Work, Retire… Then You Die.

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“The years go by faster as you get older.” This is a piece of experience I’ve often heard from people who have more years than myself. The idea being that, as you get older, your lifestyle becomes more fixed. Going from 17 to 21 is a much bigger change than 40 to 44.

Does it have to be that way?

Recently, in my article about living a digital lifestyle, I talked about the benefits that could come from not being dependent on any location. You could travel around the world without having to spend a fortune and derail your career.

But many of you commented that a completely mobile lifestyle would soon be pretty shallow. You would visit many places without having a home, building deeper relationships would be difficult and you would miss out on the benefits of staying in one place.

I think part of these fears stem from the belief that you will have the same lifestyle at every point in your life. This comes from the mythology in our culture that you need to settle down, get a job and live basically the same way from 25 until retirement.

Why Stay Married to a Lifestyle?

In past articles, I’ve contrasted a digital lifestyle (which involves few possessions, complete freedom and lots of traveling) to the typical suburban lifestyle which requires vacation days to leave the country. I’ve been contrasting the two as if you could only live one or the other. But why can’t you lead both?

I think part of the time compression I quoted at the start of this article can be attributed to having a fixed lifestyle. When you are attached only to one mode of living, you fall into habits. Change becomes harder to do and the years blend into each other. Until the promise of nanotechnology extends the human lifespan to hundreds of years, why cut it short by living 30+ years on repeat?

Vertical and Lateral Growth

In past articles, I’ve tried to split up improvement into vertical and lateral directions. Vertical growth coming from setting goals, productive work and doing more within your field. Lateral growth coming from getting outside your comfort zone, trying new things and exploring completely different fields. I think people need both to be happy.

But I don’t think the vertical and lateral growth directions work best when you have a 50/50 mix of the two. I believe you’re better off if you try to focus on one direction at a time. Spend a few years working on becoming the best and then spend a few years exploring the world. How do you accomplish these cycles if you’re living a fixed lifestyle that doesn’t change from year to year?

I’m not sure that you can. An unfixed lifestyle gives you the flexibility to switch between vertical and lateral every few years.

What Keeps Lifestyles Fixed?

I’m a young guy, so I haven’t had the experience to know what specific obstacles keep people stuck in the same lifestyle year after year. But I have a few ideas:

  • Jobs. Work keeps you in the 9-5 grind until retirement. Although there is some employment flexibility, this is a big reason I feel entrepreneurship and freelancing will be the only ways to go for people seeking an unfixed lifestyle.
  • Children. Having kids often keeps people in a fixed lifestyle. But I wonder whether keeping stability for children is the reason or excuse for staying fixed. I know people who raised well-adjusted, happy kids who were able to break away from their lifestyle for longer than a vacation.
  • Habit. Probably the biggest reason for staying fixed is routine. It is way easier to do the same thing, day after day, than it is to break your habits. I’ve been living in a new place for only two months and already habits have been established. I can only imagine the force this has after 15 years of conditioning.
  • Fear. It’s more comfortable to do what has worked before. Your lifestyle doesn’t have to be perfect to keep you from wanting to adjust it.
  • Marriage. If your spouse is in a fixed lifestyle, you may feel compelled to stay fixed as well.

These are just a few of the forces keeping people into the same routines every day. I’m sure you can think of others.

What’s the Cure?

I’m not sure what the perfect solution for an unfixed lifestyle is. But, based on observation, I’d say the most important thing is having the motivation to adjust every few years. If you don’t see a problem with spending half your life in exactly the same fashion, you won’t have any energy to change it.

I’m a goal oriented person by nature. While I can be spontaneous, I work best with a plan. My strategy for staying unfixed is to always have ideas for the next venture or adventure. By keeping these on the to-do list, I have a smaller chance of settling into habits because of fear or routine.

I don’t want to have to tell my kids that the years speed up as you get older. There are only so many of them, so why live on autopilot?


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