Whether are not you are interested by global debates on climate change, Peak Oil, overpopulation, financial, economic, food and social crises; whether you are in favour or against any systemic paradigm change; whether you believe that technology will save us or not from any doom-and-gloom future; or whether you think that it’s too late “we’ll hit the wall anyway”; you probably sense that there is something wrong in the society where you live and work. I’m not talking of the Hollywood trend of making apocalyptic blockbusters or the ‘2012’ end-of-the-world mania. But simply of the changes that you may be perceiving around you.
It’s likely that you intuitively feel that, somewhat, things are not right. It may be that you believe that “things are not as nice as they use to be”; that there is too much injustice, pessimism, inequalities, ignorance, loss of values or else; or that prices are raising too much; or that the vegetables you buy are not as tasty as they used to be; or that it’s abnormal that in our societies of abundance, there is so much poverty. Or perhaps you are not living the life you wish you were; not living in the place you want; or you are being too stressed, anxious, or simply dissatisfied with your work, family or social life. So, you feel there is ‘something’ wrong but you don’t know what to do about it; or that you’ve started a heaps of different initiatives without necessarily sustaining them.
It can be anything really, anything that makes you wanting some sort of change, or improvement in and around you. Well, as Gandhi famously said, “be the change you want to see.”
The ‘transition networks‘ – which contribute to a frictionless passage from oil dependency to local resiliency, very convincingly argue – and put into action these arguments – that it’s about changing our approach to food, education, economy, transport, building, governance, and energy. For instance, you probably already participate to the smooth transition from growth driven industrialised societies to post-natural resources depletion ones. You may be doing small steps into transition and not even know it. It begins with simple changes like switching to energy-efficient lightbulbs, recycling more, buying local, turning down the thermostat a few degrees, saving water, composting, eliminating plastic, using reusable grocery bags, and taking public transport when possible.
I’d add to the list that it’s also about you. Indeed, you shape your environment as much as you are shaped by it.
Imagine the world you would like to live in – at your own personal level. No seriously, do it. What would (your) life look like if things were going the way you wanted? As this post may reveal, I’m in the midst of answering that question. And simply taking the time to think about it gives me a lot of energy. What would ‘my’ world look like then? As I see it, I’m settled somewhere with CJG, not too far from our family and friends; our life is in-line with our values; we live simply, in a way that allows a balance between physical and intellectual activities, such as carpentry, gardening with teaching and researching; we are surrounded with people who share such commitment and are also involved in making it happen – on a daily basis. We live in a society where each ‘unit’ (be it a city, town, village, etc) is organised in accordance with the local cultural, social, economic specificities – yet open to global exchanges, and which is driven by sustainability and open-minds – not profit and extreme individualism.
Such ‘dream’ may look a bit too hippy-esque or unrealistic to some, but it’s probably because they aren’t aware of the local positive dynamics that already pop up all around the world (think transition networks; but also permaculture; slow movement, etc) and that already are part of a smooth systemic transition. They also ignore Bourget’s, a French author, wisdom: “Live as you think, otherwise you’ll end up thinking as you live.” In my ‘ideal’ world, I’d certainly face daily struggles, but I feel that the environment I would grow in, and the personal choices I would make, would contribute greatly in knowing how to deal with these without interrupting the flow.
To achieve this, experience has shown me that two key words are useful guides: balance and transition. I’m no psychologist, no personal development consultant, but whatever the ideal world you imagine, common sense tells me it’s preferable to be a balance between realism and idealism. Something different, yet achievable. Something that inspires you and gives you energy, but towards which the choices you make on a daily basis actually get you closer.
However, as inspiring imagining this ‘ideal’ world is, it is not enough to sustain the wearing effect of time. Two elements are crucial in supporting the initial motivation: planning for the change, and being in the right environment. The planning phase is crucial: it’s about setting realistic goals, long-term and short-term deadlines, acknowledging the probable obstacles that will be faced – due to our own weaknesses or due to our environment -, and developing an array of options to overcome these steadily. Planning for living in this ideal world in five years is realistic. Considering making the big change(s) in our life in about a year time will help in actually getting there. Using monthly objectives to gradually change your environment is key to keep the momentum. Dreaming everyday about it is enjoyable and helps you believe in it. Said otherwise, the initial motivation that comes with imagining this ideal world won’t be enough to carry us there, but is perfect to set up the conditions for it.
Now, let’s put this into practice: let’s say you’ve always dreamed to do another job. Although you are dissatisfied with your current career, you feel you can’t do much about it. There are plenty of so-called ‘good’ reasons not to change the job after all. It’s better to have a crap job than to be jobless; you have a mortgage to pay; you have responsibilities towards your family, etc… Perhaps you are also afraid of changing it – or more simply a bit too comfortable in it. Well consider the (probably increasingly) negative effects of staying in this job compared to the sense of achievement and daily pleasure you will derive from the new job… The first thing then, is to acknowledge the displeasure of the current job, and to decide to do something about it. You either know what sort of job you are attracted to, or need to search around – wandering the web, meeting people, etc. You may decide to start activities (such as vocational training, volunteering somewhere to learn the skills, etc) in your free time in order to gradually getting the skills that your future job requires. If you don’t have enough free time, you may ask your current boss to work less, perhaps part-time or perhaps taking altogether some time off specifically for implementing this career change. Gradually, by getting more information about this new job, by meeting people you’ll get more confident that it’s the right choice, and that you can do it. You will at some point be sending applications – perhaps after accepting that you may have to start at a lower level than you currently are – but not doubt that with your enthusiasm, experience and maturity you’ll quickly grow in this new job! Finally, you will at some point resign from your current job, either to move straight into the new one, or to take some few months ‘off’ to build this transition. Eventually, there is little doubt you’ll get into this new job. Indeed, by focusing on objectives, we tend to undervalue processes: during this transition you will face ups and downs, but you will doubtlessly considerably grow during the transition phase. You will have access to information and opportunities that you can’t even imagine now; you will meet people that will be happy to help you. You may go through phases of anxiety, but you’ll also feel calmer by knowing that you are ‘on track’.
In reality however, it is likely that there are more than one thing that you’d like to see changing in your life: for instance in addition to changing job, you might dream to be living elsewhere; being in a meaningful relationship; being fitter; stop being selfish; and stop smoking. Well, the interdependency between all of these is actually a blessing: in my experience and as crazy as it sounds, it’s actually easier to adopt a holistic approach in gradually changing your life than working narrowly on improving one aspect of it. The good thing is that by gradually setting the right environment, one finds the resources in oneself.
Nietszche was right: “become who you are.”