What do you think it means to have a life that works?

Lifestyle Design

It’s the difference between “What do you do?” and “How do you fill your days?”

Everyday life should fill you with life

There is a dominant pattern of living in western society that dictates how many of us view and value ourselves. When we meet people we ask 'what do you do?' when we really mean 'tell me about yourself', or 'who are you?'. Our job becomes a proxy for our identity, despite many of us having varied skills and passions (and jobs that we hate to varying degrees).

I subscribe to the belief that we should each be pursuing a life that fills us with life, and doing it in a way that doesn't prevent anyone else from doing the same. Some of us make money to then spend it having fun, while others take different approaches. The point is that there are many ways to design a lifestyle to suit you, and I support people on that journey. So now when meeting new people I ask 'how do you fill your days?'.


Design your own lifestyle

There are a few simple questions that we can ask ourselves to start thinking about this is a manageable way.

1: What do you think it means to have a life that works?

Several months before resigning from my role leading the Student Volunteer Army Foundation I was confronted by this very simple question and my utter inability to answer it. Take time to think very clearly about how you actually want to fill your days, and write a list of activities with time frames around them. e.g. Ride my bike at least twice a week; visit family overseas 2 weeks per year; solve challenging problems...

2: How much money do you actually need?

The operative word here is actually. When we sit down and write out the list of things we NEED money for it can feel like an overwhelming task. I thought about it for 7 months and then wrote it out in 49 minutes. What was even more surprising was how small the number was. When we consider how we'd like to fill our days and the realistic costs associated with that we can get a pretty clear frame of how much money we'd need to be earning, and the sorts of things we'd like to do earning it!

3: What am I currently doing that is preventing me from doing this?

Every time you say yes to something you are saying no to something else. If our life isn't exactly what we want it to be, then we are spending our time doing things that we perceive to be of low value. Identify them, and figure out how you can dial them down in your life without having undue negative impacts on other people's lives. Activities. Relationships. Work. Clubs. Drinking. Procrastinating. Whatever.

4: Talk about it

We grow in the direction of the questions we ask and the things we talk about. Opportunity favours the prepared mind. A ten-year study into the nature of luck found that 'lucky' people actively create and notice chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies by assuming the best will happen (and being ok when it doesn't), and adopting a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good. If you know where you're trying to get to, get luck on your side.

5: Review Step 1 regularly

Expect your expectations to change. The expression 'life is what happens when you're busy making other plans' couldn't be more true. We spend decades forming habits, skills, mindsets, and relationships, so it's only logical to expect that any changes to our own lives will take time. They will also create other changes in new and unexpected ways. Enjoy the process, otherwise you'll just be spending time doing things that make you unhappy. Again.

Happy to jog alongside you if that would be helpful.


A Case Study: Me

I've been undertaking this cycle since early 2014 and have been through many iterations. This website was initially built to help me make sense of my own thinking (and to help my Mom understand 'what I do', or rather 'how I fill my days').

The basic framing I've landed into is that I don't like to always separate out the things I do to make money from the things I do for fun - they are interchangeable. Rather than having a set 'job' I have a number of contracts, roles, and projects bumbling along at any given time, and I'll do things in both paid and unpaid capacities depending on how I'm feeling, the need for the project, and the balance of things I'm doing for that time frame. 

For example, I have spent a long time playing music for money but find that after about a year of regular gigging (1-6 gigs a month)I get sick of the lifestyle and switch to just doing it for fun for 12-18 months. Understanding this rhythm (ha!) has enabled me to plan ahead and think about allocating some time to writing and recording my own music - something I had thus far failed to prioritise. 

In terms of paid work 'types', I do a lot of different stuff that falls into a few broad categories:


Workshop and small group facilitation
Organisational reviews/planning/design
Impact Model Design


Movement building
Collective impact approaches
Communities of Practice
Lifestyle design meets organisational design


The Nationwide Health and Disability Advocacy Service
The Britten Institute


Inspirational/Motivational Speaking
Independent Marriage Celebrant  
Theatre and performance
Hosting and MCing events and conferences


Leadership in Communities (LinC)
Elevate Programme 
Mental Health Foundation workshops
Interpersonal Conflict Communication



For hire
For me

Describing any or all of this as a coherent job isn't really a thing. So when people ask 'what to do you?' I respond 'a bunch of stuff, I work in the social enterprise community and am a musician sometimes. How about you, how do you fill your days?'.

Here's hoping that's of some use to someone. Let me know if so!


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