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 we decided as he was entering seventh grade that he would need more help than what 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 stint, I decided to focus on writing and consulting, and later Patty and I starting a publishing business. From that point until now, I have regularly been asked if I’m “retired.” At first, I would respond with a strong “no” due to my opinion that retirees spend their days on the golf course or playing bridge. Over time, though, I recognized I had to come up with a better description of what I do as a profession. It’s not a choice of either the golf course or the 8-to-5 grind. For me, it’s something I call sustained lifestyle.
So, what’s sustained lifestyle? Here’s the definition, then we’ll unpack it:
Sustained 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.
First let’s talk about achievement. This is about doing something meaningful that accomplishes a desired result which gives you joy. It could be delivering a project on time, helping people in need, or coaching lesser experienced professionals. It’s about getting something done that matters to you and seeing the fruits of your labor.
Next is stress. This is the degree of mental, physical or emotional strain undertaken to achieve a desired result. Delivering a project on time with high-pressure executive meetings, project team infighting, and an unreasonable customer is much more taxing than one with cooperative execs, project team members, and customers. The end result is a completed project, but the execution was like pedaling uphill in tenth gear.
When stress and achievement are combined in the context of lifestyle, one of the four results are realized:
A frustration lifestyle is the result of high stress accompanied by low achievement. Think burning the midnight oil on projects that get cancelled last-minute or never used.
A boredom lifestyle is the result of low stress accompanied by low achievement. Think getting up every morning with nothing to do.
A burnout lifestyle is the result of high stress accompanied by high achievement. Think successive strategic projects with demanding customers, a dysfunctional team, and irrational management.
A sustained lifestyle is the result of low stress accompanied by high achievement. Think volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about on your work terms.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m in no way saying that a sustained lifestyle means no stress. There are certainly things in life that crop up and cause great stress. However, a sustained lifestyle gives you margin to handle unexpected stress more effectively than if your stress bucket were already full.
Here are eight tips to create a sustained lifestyle that’s enjoyable and fulfilling for you:
- Run to a vocation - Creating a sustained lifestyle entails having a post-career plan that you work to once you’ve left your job. The plan could be to discover your sustained lifestyle vocation or, if you already know what you want to do, how to make that sustained lifestyle a reality. Painting a picture in your head of what it will look like will help you get excited about giving it life.
- Be clear on your decision criteria - Deciding on what your sustained lifestyle looks like means being very honest with yourself on your decision criteria. Is a continued income important or necessary? Will you need something that continues to feed your ego? Is the flexibility to say no to things important? No right or wrong answers on the criteria, but be deliberate about defining it. This Excel-based assessment tool will help you think about your criteria using nine crucial contentment elements.
- Make each day purposeful - I have a theme for each weekday that focuses on some aspect of my vocation; Monday is Amazon book ads day; Tuesday is article writing day (Yes, I’m writing this article on a Tuesday.); Wednesday is mentoring day, etc. While I may move things around based on schedules, I know what my core activities will be on each day of the week.
- Agree on the guiding principles with your spouse/partner - Patty and I have several guiding principles on our sustained lifestyle, the most important being the freedom to do what we want from wherever we want. We enjoy travel and regularly do winter treks to warmer weather. We can continue publishing books and I can write regardless of 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 sustained lifestyle.
- Have at least one goal you’re working toward - After my father-in-law sold his locksmith business, he took on other hobbies which kept him growing, most notably photography. Having goals not only keeps you learning, but also satisfies the need for a sense of accomplishment.
- Be accountable - I am a member of a men’s business group that meets twice a month. Three of us want to drop some 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 colleagues. Having accountability to someone else helps you focus on your goal and work harder to achieve it.
- Be mindful about what stresses you out - Keeping a wide distance between achievement and stress means being honest with yourself about what stresses you out and putting things in place to keep stress to a minimum. Know your stressors and keep them in check.
- Create a comfortable space - I have a standup desk in our den with three monitors and a large screen TV on the wall. Every morning, after getting 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 at.
Whether you’re at retirement age, close to it, or merely thinking about it, keep the concept of a sustained lifestyle front and center. Think high achievement and low stress.