan their careers, instead of sending themselves off to assessment centres and graduate schemes just to try and scrape a job that pays off their debt.

I also like the line about spending a couple of years chasing something big. Why not? Even if it fails, you’ve had an experience that puts you ahead of a lot of people in terms of knowing where your life is going. It’s like the people who are going to write a novel ‘someday’ and never do it. The sheer act of writing one is enough of an achievement that those who do it will have a better understanding of themselves and of whether writing’s something they want to pursue.

Corbett Barr July 14, 2009 at 11:03 am

I like your idea for a high school or college class. Students are constantly told that they need to get a job without really knowing why, or what that job will lead to. Most end up in debt as you point out, because that’s what everybody else does too. Lifestyle-first career planning would make more sense, wouldn’t it?

Thom July 15, 2009 at 9:31 am

Exactly. Whenever people ask me about my future plans at the moment (which is a lot, considering I graduate in September) I tend to direct them to sites like Free Pursuits so they can see the types of question I’m answering before going out on a job search.

Hopefully they’ll start to ask themselves the same questions, if they haven’t already!

Andrew November 25, 2009 at 3:38 am

It’s great to see everyone transitioning from one phase to the next, it’s a huge shift to go from a working stiff to a Lifestyle Designer. I find it’s hard enough to even explain to people the concept of a LD! Nice post Corbett, I’ll be checking in regularly.

Andrew

fiona October 6, 2010 at 7:02 am

Corbett–
I am currently living in Brazil, and would recommend to anyone who is in a slump and needs some extra energy in making a career or other lifestyle change, to leave their country for a while. Here in Brazil, I’ve been able to gain clarity of vision about what I want in life, because I have basically had to start from ground zero– without the language, culture, or a job.

Four months later, I have managed to run a little English school out of my home and it’s a confidence booster to know that I can start and run a business! I hope to bring that confidence into my life when I return home to Canada.

Rae October 22, 2010 at 5:14 pm

I’m a lifestyle designer. I didn’t even know that there’s a term for someone like me other than ‘crazy’ or ‘brave.’

“why wait until you’re rich or retired to live the life you really want to live?” sounds a lot like what I say on my website “Why wait for retirement to live the life of your dreams?”

Once I knew

fixit October 26, 2010 at 12:44 am

I have worked for myself for over 30 years. Became wealthy spiritually, by helping others along the way. What do i mean by this? Instead of getting wealthy i bought important items for people that have crossed my path, and they will always remember me when i am past and gone. Not just anyone, students, single parents trying to catch up or traveling hope-wells.

Christine August 29, 2012 at 6:25 am

I used to be a dream jobber. In fact I was living my dream job as a producer/creator of a children’s DVD program until I lost funding. When my dream job “failed”, I found myself caught in corporate hell where people regularly worked 15-24 hour shifts. I started seriously thinking about what was more important to me, working a supposed dream job (“that one passion!” – whatever that meant) or living the lifestyle I wanted. The realization that the dream job was an illusion led me to believe it was all about lifestyle for me. I didn’t even know people were doing this and had a name(s) for it until recently so I’m thrilled to have found your site!

Now I consider myself a lifestyle designer. Although I’m currently working for a civil engineering firm as a graphic designer, I never work on Fridays! Every weekend is a 3-day weekend and that’s a great start for me as I work towards independence. I’ve been saying “Why wait to live the life I want?” a lot and it’s so great to know others are saying this too! It makes me see that freedom is possible. Thank you!

Mayling May 5, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Corbett, I love your website
Thank you for sharing all of your secrets.

Young adults need more people like you to help us create our lives and business since the old rules, for the most part, no longer apply.

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