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Retirement Redefined: Eight Tips to Creating a Sustained Lifestyle
I left Microsoft in 2004 so Patty and I could homeschool our son, Trevor. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age five, and when he entered seventh grade, we decided he would need more help than his public school could offer. I was his math and science teacher for two years until he re-entered public school in ninth grade. After my homeschooling, I decided to focus on writing and consulting, and later Patty and I started a publishing business. From then until now, I have been regularly asked if I am “retired”. First, I would respond with a resounding “no” because of my opinion that retirees spend their days on the golf course or playing bridge. However, over time I found that I needed to come up with a better description of what I do as a profession. It is neither a golf course choice nor an 8-to-5 grind. For me, it’s something I say sustainable lifestyle.
So what is a sustainable lifestyle? Here’s the definition, then we’ll unpack it:
A sustainable lifestyle is when you have a high sense of achievement accompanied by a low level of stress, making it something you can sustain for a long time.
First, let’s talk about success. 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 coaching less experienced professionals. It’s about doing something you care about and seeing the fruits of your labor.
Another is stress. It is the degree of mental, physical or emotional exertion expended to achieve a desired result. Delivering a project on time through high-pressure executive meetings, project team fights, and an unreasonable customer is much more challenging than dealing with team leaders, project team members, and customers. The end result is a finished project, but the execution was like pedaling up a hill in tenth gear.
When stress and success combine in a lifestyle context, one of four outcomes occurs:
A frustrating lifestyle is the result of high stress accompanied by low performance. Think of burning the midnight oil on projects that were canceled at the last minute or never used.
A bored lifestyle is the result of low stress accompanied by low performance. Think of waking up every morning and having nothing to do.
A burnout lifestyle is the result of high stress accompanied by high performance. Think incremental strategic projects with demanding customers, a dysfunctional team and irrational management.
A sustainable lifestyle is the result of low stress accompanied by high performance. Think about volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about in terms of working conditions.
Don’t get me wrong; By no means am I saying that a permanent lifestyle means no stress. There are definitely things in life that come up and cause a lot of stress. However, a sustainable lifestyle gives you room to deal with unexpected stress more effectively than if you already had a bucket full of stress.
Here are eight tips for creating a sustainable lifestyle that is enjoyable and fulfilling for you:
- Run to the vocation – Creating a sustainable lifestyle means having a post-career plan to work on once you leave your job. The plan may be to discover your calling to 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.
- Clarify your decision criteria – Deciding what your sustainable lifestyle looks like means being very honest with yourself about your decision criteria. Is steady income important or necessary? Will you need something to keep feeding your ego? Is the flexibility to say no to things important? No right or wrong answers to the criteria, but define them judiciously. This Excel-based assessment tool helps you think about your criteria using nine key elements of satisfaction.
- Make every day meaningful – I have a theme for each weekday that focuses on some aspect of my profession; Monday is book ad day on Amazon; Tuesday is article writing day (Yes, I am writing this article on Tuesday.); Wednesday is mentoring day etc. While I can move things around based on schedules, I know what my main activities will be each day of the week.
- Agree with your partner on the main principles – Patty and I have a few guiding principles for our permanent lifestyle, the most important of which is the freedom to do what we want, from wherever we want. We enjoy traveling and regularly take winter treks to warmer weather. We can keep publishing books and I can write no matter where we are. Understanding between you and your partner about what is important and what you want to protect is essential to a happy sustainable lifestyle.
- Have at least one goal that you are working towards – After my father-in-law sold his locksmith business, he started pursuing other hobbies that kept him growing, mainly photography. Having goals will not only keep you learning, but also satisfy your 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 some extra pounds, so we agreed to share our current weight before each meeting. It’s amazing how much more I think about what I consume because I don’t want to report bad progress to my colleagues. Being accountable to someone else will help you focus on your goal and work harder to achieve it.
- Pay attention to what stresses you out – Keeping a big gap between success and stress means being honest with yourself about what’s stressing you out and putting things in place to keep stress to a minimum. Know your stressors and keep them under control.
- Create a comfortable space for yourself – In our study, I have a stand with three monitors and a large screen on the wall. Every morning, after I have my first cup of coffee, I go to my workstation and use it throughout the day. It’s a very comfortable setup that I enjoy and don’t mind spending time with.
Whether you’re at retirement age, close to it, or just thinking about it, keep the concept of a sustainable lifestyle front and center. Think high performance and low stress.
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