A lot of people are going to read the title to this blog and think “Uh-oh, here comes farmer Colin to tell me about planting a vegetable garden on my roof and that I should only wear pants made of hemp. Cut your damn hippie hair and get a job!”
I will then explain “No, kind Sir/Madame, being sustainable doesn’t mean living in the forest and composting your own bodily waste. It means reducing your unnecessary consumption, increasing your productive output and generally not reaping what you can’t sow. It’s creating a personal ecosystem that functions without unbalancing the world around you. You don’t even have to ever touch dirt or see a bug if you don’t want to!” We’ll then share a carton of French Rabbit wine. Cheers!
Sustainability is not a dirty word or the savior-incarnate, as vocal proponents from both ends of the spectrum would have you believe. It is, however, an important component to absolutely anyone’s lifestyle, which is why you should include it in your lifestyle design regimen.
1. Sustain (sus-tain) to support, hold, or bear up from below
A life full of the richest foods, rarest wines, most expensive cars, and most luxurious travel would be great, but without putting in the effort required to pay for it all, it isn’t likely that you’ll be able to keep it up for long. To be sure that your lifestyle is sustainable, you’ll have to be bringing in at least as much money as you spend, and if you want your lifestyle to be steadily increasing in quality, you’ll be needing to increasing the scope of what you do in order to produce more value (more value = more money). If you cannot sustain your lifestyle, it will come and go and be something else completely: a vacation.
2. Sustain (sus-tain) to bear (a burden, charge, etc.)
You can plan on working 80 hours per week to achieve your goals, but unless you have the tenacity of a coke addict and the durability of a cockroach, you’ll start to fall flat all too quickly, no longer able to enjoy the rewards that you are working for and slowly poisoning your health, your sanity, and your plans (I’ll leave it up to you to determine which is the greatest tragedy). Make sure that the lifestyle you are designing can continue to operate past the first few weeks, otherwise you may find yourself crawling away from the crater that was your master plan with less than you started out with.
3. Sustain (sus-tain) to support (a cause or the like) by aid or approval
Most of the really successful people I know (and know of) make a point of including something bigger than themselves in their lives. Sometimes it’s a charity, sometimes it’s a grand goal that doesn’t yet have a physical manifestation, and sometimes it’s as simple as helping out a young sibling who’s had a rough time. Whatever the case may be, having a larger goal in life, even beyond your own personal massive missions, can sustain you when things are looking grim. It has been shown that people who have a cause (are really into their work, religion, or a pressing responsibility) live longer, even when on their deathbeds. Having something epic and separate from yourself to strive for can be a great burden, but sometimes it can be all that’s holding you up.
4. Sustain (sus-tain) to uphold as valid, just, or correct, as a claim or the person making it
Everyone – from Mother Theresa to the villain in a Disney movie – has a sense of good and evil. It may be naive to use such black and white terms (considering that everyone has a different definition for what these two words mean) but it’s important for the healthy continuation of you and your chosen lifestyle that you know what you believe, ethically. I’m not saying that you need to go out and chain yourself to trees or picket abortion clinics, but you should be aware of your own opinions, make sure that they stem from facts rather than inferences, and know that these beliefs will be impacting your everyday life whether you consciously think about them or not.
You will also have opportunities to take advantage of certain situations and elevate yourself at the expense of others. If you could make your planned lifestyle a reality by royally screwing over someone else, would you? I, personally, would recommend not, but this is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, knowing that in general what goes around comes around, and by trying to sustain your lifestyle in one way, you might become unsustainable in another.
5. Sustainable (sus-tain-a-ble) Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment
Back to the word that started this whole conversation! To have a sustainable lifestyle can mean lots of things (as illustrated above), but the end result is that your impact on the planet, on others and on yourself should be such that you can continue to live your life forever, without worrying that you’ll run out of trees, money, energy, momentum, or friends. It does, ideally mean that you will not consume more than you produce and that you will do your best to waste as little as possible, but that is just one small part of what sustainability encompasses.
To lead a sustainable lifestyle is to stand up and proudly say, ‘I care about the world and myself enough to want both to keep going for as long as possible. Also, I like expensive cars and rich foods, so here is a widget I invented that I’ll be selling on my website. It will increase everyone’s lifespan by 2 years. Paypal accepted.”
Design the life you want and then live it. Sustainably. Anything else is just vacation.
Update: April 23, 2016
“…the tenacity of a coke addict and the durability of a cockroach.” Probably my favorite phrase of everything I’ve written up to this moment.
I was focused on the idea of sustainability at this point, partly because it was what I was known for in terms of my design and business sensibilities, and partly because it was a term that was trending heavily, and prevailing blogger wisdom was that you should try to own keywords because that will bring more people in from Google.
Which is true, and still is today, in a sense. The modern internet is more about recommendations and legitimacy than keywords, though. The pervasiveness of ‘clickbait’ and ‘content farms’ has led to many algorithm shifts over the years, and today, at least, more Google-juice is given to sites that people seem to like, rather than those that are loaded with the right code. There’s no doubt still ways to trick the system to some degree or another, but those of us who write because we enjoy writing tend to build a site that handles that side of things for us so that we can focus on writing about tenacious coke addicts and durable cockroaches.