Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Serenity Tip: Working Toward Sustainability

Sustainability is one of those words that's starting to get a bad rap. Read it now, and there's almost a Pavlovian response: eco, green, kitchen grease powering your car... (not that there's anything wrong with that).

But I want to talk about it from a different perspective. For something to be sustainable, it has to be sane, somewhat moderate and have the ability to be self-perpetuating. In a way, this is another definition of serenity.

Take a look at your work life: In this culture, most of us are encouraged to take part in behaviors that are not really self-perpetuating. I talked to a freelance friend the other day who goes through these cycles: Incredibly productive, working 10 hour days and taking a few hours off on the weekends, getting a lot done, making deadlines, making money. And then she crashes, and can't work for weeks.

Everything is big: Big work, big rest. As a self-employed person you may be familiar with this cycle. And there's something natural about boom and bust cycles, even when it comes to productivity and energy.

But. There is another way.

This gets to that other dreaded buzz word: "balance." Balance can be a bludgeon people use to harangue those of us who put work first. But instead, think about it this way:

* How do you really want to spend your time?
* How are you spending your time?
* What parts of your life give you the most joy?

It could be that the answers to those three things are all completely different. Or it could be that they're pretty well in line.

Then ask yourself:

* How can I sustain those things I love doing?

For work, that could be nurturing your relationship with clients you particularly enjoy working with or who assign you projects that are really fulfilling.

And then there's the other part of sustainability, which is financial:

* How much money do you need to support those values and sustain them?

That means money for trips to see far-flung loved ones, or money to support the volunteer work you love. Or it means attracting high-enough-paying clients to knock off work at 5 o'clock every night. Or taking a month off every six months to recharge your batteries.

What does sustainability look like for you?

The scary part of looking at this stuff is that it forces your to get clarity about what all your expenses actually are. It can be a shock: How much does it really cost, if you're Christian, to buy all those Christmas presents, to attend your loved ones' weddings, to go on that romantic vacation with your partner? And then how much time does it take to sustain friendships and love relationships?

Put those together and you have a new way of figuring your minimum hourly income: Divide the amount of money you need to support the life you want ongoing, by the time you need to set aside for work after you account for the time you need for things outside work.

Is that number realistic?

Before you run off and find a full time job, it's possible that it's more possible than you think. You don't need to achieve it right now, but it's a goal, just like your monthly income targets and your target clients. Let it be there, and see where you can make just a little more of it work in your real life.

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