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Sep 16

Prioritize Your Sustainable Pursuits

Confusing ArrowsIt’s easy to get caught up in excitement when you’ve decided to make a change in your life and are moving forward.  Maybe you’ve decided to lose weight and get healthier or start a new career and create a better future for yourself.  In my case, I’ve decided to live a more sustainable life that will provide a better future for the generations to come.  If you’re reading this site, you’ve probably made a similar commitment.

As we know, there are a lifetime (and then some) of changes that we can make to maintain such a commitment.  Frugally Green is all about selecting and implementing the changes that will be beneficial to us.  At the same time, it’s worth recognizing that as we dig deeper and deeper into the culture, it’s natural to begin inserting our new awareness into more aspects of our lives, presumably aspects that might cost money.  This could come in the form of buying more organic and natural foods, clothing, or household supplies, purchasing the most efficient appliances or automobile, or installing renewable energy systems to reduce your dependence on coal and foreign oil.  It could literally be anything.  So what’s a guy or gal to do with all of these opportunities but limited financial resources to pursue them?

Priorities based on values

We make decisions every day about what to buy and what not t0, what to do and what not to do, who to associate with and who to leave be.  Consciously or unconsciously, we make these kinds of decisions as a result of our values and what we think is important.

There’s no reason to change how this process works when deciding on sustainable pursuits.  The key is to become more aware of how we make these decisions (funny how that keeps coming up) so that we can make them with strategy.  As mere mortals, we can’t pursue every green change that passes by us.  It’s completely impossible – too much for a person to bear.  For some reason, though, many people still try and burnout is one of the most often cited causes for failure.  They stretch themselves too thin and can’t keep up.  How unsustainable!

In order to find sustainable success, you need to decide what’s important to you and prove it.  Take a second and think of the three most important values you hold.  These values are the core of who you are.  No one should ever be able to contest these.  Now look at your daily actions towards a sustainable life.  Do they match up?

If you can answer yes, then maybe you’re dialed.  You are committed to your core values and you broadcast it with every breath.  If that’s you, then I applaud and am, admittedly, a little jealous.  I’m not there yet.

When I first decided that I was going to change my actions and start living more responsibly, I began devouring every tidbit of information I could about the subject (info addiction is something else I’m working on).  I wanted to change everything about me! Out with the old, in with the new.  Guess how long that lasted.

I couldn’t keep up with all the ideas that came my way and I certainly couldn’t afford them.  I was constantly chasing something new, changing course over and over again.  And for what?  A lot of the ideas I tried to implement were in aspects of life that I typically didn’t value highly anyway.  For example, I think gardening and pursuing a diet filled only with local organic foods is amazing.  I have immeasurable respect for those that take on such challenges, but it’s not for me.  I’m not a foodie.  I eat to stay alive and usually couldn’t care less whether I’m eating lobster bisque from a 5 star restaurant on the bay or a bean burrito from the taco truck down the street.  I cook huge batches of pasta and eat it for days straight as if it were going out of style.

Let go of the uninteresting

You might have noticed that I don’t write many articles about food or clothing.  Some might see this as a weakness – I’m losing potential visitors by not covering all the bases and keeping everyone happy.  I don’t see it this way.  I actually see it as a strength.  By focusing on what I really care about – consumption, consumerism, home improvement, personal development – I am able to consistently offer up the best articles and resources that I am capable of producing.  If I tried to fake it just to please those out there that want more of something that doesn’t interest me, it wouldn’t work.  They would see right through me, know that I half-assed it, and would probably be less interested in the site anyway.

I’d rather have an intensely interested small audience than a huge one without a strong focus.

I still think that being aware of the social consequences of what I eat and wear is important, but if I spend too much time, money and effort on this facet of life that is, frankly, boring to me, I take a lot of time away from opportunities to grow in leaps and bounds in the areas that I’m actually excited about.

I don’t have to be the best at everything.  In fact, I don’t even want to be.  I want to focus my energy on excelling at the things that naturally intrigue me.  Doing this makes it easy to change because it’s simply adding another layer to a dimension that I’m already in tune with.

An example of this, for me, would be waste management and recycling.  I’m already a fan of simplicity and reduction in my life, so getting excited about how to reduce the amount of waste I produce is easy.  I started out with simply learning what is and isn’t recyclable, but it has naturally progressed into so much more.  I now have a system set up making it easy for everyone in our house to recycle, I’ve built a home-made compost tumbler for compostable food scraps, learned to cook in a way that reduces wasted leftovers, and I now evaluate purchases based on the disposable packaging they come in.

Would I have been able to accomplish all that if it didn’t already fit into one of my life values?  Probably, but I would have had to work a lot harder for a lot longer to get to the same place.  I believe very much in hard work, but I believe even more in smart work.

Opportunities to outsource

A lot of personal development books give advice on ways to build and strengthen your weaknesses.  They help you bring them up to ‘acceptable’ performance levels in order to be a well-rounded individual.  That’s fine, but who wants to be just acceptable?

Consider for a moment, the idea of outsourcing your weaknesses and making your strengths incredible.  Outsourcing is not just for major corporations and when you do it in the sense that I’m talking about, it’s not a dirty word either.  I’m a do-it-yourselfer to the core, but I recognize where I’ll be wasting my time and energy trying to accomplish something I’m not interested in.  It takes courage to admit that you can’t do everything, but to be effective and efficient in your pursuits, you must.

I’ve found that teaming up with like minded friends and family is a good way to make sure that all the bases are covered without spreading yourself too thin.  Everyone is different and naturally predisposed to enjoying different types of activities, so why not make that work for you?  Maybe you know all about food and clothing and your partner is a whiz with public transportation.  We all need to eat and clothe our bodies (all present nudists exempt) and most of us need to get around, so why not trade responsibilities? You take on the grocery list and the thrift store hunting, and your partner can manage the transit passes and bike maintenance.

Think of the 5 closest people to you in your everyday life.  Now think of something you can offer them to make their lives easier and more sustainable and go give it to them. Then, think of something that each of those 5 could do for you to make your life easier and sustainable.  See where I’m going with this?  We do this kind of trading all the time in our relationships anyway, this is just an exercise to hone it to a more specific topic.

When you accept that you can’t and don’t need to be the best at everything and allow yourself to excel at what you really care about, you open yourself up to a whole new level of accomplishment – one that’s not bogged down or held back by a sense of responsibility to things that don’t really interest you.  Use that accomplishment to help others. Allow them the same freedom so that they can do similarly for you.

I’m reminded of my friend’s favorite Jerry Garcia quote, “If it’s not fun, why do it?”

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