One of the things that came up again and again when I was talking to people about the new edition of Change Management for Sustainable Development, was supporting ourselves as sustainability professionals and as change-makers. This diagram shows three key pillars which support us. It was in the first edition (2006) and felt even more essential when I wrote the second edition.
Support yourself - three pillars
Fortunately, many of the things which help you to do this will also bring you other benefits which are easier to justify – in traditional organisational and management terms – like developing new skills, developing others, networking with potential clients or suppliers.
Perspective is about learning from the doing. Every day, week or year you will have done things which pleased or disappointed you. Your actions may have moved things closer to a sustainable development path, or you may have tried and failed to do so. You don’t have to reflect on every single thing you do (or fail to do) every day. But taking some time out to think about what’s worked well and what’s not will help you to do better next time.
Perspective is also about stopping yourself from getting stuck. If you only ever see the big picture, then you’ll miss out on the chances to make some of the thousand little changes that will bring sustainability closer. If you only ever see the details, you’ll miss out on the mid-course corrections that are needed, and never see the progress you’ve made along the route. