It’s Not “Luck.” It’s Lifestyle Design.

Lifestyle design has become a trendy phrase, but I’m not sure if people understand it. Designing your life means ruthlessly curating. Here's how I do it.

Lifestyle Design

A few years ago I went camping in southeastern Utah with a group of friends.

“I love this place,” I said, gazing at the towering sandstone canyons. Then, ever so casually, I commented, “Hmm. Maybe I’ll come live here for a summer. Just two or three months. Could be fun.”

One of my friends glanced at me.

“You’re lucky,” she said, “that your line of work allows you to live like that. My field won’t let me do that.”

Lucky? What? It’s not luck. It’s the result — I’m sorry to tell you — of sacrifice, work and careful consideration. (And “your field” doesn’t stop you from doing anything. You stop yourself.)

Lose 20 Pounds? Gee, You’re So Lucky!

Some people will characterize any success you experience as luck. If you lose twenty pounds, they’ll tell you you’re “lucky” to have a svelte figure. If you master a skill, they’ll tell you you’re “lucky” to be so talented. If you’re a top performer and compensated accordingly, they’ll say you’re “lucky” to be well-paid.

They have a point: We’re lucky to live in a developed, civilized world. We wouldn’t have these opportunities if electricity, indoor plumbing, aviation, germ theory, smallpox eradication and the Internet hadn’t predated us. (Thanks, whoever invented that stuff. You rock.)

Beyond that baseline, our success isn’t the result of luck. It’s the result of sharp decision-making.

Let’s take my friend’s example. She says I’m “lucky” to work in a field that allows me to be location independent (a phrase that means I can work from anyone on earth with an Internet connection).

But that was a lifestyle choice. I could have picked among a fascinating array of careers: Literary agent. Television reporter. Exotic wildlife trainer.

I would’ve enjoyed these. But I wouldn’t be as free.

So instead, I write and edit online personal finance articles. What?! How random. How obscure. Where did that come from? How the heck did I land a career path like that?

Answer: I decided that freedom and independence trump all else, including stability and glamour. Then I rejected any opportunity that didn’t fit those qualities. That’s not the result of luck. That’s the result of careful cultivation.

(That doesn’t imply that those are the “best” qualities. Those are just the traits I prioritize most. You, my awesome Afford Anything reader, must choose your own adventure.)

Lifestyle Design is a 24/7 Exercise

“Lifestyle design” has become a trendy phrase in the past few years, but I’m not sure how many people contemplate the meaning of those words. “Designing” your life entails ruthlessly curating, the way a boutique owner picks the items that sit on her shelves or a gallery owner selects the art that hangs on his walls.

This demands two tasks. The first task is forgoing fun and glamorous experiences that clash with your dreams. In 2008, I almost accepted a job as an editor at a wine magazine. It would have entailed company-paid trips to Italian vineyards, which would’ve rocked. But I’d be on a short leash. I didn’t want that.

The second task is accepting the drawbacks of the jobs that suit your lifestyle. My location-independent work brims with shortcomings. I’m alone all day, which doesn’t suit my outgoing personality. I’m glued to a computer all day, despite being hopelessly un-tech-savvy. Waah, waah, sucks to be me.

No option is perfect. That’s why prioritizing comes into play. Pick the most important attributes. Find work that matches it. Toss yourself into that field, regardless of whether or not you’re qualified (yet). And never look back.

P.S.: To clarify, I do believe that — to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson — “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”


  1. says

    Being location independent is definitely a choice. My current career allows me to go almost anywhere, but I need that state’s teaching credential. I can teach anywhere! In fact I can get a bonus if I tewach in Hawaii. I guess it is one of the few states that has a shortage of teachers. Thomas Jefferson got it right.

  2. says

    I read an article a while back (can’t remember where I saw it, sorry!) about how you can create your own luck. It had a bit of a different thesis than your post, but related. The article argued that if you approach life with a positive attitude, are open to new situations, and talk to the people you encounter each day, you’ll find yourself with many more “lucky” opportunities than someone who is grumpy, shuts herself off from new situations, and doesn’t engage with people. Not only will more opportunities come your way, but you’ll be better equipped to recognize opportunities and make the most of them.

  3. says

    Several years ago we took our kids, then 7 and 12 to Europe for a month. We travelled through Italy, Greece and Germany. The kids had a blast. My son was desperate to see the Colosseum in Rome, my daughter counted the days until she could ride in a gondola. Yes they loved those experiences. They also loved the unplanned moments, my son went for a Ferrari ride in Monaco, my daughter loved the donkey ride up the cliff on Santorini. It was fabulous in every way and we didn’t want to come home.

