8 Lessons Learned In My Journey To Sustainability!
Lesson 1 – Go at your own paceThe first lesson I learned is that you should go at your own pace. Listen to yourself and trust the process. Remember, this is a lifelong journey you are starting, so you want to make sure you feel confident in the changes that you’re making. There was a lot of rhetoric I’ve heard about the right or wrong way to do things – and some people made me feel bad about going all-in – but I chose to listen to myself, be aware of my goals, and trust my process. You don’t need to change everything at once. Some people take on too much too quickly, feel anxious or overwhelmed, and can’t sustain the change. For these people incorporating small changes, one at a time, can allow one sustainable habit to build on another – like a domino effect where each piece falls into place. On the other hand, some people like me make significant life changes all at once and overhaul their habits entirely. For these people, changing many habits at once can ensure that your new habits support each other and you don’t fall back into old patterns, like giving yourself a whole new deck of cards to play with.
Your pace can always changeChange comes different for everyone – and leaving behind old consumer behaviors and habits that don’t serve you can be challenging.
Deepak Chopra said, “In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.”Maybe you’re stagnant in your journey, and you need a significant change, or perhaps you need to slow down and dive in deeper to one thing at a time. This lesson tells us that your pace can change at any point as long as you listen to yourself and trust that many intrinsic rewards will come from making these changes and living a sustainable life.
lesson 2 – set goalsThe second lesson is to set goals. I’ve found that setting goals are crucial in any aspect of life. Goals help us achieve new behaviors, guide us in a positive direction, and keep the momentum going along the way. They allow you to see the progress you’ve made so that you feel proud of yourself and your decisions, and they help you to know where you still need a little push. One of the goals I set for myself was to phase out all products that I touched or consumed that I couldn’t fully understand what each ingredient was and switch to all-natural ingredients. I’m two years in, but I still haven’t entirely done this. BUT because I had a goal, I know that I’ve made major progress, and it helps me remember what I am working towards if I need to buy a new replacement product.
enjoy the journeyAs a caveat to this lesson, you shouldn’t work so hard towards your goal that you forget to enjoy the journey along the way. Imagine your progress milestones as road signs along the way of a scenic route. While you are on the way, don’t put your blinders up and b line straight towards the goal. Let yourself imagine the life you will lead and the emotions you will feel when you finally achieve it – taking pleasure in the small things and having fun along the way. When you get to your destination, don’t stop and turn back around, but relish in your accomplishments and then explore what inspires you and make new goals.
Lesson 3 – Connect to what drives youMy third lesson amplifies my last example, which is to continue connecting to what drives you. Why did you get in the metaphorical car to begin with? What triggered you to start on your sustainable journey? In Episode 21, “How to create habits that stick,” we talked about finding your WHY – or the force that keeps you sticking to your new habits or goals no matter what circumstances arise. Have your WHY hanging from your rearview mirror so that you don’t forget what made you begin in the first place. When you connect to what drives you, you will be more likely to keep going and not only to see the hard work that you put into it (because it is tough sometimes) but also that these new changes can be deeply rewarding. And I’ve learned that part of re-connecting to what motivates or inspires you regularly also comes with a change in your language. For instance, I’m a vegan, and I feel strongly about why I am one. But instead of saying “I can’t” eat this or that, I learned that by saying “I don’t, or I won’t” eat something reconnects me to my values and makes me feel in control of the decisions that I’ve made instead of feeling like I’m missing out.
Lesson 4 – You don’t need it all
I learned that doing the first three – trusting my process, my goals, and my WHY allowed me to block out the noise created by social influence and greenwashing (or misinformation about a product’s sustainability) and stay true to myself. So the fourth lesson is to ignore the notion that you need all of the eco-friendly or sustainable products to actually be sustainable.
While some tools and products make complete sense for helping you achieve your goals – or maybe you just really freaking want a specific gizmo or gadget – remember that you don’t need it to be sustainable or viewed as such.
