Which of The 5 Categories of Life Plans Do You Follow?


In your search for finding meaning in your own life, whether consciously or not, you’ve decided to follow some type of life plan. If you’re anything like me, that life plan has probably changed at least a few times.

As I’ve learned things about life, work and myself and met many happy and unhappy people, I’ve continually modified my life philosophies and adjusted course.

Through this process, I’ve found that there are essentially five basic “life plans.” People tend to subscribe to one of these basic plans, and many adopt certain features of multiple plans at the same time. The plan that you subscribe to has a great impact on how you live, and what you perceive as life’s limitations.

Do you follow one of these plans? What other life plans would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!

Deferred Lifers

By default, most people end up pursing the “deferred life plan.” I’ve found this is the most common lifestyle choice. Many people make this choice unconsciously because they don’t know much about the other options. Or, they make it because it’s comfortable, and it’s the choice that most people they know also made.

Characteristics of this plan include a job with a modest salary or hourly wage, little vacation time and little control over how, when and where you work.

People who follow this plan focus quite a bit on their retirement options and look forward to that magic age (usually somewhere between 55 and 68) when they can enjoy life without working.

Sadly, many people never reach the magic age, or if they do, they find that they don’t have enough interests to fill their days. Some end up taking a part-time job just for something to do.

The Working Rich

A more intense version of the deferred life plan is to be one of the “working rich.” This is like the deferred life plan, except you work even harder and have even less time for things outside of work. You make these sacrifices in exchange for more money and a better shot at early retirement.

This was my second stop on the life plan progression. Like most Americans, I spent the first 30+ years of my life fixated on money. I grew up in a lower middle class family, and money always seemed to be the key to happiness.

As I progressed through my career I constantly looked for opportunities to earn more money. It was probably the biggest factor in deciding when to change jobs. There were few things that influenced my decisions more than a bigger salary, or my perception that a move would eventually lead to wealth.

Eventually though, I started to meet people who had achieved what I thought was the ultimate goal. They were rich by most accounts, but surprisingly these people weren’t kicking back enjoying their wealth in exotic places with the company of friends and family.

Most of them were “working” rich, meaning they relied on a job to produce their enormous incomes as partners of consulting firms or vice presidents of big companies.

Most of the “working rich” reach the top of their career ladders because they are incredibly smart. More importantly though, they make it because they are willing to sacrifice their personal lives for their careers in exchange for better benefits and more money. Unfortunately, they don’t have much time to enjoy that extra money.

Wealth Seekers

So, if being a “working rich” person isn’t the answer, what about becoming independently wealthy?

Money can definitely improve a lifestyle, but there are two problems with putting your life on hold for too long while pursuing it. First, simple odds show that most people will never achieve significant wealth. Second, the idea of becoming really rich and spending your days jet setting around the world is mostly a fantasy. People who amass incredible wealth tend to become addicted to working incredibly hard. Withdrawal from working then leads to depression.

If your goal is simply to be a world traveler, there are much easier ways to do it than becoming rich. Tim Ferriss explains it best in The Four Hour Work Week in a story about the Mexican fisherman (originally written by Heinrich Boll).

We’re basically all conditioned that money is the key to happiness, and most of us think money is required to live a lifestyle that ironically poor people in “third-world countries” already live.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take a shot or two at becoming wealthy. Starting a company, for instance, is an amazing experience regardless of the outcome.

Knowing that you have forty or more working years in your life, why not spend a couple of them chasing something really big? Just realize that if you are successful, you still may end up unhappy. At least if you have money, it will be easier to transition to something else that will make you happy.

Dream Jobbers

How about doing what you really love as a profession? Would that make you happy? Most people call this finding a “dream job.” There’s no doubt that this life plan has the potential to be very fulfilling.

Be careful though, because there are a few reasons a dream job might not be a source of fulfillment for you. The biggest hangup for most people is that when you turn something that you love to do into something you have to do (a job), it can take the joy out of it. There are plenty of exceptions to this of course, so it really depends on your specific circumstance.

Also, if you achieve enough success in your dream job that you can dictate the terms of when and how you do it, you’ll be more likely to continue loving it. Successful actors and directors are good examples.

The other major reason you might not be a good candidate for a dream job has to do with your attention span. It takes considerable dedication to remain interested in a particular topic for two or three decades or more. Many people have no idea what their dream job would be, and if they found one they would probably get bored with it quickly anyways. I definitely fall into this category.

Lifestyle Designers

Lifestyle designers believe there is a better way. They essentially ask, “why wait until you’re rich or retired to live the life you really want to live?” They start with the concept of an ideal lifestyle and work backwards to plan a career that will suit that lifestyle.

The ideal lifestyle will be different for each person, but there are a few common ingredients. Time to enjoy your life outside of work is often first on a lifestyle designer’s wish list. Flexibility to work where, when and how you want to is another common desire. Finally, enough money is sought to make the lifestyle possible.

Like wealth seekers and dream jobbers, lifestyle designers have their work cut out for them. It’s definitely not an easy or guaranteed route.

However, technology and creativity (and hopefully communities like this one) are making it easier for people to design and live an ideal lifestyle. I’m on the lifestyle design train, and if you are too I hope we can help each other achieve our lifestyle goals.

Do you follow one of these plans? What other life plans would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!

photo by Thomas Hawk

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Hi, I’m Corbett Barr. I’ve been writing here since 2009. Join my email list for new articles about supporting yourself doing something you love: