The pandemic has been driving many of us stir-crazy, although obviously it goes far beyond the usual kind of stir-crazy.  The pandemic, and its lockdowns and travel restrictions, and some people’s theories about the pandemic and about the government’s response to it, and above all else the shrinkage of social interaction have worn a lot of us down.  Finally though, it seems that we may be starting to emerge out the other side of it, and that perhaps life will be returning to something like how it was before.

But if you can remember back to before the pandemic restrictions, then you may recall that there were plenty of things that drove you crazy before any of us ever heard of COVID-19.  So while I’m glad that the worst of the COVID-19 era seems to finally be behind us, I’m thinking that “getting back to normal” is not quite what I want to aim for.  To stay motivated, healthy, and sane, I hope to do a few things differently to how I did them before.  So this installment of the blog lists a few practices I intend to observe going forward to help me stay sane.  Perhaps you’ll also find some of them useful.

 

Tips for the sustainability professional to stay motivated and sane

Find time to reflect and think

The pressures of implementation, reporting, and logistics—details, details, and other details—are like a gas that expands to fill the volume of whatever container they find themselves in.  They’re often urgent and necessary, but seldom profoundly important.  So each week, ideally each day, protect some time from tasks and details, and make space to reflect and to think about the big questions you’re concerned with.  I mention reflection here separately from thinking because I believe that the looking backward, taking stock, and considering what one has learned is a different mental task than synthesizing, identifying new connections, and developing new ideas.  Both are important and they complement each other, but both are too often sacrificed under the pressures of attending to details.  Practically, finding time to reflect and think might mean doing some reading, and it might mean doing some writing, but make sure the reading and writing don’t themselves expand to take away all the reflecting and thinking time.

 

Get out to the field from time to time

In all likelihood, you can never completely escape the work in the office.  But if you can balance the administration and other petty tasks with some time for big-picture work—reflecting and thinking and dreaming—then you’re well on your way to keeping your mind stimulated.  But as well as reflecting, thinking and dreaming, it’s also important to step away from the intellectual work to observe, engage and breathe.  To do this, get out of your office and go to the field.

Make time to be out on the land and make time to engage with communities on their turf. Even if directly observing ecosystems or directly talking to community members is not part of your job description, find an excuse to do it Click To TweetThat meeting you need to attend that’s being held in someone else’s office, or in a hotel, or in conference centre doesn’t count.  I mean actually get out to the field.  Make time to be out on the land and make time to engage with communities on their turf.  Even if directly observing ecosystems or directly talking to community members is not part of your job description, find an excuse to do it.  If your job is supervising the people who observe ecosystems or talk to community members, or even if it’s supervising the people who supervise the people who observe ecosystems or talk to community members, then finding an excuse to go shouldn’t be that difficult.  You can say that you need to see what they’re doing and “supervise” them.

 

Or at least get out of the of the office (including the home office)

Unfortunately, the COVID thing isn’t quite over yet and for many of us, going for field work may still be some weeks or months away.  If that’s the case for you, then this one is even more important, although you should be doing it whether a pandemic is limiting your field work or not.  That is to say, get out of your office or your house, and go for walk, sit in a park, look at the sky.  Every day.

 

Take a long-term perspective

One of the things that can drive you crazy is the dysfunctional short-sightedness of the political and economic systems that we operate in and the people who seem to run them.  The small contribution that you make through your work can sometimes feel irrelevant, as the giant spinning gears that are destroying our planet keep grinding along.  Meanwhile, we’re generally forced to work toward sustainability within the context of two- or three-year project timelines.  Securing five years of stable funding often seems like a rare luxury.  It should come as no surprise if this drives you crazy, because it’s insane.

The transformation that is needed is one that is taking place over decades, not years.  But I think it actually is underway.  And a societal transformation that takes place over decades is one whose movement is measured in capacities, ideas and worldviews, not in projects and programs.  It’s not that we should abandon the short- and medium-term objectives that we try to tackle with our projects and programs.  What I’m saying is that making a contribution to, and paying attention to, the long-term transformation will help keep you sane on those days when it seems your projects and programs aren’t making a difference.

 

Look to the Youth

This one, I suppose, is an extension of taking a long-term perspective.  When it feels as if you’re banging your head against a brick wall of political inertia, vested interests, and short-sighted leaders, look to the youth for inspiration.  Inspiring stories of young people taking matters into their own hands to address the challenges of the day are not difficult to find, and can help you recharge your hope batteries.

 

Epilogue

As usual, with this blog, although I’m writing as if trying to communicate something to you the reader, in truth a big part of why I do this is to carry on a conversation with myself as I try to figure things out.  I find it helpful to write advice to myself in third person.  It sounds more authoritative to have my writer voice tell me, “Get out of the office sometimes”, than it does to sit and think (or even to say out loud), “I’m going to get out of the office sometimes”.  Ironically, I find that talking to myself is an effective way to stay sane.  Nevertheless, my straightjacket is still folded up neatly in the bottom drawer—I don’t promise that I won’t need it from time to time.