We know our most incredible resources are ones that have already been made. The 6 R’s of sustainability – Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rot, and Recycle – are the golden rule to make sure you’re not falling into a marketing ploy that makes you falsely believe you need more to reach your goals or to fit in.
Instead, take the time to evaluate a product and see if it really will fit your life and values, so you feel confident when you do invest in a product. Doing this has made me value the items I already own much more and take care of the new items I buy even more so that they can continue to last me a lifetime.
Lesson 5 – Your journey is unique!The fifth lesson is one of the most important to remember – your journey is unique. So many external forces tell us what we should be doing – social media, the news, activists, family, and more. But contrary to all of this information – remember that there is no right way or the best way to be sustainable, and your journey will undoubtedly be unlike anyone else’s. Even what I am telling you here – with the insight from lessons I learned, I want you to take what serves you and apply it to your own journey. As easy as it is to compare your journey with others – try to take an observer’s perspective – glean what you can, whether it be information, inspiration, or insight, and stay true to yourself. We don’t all have the same access to resources, the same time, the same circumstances, the list goes on – so remember that your journey is unique, and you should be proud of it.
Lesson 6 – Give yourself graceThe 6th lesson is something I feel like I’ve said a million times because I’ve lived it and don’t want anyone else to feel the same way – remember to give yourself grace. You will not be perfect. Mistakes are inevitable, so don’t feel guilty about them or shame yourself. Understand that mistakes are a part of life, learn from them, and at the end of the day, know that you’ve done your personal best, and that’s all that matters.
Give others graceThe hidden or sub lesson I learned from this is that you shouldn’t make anyone else feel guilty. As I just said, we are all on unique personal journeys – so while you might cringe at someone not bringing a reusable bag to the store or throwing away something you wouldn’t – it’s not your place to judge or give unsolicited advice on how they should live their life. We have to lift each other up, encouraging each other to make good decisions for our planet if we want this to work. The saying goes – you catch more bees with honey than vinegar. You will be more successful in encouraging people on their journey if you are kind in your approach and set an example instead of making people feel shame or guilt for their choices. I’ll be candid – This was especially hard for me at first. Even though I didn’t say it aloud to others – I did feel a distaste towards people doing things that I knew contributed to the harm of people and the planet. Again, I had to remind myself to lead by example, and when those thoughts began to bubble up, I filled the space with the thought that we are all human and I don’t know anyone’s circumstances other than my own, which helped those feelings to subside and pushed me to see more of how we were alike instead of different – which in itself made me more empathetic and gave me peace of mind.
Lesson 7 – You are not aloneThe 7th lesson I learned is that I am not alone. You are not alone. Although living a sustainable lifestyle is a personal choice that can feel lonely at times, we all have our roles to play in a larger whole. We all have the same common goal of living more sustainably for people and the planet – and under that umbrella, know that there are so many people who share the same passions as you. Whether it be social justice, protecting animal welfare, reducing plastic waste, anything – you should feel some peace knowing that your people are out there. We have our interests, and others share those interests. Throughout many of my interviews for this podcast, a common theme reveals that community is worth its weight in gold, and it is necessary to help solve the world’s crises. Building this community of like-minded people has been amazing, and I know we will only grow.
Lesson 8 -Everything is interconnected
And the 8th lesson I’ve learned in my journey to sustainability is just how much EVERYTHING is interconnected. True sustainability involves a thread that is divinely intertwined between every person and everything on this planet.
If you want environmental justice, you also have to address everything that intersects it – such as social justice and organizational justice. Sustainability shouldn’t be viewed as a Venn diagram showing us where we meet in the middle, but a web with infinite connections drawing us, nature, all of our issues, and our victories together.
Chief Seattle said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
Our actions affect the whole. We can’t rise up and truly be sustainable unless we all rise. To do this, we have to help each other. We have to look through the lens of our fellow human beings – our neighbors and learn and lean on one another. We have to recognize that we are in an interdependent relationship with nature. We are nature.
Something to grow onAnd I think the final lesson here for this week’s something to grow on is that there will always be more lessons to learn – more to grow on, if you will. Knowing this means we should have magnificent hope for change.
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