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To Anyone Who’s Ever Had To Compromise

I’ve been planning to write this since I wrote about buying an iPad. I received some criticism for it (which was to be expected, given the nature of this blog), and that got me thinking.

Did I make the wrong decision? Did I abandon my morals? Am I a bad person? Have I fallen off the wagon?

Trying to live in a sustainable, ethical way isn’t always easy. There always seems to be compromise. It isn’t so much about the right thing to do, but the least bad thing to do.

I remember when I first stopped thinking about doing more, wishing I could do more, and decided to do something about it. I started doing postgraduate studies in Environmental Decision-Making, and I secured an internship at a UK charity called Tree Aid. Whereas at my previous workplace I was sometimes referred to as a tree-hugger (getting an internship at a charity called Tree Aid in no way helped this!), now through study and work I was surrounded by people who cared as much about sustainability, ethical consumerism, social justice and the environment as I did. Maybe they even cared more.

As someone who was just beginning this journey, I was expecting the people I was now exposed to to be hardened “greenies” (although what I thought that meant, I’m not sure). Yes, everyone was passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated. What I found surprising though, was all of them did things that I didn’t consider to fit with this image I had created.

There were the vegans who didn’t use animal products for environmental reasons, yet drank soy (soy production contributes to rainforest destruction).

There were families that wanted to connect more with nature so lived in the country, but had multiple cars to make this possible, including a four-wheel drive for the many trips into town for supplies, school and social outings.

There were people who would not step foot inside a department or high street store, and only bought ethical clothing, yet would shop for groceries at the supermarket.

There were people who took regular flights to visit projects or attend courses or seminars, or to travel to remote places to reconnect with nature and feel re-inspired.

At first I felt a little indignant. How can these people call themselves environmentalists when they fly/shop at Tesco/drive a gas-guzzling car?! Then I realised…they weren’t calling themselves anything. I was the one labelling them. They were just trying to do the best they could with the resources they had available to them.

Another thing I’ve slowly come to realise, is that you can be passionate about many things, but often they are in conflict with one another.

  • Believing in Fair Trade, wanting farmers in poor countries to be paid a fair wage, and wanting to provide a market for these products…whilst also believing in supporting local producers and the local economy, and avoiding high food miles.
  • Wanting to support organic, sustainable farming practices with free-range, grass-fed animals, whilst recognising that a vegetarian/plant-based/vegan diet uses less energy and is considered more sustainable.
  • Flying uses huge amounts of fuel, has a huge carbon footprint and is a massive source of greenhouse gases…yet it enables people who do great work on sustainability to travel and reach wider audiences to spread their message. It also allows people to connect with nature and remote places, or see social injustice and poverty, and feel inspired to fight for them.
  • Electronic gadgets mean mining, manufacturing processes that use chemicals, questionable working conditions and end products with short shelf lives that contribute to landfill…yet they are the main means of communicating the in 21st Century; if people want to connect, to inspire, to teach and to learn, these gadgets are necessary.

When faced with conflicts like this, we have to choose. How we choose depends on our situation, our resources, our experiences at that moment. It doesn’t mean we’d make the same choice next time. It doesn’t even mean we made the right choice this time – after all, making mistakes is how we learn, and grow, and get better at what we do.

When I bought my iPad, I made a decision, and I was faced with a choice. I wanted to be able to connect with other people online, and be a part of the sustainability online community. I wanted to be able to work online outside of home, and the freedom this gives me. I wanted to be able to read books, magazines and articles electronically, to learn more and feel inspired. The decision was to invest in a tablet. My choice wasn’t about whether this was the most sustainable thing to want; it was whether I could achieve this in a more sustainable way. Looking at options, there was no ideal solution, just a “least bad” one. That’s how I made my choice.

You know what? Sometimes, that’s how it is. We have to compromise.

Having to compromise sometimes doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my principles (tweet this). It doesn’t mean I care less about living a sustainable lifestyle, Fair Trade, social justice, landfill waste or plastic pollution.