    My fist day back in the office, a casual aquaintance said “you’re so lucky you can take your kids on a trip like that”. That off handed comment bothered me for days afterward. I hadn’t told most people exactly where we were going, partly because I just don’t like to go on about the places we travel, but mostly it because of this sort of comment. Luck had absolutely nothing to do with it.

    We planned for the vacation, took advantage of every possible travel deal, flew on points accumulated for two years, and saved specifically for the trip. But more importantly, other than retiring early we value traveling over just about everything else and our lifestyle reflects those priorities. We choose to drive used cars bought with cash, we pack our lunches, we meal plan around sales, most repairs are DIY, we shop second hand whenever possible, and I can count on one hand the number of times a year we eat in a restaurant. The person making the comment stood in front of me with I’m estimating a $150 hair cut/color, acrylic nails, designer clothes, the latest model of smart phone in one hand and the keys to her luxury car in the other. I’m not saying she shouldn’t spend on any of those things, just to recognize that she voted with her money, and decided those items took priority over costly family holidays. Neither is the right or wrong way to spend your money, but it’s unfair to dump on someone because they made different choices.

  4. says

    As more and more of us gradually awake from the dream imparted upon us that life is “supposed” to be a certain way and that way mostly revolves about spending most of your time generating income to pay your bills and consumption lifestyle, we realize that there are much better alternatives out there.

    As much as I agree with Paula and JMK through my own “lifestyle design” I have found that changing directions is darn hard, certainly possible but still really hard. But what makes it bearable is the vision of that better life you are looking for.

    Like so many things in life, you are better off starting with a vision and then creating a plan to make that vision come true.

  5. says

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t think people realize how insulting the phrase “you’re lucky” is when it falls from their lips. I worked with a woman who once told me, “you’re lucky your husband is such a good dad. My daughter’s boyfriend is a real piece of work.” I laughed it off at the time but I thought…and stewed…about it for several days.

    A couple of weeks later, she said it again and I couldn’t help myself, I just couldn’t hold it in. I said, “Luck has nothing to do with it: I dated a good man. I married a good man. Good men make good fathers.” I wanted to say more about how it sounds like her daughter’s boyfriend was a loser, why on earth would she hook up with him, but I didn’t. I just walked away and felt much better.

    To say that the only reason you are where you are, or you can do what you do, is because you are lucky can be an outrageous thing to say to someone. If I win the lottery, that is total luck, but if something I plan for, work for, and choose carefully works out, I don’t think luck has much to do with anything.

    • says

      @Jenn — That’s a great example. If you had an arranged marriage, as some people do in India or Nepal, then you’d be lucky. But you choose your husband. You carefully selected the man in your life. That’s not luck, that’s the result of a careful choice that you made.

      I think some people who say “you’re lucky” don’t realize how much choice, power and self-direction they have in their own lives.

    • says

      @Marvin — I know exactly what you mean. It’s insulting (and unrealistic) when people say you’re “lucky” to have the lifestyle that you’ve worked so hard to achieve. They’re probably just jealous and/or afraid of shooting for their own dreams.

  6. says

    I thought of the best catch-all line for a whiner to use. Most people credit people for being lucky superficially – a tall person has the advantage in basketball. When you cite a shorter player who has achieved at the highest level in spite of their height, they could reasonably argue “oh he’s lucky that he was born mentally driven”. There’s a cop out for everything, its ultimately about mentality.

    At the end of the day you’ve got to put the work in.

  7. says

    Great article. One of my favorite quotes is “Luck is the residue of design.” I think it’s true and it keeps me working on my goals.

  8. says

    I’m on the late show responding to this but the “it’s not luck” mindset is inspiring. I used to be insulted when folks say this and it still happens sometimes but not as much these days. I don’t need to prove myself as much as I get farther along the path I guess. But I love to help people and inspire them if possible. Would be great to have more nonconventional types around right? I try to just say “I know, we all are. It’s an amazing time to be alive”. If I get an inkling that this conversational seed took root and flipped them from the “you’re lucky / I am not lucky” mindset into a mode where they feel lucky with me, then for whatever the thing was I’ll give them a quick rundown of the original dream, and how long it took to learn/plan/work it until success happened. 9 times out of 10 you get a good story in return about their last success. Good bonding. There’s always the Negativists who respond to the rundown with specific reasons why none of that would work for them, but who has time for those people?

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