Lifestyle Design is Over

Another “lifestyle design” blog post crosses my Facebook stream.

It’s entitled something like, “How to Quit Your Job, {Insert Adventurous Activity Here}, and {Insert Exotic Accomplishment Here}.”

I flinch.

That’s been my reaction for the last couple of years — ever since I began trying to deliberately divorce myself from selling an oversimplified, over-embellished fantasy life that “could be yours, dear reader!” Don’t get me wrong. These kinds of blog posts are fun — innocent, even. But from where I sit, peeking into the social media sphere of “Lifestyle Design” and “Personal Development” (which I began to build around me in 2009) is tougher and tougher.

Because the conversation around “how to live your best life” feels like it’s become a hollow, empty joke.

“Oh, you went skydiving from a blimp and landed on an Indian steam ship where a descendant of Mahatma Gandhi taught you about how to be epic and awesome in life?”

Goodness…

It’s not you, lifestyle design bloggers — it’s me.

It has become too worrisome to keep seeing the image of a fantasy lifestyle meant to “inspire people” sold to them by conveying that those same people are living incomplete lives by comparison.

Of all the ironies, these consistently-shared adventures of epic awesomeness are made out to be as routine and commonplace as breathing. Yet, each is supposedly as profound, epic, incredible and unbelievable as the last. When did the pursuit of happiness become a lifelong reenactment of Indiana Jones?

When did the soul’s journey for contentment become Instagrammable?

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate that anyone who’s living life full tilt — out adventuring, traveling, learning lessons and sharing stories along the way. I dig adventures as much as the next guy. Besides, life is itself all about tapping into diverse experiences and getting out in this vast, beautiful world around us — that’s the beauty of the journey.

Being able to share those stories with others? Still awesome.

But portraying the lot of life as one of never-ending fantasy demeans and bastardizes the significance of life’s vast and diverse experiences. The adventures themselves become a hollow sales pitch — and the product being sold is envy. Yes, of course: great storytelling attracts attention, eyes and awareness. With those things, you can do much. You can have a business, you can teach, you can coach, you can write a little book or two. This is exactly what I do.

But if what you intend to build is encouragement for men and women to shape their lives into a never-ending house of adventure that they think is possible, the message that’s being conveyed is misleading the very people whom we aspire to help.

What are we doing constantly spouting over-dramatized, over-promised delusions of grandeur?

Are we touting the Ginsu blade of our age?

This isn’t isn’t really about you, lifestyle bloggers.

What I really worry about is the symptomatic effect that this stuff has on the people both you and I are hoping to reach, teach, connect with, befriend, inspire, and journey alongside.

The question is, do you really want to serve them?

Where’s the line between using storytelling to share, encourage and inspire — and stir unattainable envy?

I’m worried because selling fantasy detracts from reality. Those who seek out Lifestyle Design and Personal Development content are usually in some form of struggle. It may be a significant struggle, but when we’re talking Lifestyle Design, I’d wager the struggles are more passive, like those of privilege. Like me not liking my job, and quitting it. That was a privilege of a struggle. “Life is okay. It could be — maybe ought to be — better.”

The souls whom we’re trying to encourage aren’t struggling with fantasy, but with reality. Their struggles are in navigating the realities of what we call “everyday life.”

The struggle in “everyday life” is navigating its ordinariness and somehow, someway, embracing it as extraordinary. For peace. For joy. For contentment.

Our readers, our customers, our clients, should be led by us into explorations and teachings that seek beauty, gratitude, and opportunities in the moments that already exist around us.

Our jobs as writers, servants, givers, coaches and (ideally) leaders-by-example is to help people deepen the experience of “everyday life” because this is where the most work is to be done.

The most opportunity. The most chance. The most possibility.

Because we live in the everyday. Not in endless adventures. Not in bungee-jumping from the International Space Station. Or volcano-luging for charity.

I’ve done my share of fantasy-touting as a writer.

Thankfully, every such attempt has fallen flat.

One such dud was trying to use a 5-week personal excursion to Hawaii as a backdrop for online writing workshops — the idea, I told myself, was to impart values of Hawaiian lifestyle that would empower writers to tap alternative sides to their voices, values and stories.

(Yeah, it still doesn’t make much sense to me.)

It flopped. No one bit. I’m thankful for that, because when humans who trust you call your bluff, it teaches you hard lessons to realize your mistakes and to not to do it again.

Beyond a writer, I’m a reader, too. And as someone who spent way too many hours reading Lifestyle Design blog posts years ago, I can tell you that I wasn’t reading because my reality lacked epic, Instagramable, responsibility-free fantasies.

It was because my everyday reality so lacked in meaning, purpose and passion that fantastic daydreams were all I had to get by.

Besides.

Romantic as it may be to paint our lives as a series of undying adventures, we run the risk of detaching our readers, those human beings no different than us, from the truths of the realities that we actually live, ourselves.

Including our own struggles and hardships.

Including those same undying questions we all share about “what we’re really doing with our lives and why.”

And, how we haven’t really figured out a damn thing, as much as we hope to believe.

Why does Lifestyle Design exist? Because selling the fantasy is easy.

For the first couple years of my journey as a writer and creative, I assumed that the pathway to success was to just keep showing up in a fantastical way for long enough until it would eventually come true. Epic this, awesome that, self high-five, repeat.

Selling fantasy is easy, but it instills a deep “lesser-than” anxiety in onlookers. Readers look to our fantasies and contrast them to their realities, and all we accomplish as writers and creators is to make them feel lacking. Lagging. “Not enough.” Like they’re falling behind. And failing in life.

It’s the exact opposite of what Lifestyle Design is supposed to inspire.

I’ve really tried to stop conveying fantasy life. I make efforts to not share just-good-times, or only-stoic-headshots, or pieces of writing that make it seem like I’ve got everything figured out.

As a teacher, I want to lead by example. Which means not just preaching from his high horse when times are great and successful, but also sharing his laments from the mud after he’s fallen.

So if you want to sell me on something, forget fantasy. Sell me your reality.

Sell me on the pauses between your epic adventures. On the quiet spaces between each story.

Tell me less about how it felt to “howl” at the top of the mountain and more on how it felt to ask “Now what?” as you descended it.

Tell me what you’re learning about your soul, not what it means to be “epic.”

Show me what happens when the curtain falls, the adventure fades, and you’re alone.

Prove to me, your reader, that you care about me — because you are me, and I am you.

We become teachers of what we most need to learn, ourselves — and preachers of what we’re most desperate to believe, ourselves.

So, let’s be real with each other.

Realer than real.

Let’s be human, for goodness sake.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t travel, shouldn’t daydream, shouldn’t go out to have fantastic adventure.

But something profoundly shifts in you — throughout your life — when you recognize that where you are and what’s at your disposal today is more than enough to start forging the life you dream of.

Lifestyle Design be damned — forget how it looks, and start making your way in moments of joy, in micro-adventures, in depths of experiences, in earnest connections to other human beings who you may be overlooking.

Even rockstars don’t live on stage. Even movie stars face themselves off set.

The most glamorous, fantastic, epic, awesome, exhilarating portraits of life that you could ever imagine a human being living are all bound by the same reality that you and I are bound by:

That most of life occurs in the quiet, overlooked pauses between actions, adventures and glamour.

It’s an ideal, but I know deep down that every day is meant to be what we focus on the most. Each moment is as ripe for love and as teeming with joy as the next. The big adventures, the Instagram moments, the bragging rights, they’re all fine and cool.

But they’re not a lifestyle.

They’re snapshots of a fantasy.

And it’s time we stop letting a fantasy rob us of true riches of depth and experience that are available to us, every day.

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