It means I’m not perfect. But I’m doing the best that I can.

How to Get Less Busy

We’re all busy. We all pack our days and our lives with things to do, places to be, tasks to tick off, people to meet, and then lament the lack of time for all the other things we want to do, the things we didn’t get round to. We curse ourselves for not having got half of what we wanted done. Does this situation sound familiar to you?

I recently got the chance to do some extra hours at work, and I took the opportunity, thinking the extra money would be useful. So, for the last few weeks I’ve been working full time. But outside of work, I didn’t want to change anything. I still wanted to write blog posts, and read what everyone else has been up to. I still wanted to cook everything from scratch, take my own lunch to work every day, and make sure we were eating proper meals at night. I still wanted to keep things plastic- and convenience-free. I still wanted to take photos to post on instagram. I’m also doing a short course, so I need to make some time for studying. Did I mention that my job has a killer commute? 2+ hours daily. Oh, and outside all of that, life was going on. Friends were having birthdays, I had friends to catch up with who were coming back from travelling, others who are imminently leaving to go travelling. There were interesting events happening in the community. Family commitments. My boyfriend (completely reasonably) wanted us to spend some time together.

Of course, I tried to do everything. On one level, I was relatively successful. I juggled a million things and micro managed my time so any spare second was filled with something productive. But I felt stressed out, tired, and fed up. My boyfriend and I seemed to have endless conversations about chores; who should be doing them, why they weren’t being done, whether the world would really end if we didn’t wash the tea towels for another few days, whether it was acceptable to eat the same thing for dinner five days in a row. I knew I was making less healthy choices, and that made me frustrated. How on earth does everyone else manage to cope, when I don’t?

Then it struck me (or more accurately, my boyfriend pointed out) that other people aren’t coping so much as compromising. When people are busy, they’ll go out for dinner, or get takeaway. They’ll buy convenience foods. They’ll put friends and family on hold, maybe. Or they’ll continue to try to manage everything until they compromise their health, or their relationships, or just burn out.

My problem was, I wasn’t willing to compromise. On anything. I still wanted to do all the things I did when I had more time, except with far less time.

As I wasn’t getting any more hours in the day, and I clearly didn’t have enough time to do everything, I either had to compromise, or drop something. They were my only choices. It may seem like a daunting choice, but you know what? Deciding what to do wasn’t nearly as hard as I imagined.

Here’s what I did.

Step 1: Figure out what is important to you

This was easy for me. My relationships, my family and my friends. My commitment to living as sustainably as possible (no nasty plastic packaging or convenience foods). My desire to eat proper, healthy, balanced meals. My need to see things through that I start. Your priorities may be the same or they may be completely different to mine. Either way, map them out.

Step 2: Figure out how your spending most of your time

I was spending 40 hours at work, as well as 10+ hours commuting. Out of my week, that is a lot of hours… but working didn’t feature in my first (priorities) list. Neither did money. That’s not to say I don’t need to work at all, or that the extra money isn’t useful, but right now, neither of these are a priority for me. The part-time hours I was working before were enough to pay the bills, and we aren’t saving for anything specific, so those extra hours I was working weren’t doing much to improve my life. In fact, they were taking time away from all the other things that I wanted to do, and making me feel stressed.

Step 3: If they don’t match up already, take some steps to get them aligned

Are you spending the majority of time doing the things that you want (or need) to be doing – the things that you prioritised in Step 1? We should be spending more time on the things that are important to us. Once I realised this, I found it a whole lot easier to figure out what needed to be dropped, and where I needed to concentrate my time. Starting next week, I’m going back to my part time hours, which should give me an extra 10 hours to focus on what is important to me. Maybe in the future my priorities will change, but for now, this is how I’m creating space in my life for the things I want to do.

Your priorities and commitments will no doubt be different from mine, but the process is the same. If your situation is such that you can’t drop things completely, think about compromising. Devote more time to the things that matter, and let the rest take the hit.

Our time is precious. We can’t get any more hours in the day, so we need to use our time wisely.

“Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” ~Brian Andreas