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Retirement Redefined: Eight Tips to Creating a Sustained Lifestyle
In 2004, I left Microsoft so Patty and I could homeschool our son Trevor. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was five years old, and we decided as he entered seventh grade that he needed more help than his public school could provide. I was his math and science teacher for two years until he returned to public school in the ninth grade. After homeschooling I decided to focus on writing and consulting, and later Patty and I started a publishing business. From that time until now, I was regularly asked if I was “retired”. At first I would answer with a firm “no” because I think retirees spend their days on the golf course or playing bridge. Over time, however, I recognized that I needed to find a better description of what I do as a profession. It’s not a choice between the golf course or the 8-to-5 grind. For me it’s something I call sustained lifestyle.
So what is a supported lifestyle? Here’s the definition, and then we’ll unbox it:
A sustained lifestyle is when you have a high sense of accomplishment accompanied by a low degree of stress, making it something you can sustain for a long time.
Let’s talk about success first. It’s about doing something meaningful that accomplishes a desired outcome that gives you joy. It could be delivering a project on time, helping people in need or coaching less experienced professionals. It’s about doing something that matters to you and seeing the fruits of your labor.
Then comes the stress. It is the degree of mental, physical or emotional effort undertaken to achieve a desired result. Delivering a project on time with high-pressure management meetings, infighting within the project team, and an unreasonable client is far more taxing than with cooperative executives, project team members, and clients. The end result is a finished project, but the execution was like pedaling uphill in tenth gear.
When stress and success are combined in the context of lifestyle, one of four outcomes is achieved:
A frustrating lifestyle is the result of high stress levels accompanied by low achievement. Consider burning the midnight oil on projects canceled at the last minute or never used.
A boredom lifestyle is the result of low stress levels accompanied by low performance. Remember to get up every morning without doing anything.
A burnout lifestyle is the result of high stress levels accompanied by high achievement. Think of successive strategic projects with demanding clients, a dysfunctional team and irrational management.
A sustained lifestyle is the result of low stress accompanied by high achievement. Consider volunteering for a cause you are passionate about during your internships.
Do not mistake yourself; I am in no way saying that a sustained lifestyle does not mean stress. Certainly there are things in life that crop up and cause great stress. However, a supported lifestyle gives you leeway to handle unexpected stress more effectively than if your stress bucket was already full.
Here are eight tips for creating a supported, enjoyable, and fulfilling lifestyle for you:
- Run to a vocation – Creating a sustainable lifestyle involves having a post-career plan that you work on once you leave your job. The plan could be to discover your calling for a supported lifestyle or, if you already know what you want to do, how to make that supported 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.
- Be clear about your decision criteria – Deciding what your supported lifestyle looks like means being very honest with yourself about your decision criteria. Is continued income important or necessary? Will you need something that continues to feed your ego? Is the flexibility to say no important? No right or wrong answers on the criteria, but be deliberate on its definition. This Excel-based assessment tool will help you reflect on your criteria using nine crucial satisfaction items.
- Make every day useful – I have a theme for each day of the week which focuses on an aspect of my vocation; Monday is Amazon book announcement day; Tuesday is article writing day (Yes, I am writing this article on a Tuesday.); Wednesday is mentoring day, etc. Although I can move things around according to schedules, I know what my main activities will be each day of the week.
- Agree guiding principles with your spouse/partner – Patty and I have several guiding principles about our sustained lifestyle, the most important being the freedom to do what we want from where we want. We love to travel and regularly do winter hikes in warmer weather. We can continue to publish books and I can write wherever 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 and supported lifestyle.
- Have at least one goal you are working towards – After my father-in-law sold his locksmith business, he took up other hobbies that made him grow, including photography. Having goals not only allows you to learn, but also satisfies the need for a sense of accomplishment.
- Be responsible – I am a member of a business group that meets twice a month. Three of us want to lose a few extra pounds, so we have agreed that before each meeting we will share our current weight with each other. It’s amazing how much I think more about what I consume because I don’t want to report bad progress to my colleagues. Being accountable to someone else helps you focus on your goal and work harder to achieve it.
- Be aware of what stresses you out – Keeping a big distance between success and stress means being honest with yourself about what stresses you out and putting measures in place to minimize stress. Know your stressors and keep them under control.
- Create a comfortable space – I have a standing desk in our den with three monitors and a big screen TV hanging on the wall. Every morning after having 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 hanging out.
Whether you’re at retirement age, nearing retirement age, or just thinking about it, keep the concept of a supported lifestyle front and center. Think high achievement and low stress.
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