Sustainability - management fuzzword or lifestyle?

Written in January 2023

When I started the journey of finding work in the area of delivering autism training/doing advocacy I used the word sustainable quite a lot. Turns out I have a different personal definition to others (what a surprise!), so I had to explain myself frequently when I talked about finding sustainable work.


Some people thought they couldn't offer me sustainable work because it would be piecemeal and not regular, but that, to me, is sustainable because it puts me in charge of my life balance. Many people think sustainable is something that provides a regular income stream, or that requires the same number of hours every week or month. Sustainability, it seems, has become synonymous with regularity – at least in the world of work.

Sustainability is a term also used to talk about the impact of our actions and behaviours on the environment, it's a way of expressing the idea that we ought to balance what we take from the natural world with what we give back. Companies looking to shore up their green (or sustainable) credentials might plant trees or invest in other carbon capture methods. On a personal level we might switch to re-usable straws, buy a re-usable to-go coffee cup, or buy a metal water bottle to replace plastics. I certainly do what I can to live an environmentally sustainable life, and aim to do no harm wherever possible. I even volunteer with a conservation group so I put my beliefs about sustainability into practice.


When it comes to how I run my own life, sustainability is overarching theme of what I'm trying to create. I've had a cycle of repeated burnouts and periods of very poor mental health, and the frequency and severity of these episodes was unsustainable – I couldn't have a life with any sort of “quality” about it and something needed to change.

So I set about ensuring that everything I took on, each task or burden, was sustainable and balanced with something else in my life. This balance isn't achieved by allotting equal time to certain activities, however, because I need more time to myself (or doing activities that relax and/or energise me) than I can spend on burdensome tasks. In effect, I have to balance the burdensome (or heavy) tasks with a greater mass of relaxing/energising (light) ones.


This means I have to think carefully about the impact of each new activity on my life. Even things that I enjoy come with an element of stress (whether it's traveling, dealing with people, juggling food intake due to an altered daily schedule to do The Thing... it's never straightforward). A recent change I made was starting yoga. I kept seeing social media ads for yoga programs and, as a person with chronic health conditions, it's something that has been frequently suggested by well-meaning meddlers as the panacea I've been looking for.

I figured though, that if I could find a good yoga video on YouTube, I could try it at home (like I do with a lot of my other exercise) and it would replace the stretching or pilates I would otherwise have been doing. The balancing act was easy here, because I'm using the same time slot and motivation for an activity that gives me the flexibility and core strengthening exercises I needed.


What I did not expect was to get much more out of the yoga than I did from anything else, and since the beginning of the year (and I'm writing this on the 11th) I've done it every day, following the 30 day yoga journey with Adriene. It's given me energy when I've needed it, strength when I've felt unwell, and relaxation when I've needed to de-stress. There are certain sessions I'll definitely revisit when I need a particular effect. Overall, it has made me feel stronger, more physically balanced and my dodgy hip has been so much less painful it's hard to believe it.

I'm not going to become one of those people who bangs on about how yoga changed their life, or who suggests it to everyone who has literally any physical problem as the answer to their prayers, but it was a sustainable activity to integrate into my routine, that I feel will help me maintain a sustainable life in the long term.

So while I'm still looking for work, I am going to take this time while I wait for certain kettles to boil to enjoy the sustainable routine I have been able to establish. I am going to recognise that I have done really well to attain this state so soon after the bad times I had over the Christmas period, and recognise that I was able to do that as a result of all the work I have put in over the past year to get myself to a more resilient state with a more sustainable, enjoyable life. And that, for now, is enough. I am enough.


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