"THAT'S sustainability!" said my friend Debbie Hillman, while we were having lunch at Noyes Street Cafe in Evanston two Fridays ago, in between the two classes I am teaching now at my old stomping grounds, Northwestern. "Sustainability is all about balance. Write about spending time with Zack for your next blog post." And since I tend to do what Debbie advises, here's that post.
In fact, I had been thinking about my new work situation and sustainability, but from a financial perspective. Earlier this winter, I watched a (not very great) movie called "The Company Men," starring Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones, in which Affleck is laid off from a lucrative job in the shipping industry and struggles to find a new job. In the meantime, his family loses their home, and Affleck goes through an identity crisis and, of course, discovers that there is more to life than working and money. The movie's message is predictable and trite. But it made me realize that my work is all about diversity as a key component of sustainability; and this diversity is just as crucial from a financial perspective as from a cultural and biological one. To put it simply, I felt good that my income now is more diverse, coming from multiple sources. This felt more sustainable for the long-term, because if one job falls through, I have others. It also felt more freeing: like I am more in charge of my life and my destiny, rather than being dependent on an institution or a particular supervisor/boss.
My mind always wanders back up to the bigger picture issues--so I have been trying also to think about my work, Zack, and Ben Affleck as they relate to the question of happiness. This link has been partly a personal question. How much work can I take on, as an independent contractor, without going out of my mind? As more work comes in, should I pay someone to help me with it--even though I'm not yet at the income level I aspire to be at? Will I be happier if I get help and have more free time, or if I work more and can start contributing again to Zack's college fund?
In thinking through these personal questions--and continuing to work with my partners and clients, including UIC, ICA, and now the US Green Business Council-Illinois Chapter, to define what a sustainable community looks like--I have found a few thought-provoking articles and presentations exploring connections between personal happiness, sustainability, and climate change, largely focused on consumption. Check some of them out:
Surprising Facts About the World's Happiest People (Chicago Defender)
I especially encourage you to take the time to watch Juliet Schor's presentation from The Garrison Institute's Climate, Mind and Behavior symposium that I attended last year. She makes the important point that the type of question I am grappling with about how much to work is not just a personal question about happiness, but key to addressing climate change as well--because research has proven that reducing work hours (and increasing them for people who are un- or under-employed) is a
key variable for achieving sustainability, not to mention getting the labor market back in balance.
And then please share your thoughts:
What does sustainability look like in your life?
How do you aspire to achieve more balance--and more happiness?