If you’ve waded into the world of independent business, by now you’ve heard the stories (and maybe seen the ads) of “lifestyle” entrepreneurs. These tantalizing tales tout an approach to business that’s centered on living the dream—usually a dream of a beach, a laptop, an incredibly short workday, and the universal jealousy of all humanity. These lucky so-and-so’s travel the globe, soaking up the various rays available in the picturesque locales from which they post the photo evidence of their special brand of success.
The question is: is any of this real?
As someone smarter than I once noticed, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. That doesn’t mean that the lifestyle business is total BS, though. It just means that what you see in the blog post or on the self-empowering advertisement is leaving out a few less glamorous aspects. Deciding whether to trust in the picture these businesses paint requires a certain measure of cynicism, and the will to ask yourself what kind of “lifestyle” is really right for you.
What Are They Again?
Lifestyle businesses are those that free you from the more traditionally scheduled, location-bound grind that characterizes so much of modern work. It’s defined by a lot of freedom, both in terms of time and travel, as well as a certain vague sense of having gamed the system or having “hacked” life in general. It’s enticing, partly because it’s wonderful, but mostly because the person touting it is trying to sell you something.
Thing is, the elements that characterize the lifestyle business are attainable. Depending on the type of business you want to run, you can make frequent travel a staple of your life. My partner Nicole and I travel extensively while still managing the far-flung remote team that powers our online company. Both ourselves and our employees have flexible schedules, and none of us ever find ourselves staring at a clock, waiting to be released from a cubicle. We’re more free than the vast majority of white-collar office employees, and frankly, it’s as wonderful as it sounds.
But that’s not the whole story.
The privilege of all that freedom comes with a heaping helping of responsibility. Because we’re not clocking in or out, it’s up to each of us to self-discipline in order to keep production on schedule. When we travel, we have to make sure that we’ll have everything from a quiet room to reliable Internet access in order to stay on top of things. We have to accommodate the diverse needs and schedules of team members from Atlantic City to California to the Pacific Islands. While we often walk in the park, it’s not always a walk in the park.
Too Good To Be True?
Some entrepreneurs are selling the lifestyle as a product. So we’re absolutely clear: there’s nothing wrong with selling a product that legitimately seeks to help other entrepreneurs build the life they want for themselves (we here at the $100 MBA would be in a pretty awkward position otherwise). That said, if the product being sold is a promised result as opposed to a set of tools or a base of knowledge, those red flags can’t be raised high enough. Working an hour or two per day? A beach, a laptop, and not a care in the world? To quote a great philosopher, c’mon now. Nobody builds a successful, sustainable business with minimal effort like that. If anyone has, and can prove it, feel free to take over this blog.
If the lifestyle approach is being marketed to you in a way that makes it seem glamorous and easy, there’s something amiss. Real business is work. It can be fulfilling, and it should always feel worth it, but it’s work. Those who sell the dream but refuse to acknowledge the dream’s price are not to be trusted, no matter how refreshing their Mai-Tai looks.
For example, they may only work a few hours a day now. More than likely, they got to that point by working 12 hours a day for years to begin with. They may travel the globe, but have to stay put for 6 months out of the year. They may live full-time in an exotic, tropical locale, enjoying the fruits of global connectivity, but that’s probably because the cost of living is so low in those locations that a meager salary by American standards goes a much longer way for those willing to do without certain first-world comforts.
Defining Your Lifestyle
Independence in business comes down to what you want, and what your own personal idea of a worthwhile “lifestyle” is. In business, the more time and effort you put in, the better your results will be. That means following your passion and finding the work you want to do, even when it’s hard. It doesn’t mean finding some magical path to Easy Street.
The freedom we entrepreneurs seek isn’t easy to obtain. Otherwise, everyone would do it. What matters most isn’t some fantasy of an easy-breezy existence, but the privilege of doing work that you care about, and earning enough to be satisfied on your own terms.