The ‘Default Mode’ Is Not the Only Option

Sean Baumstark avatar

by Sean Baumstark |

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“Are you living by design or by default?” My friend asked me this while we were catching up over dinner after local restaurants started serving on outdoor patios again. My friend knows I’m highly ambitious, but he also knows that I can procrastinate and get distracted at times.

This question of “by design or default?” played on repeat in my head throughout dinner, and has been front and center in my thoughts for a couple weeks now. This friend certainly knows how to get my attention.

Although it can apply to just about any aspect of life, we were contemplating this question in relation to careers and finances. I love my job and thoroughly enjoy what I do, but is it my job on purpose, or just because it’s convenient and within reach? Is there another job or career path I’d rather be on? If so, this question can help me evaluate what I need to do to live the life I want instead of remaining in the hamster wheel that I’ve stumbled upon.

(I don’t consider my job, or my life, a hamster wheel, but there are parts I maintain just to keep the proverbial ball in the air.)

It’s a good question to ask and contemplate often. It’s especially important and relevant when living with a progressive disease like Friedreich’s ataxia (FA). What may be by design today could easily become my default tomorrow. Sometimes this happens because my interests or passions change, and sometimes it’s simply because my biology or abilities change. 

Consider Michael Phelps, for example. He is an impressive Olympic swimmer, and I’m sure that was by design. I may be wrong, but I highly doubt he accidentally became the most decorated Olympian of all time. However, at some point in his life, due to either natural biology or external causes, his lifestyle and career will likely change. I imagine, despite his best efforts, that a 70-year-old Michael Phelps would have a hard time qualifying for the Olympics.

Although he began pursuing the Olympic dream at a young age, over time he’ll have to contemplate the next stages in his life and choose whether to live by design or by default.

In the face of a progressive disease, I’ve had to rethink certain pursuits and contemplate this question more often than I want to. I’ve been with my current employer for almost 12 years, and by pursuing specific jobs and roles, I’ve earned a lot of what causes me to love my job. But my FA has certainly progressed over the years, causing my interests to change a bit and affecting my ability to perform certain functions.

I don’t have any drastic changes or adjustments on my radar for the near future, but contemplating this question helps me stay on track — a track I want to be on.

Whether it’s an episode that could be labeled a “mid-life crisis,” a change in progression, or simply the loss of an interest, checking in on what I want helps me live by design instead of by default. 

So much in life will change over time, especially when living with a rare disease, but that’s no good excuse for settling or choosing default mode.

Have you ever asked yourself this question? A disability may limit our original dreams of becoming an Olympian or a firefighter, but nothing can eliminate all our dreams. We may have to make adjustments. What adjustments have you made to pursue a life that’s by design? What strategies do you employ to avoid falling into, and remaining in, default mode? Let me know in the comments below.


Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


Jenny avatar


Thanks Sean, this was a really interesting article to read!


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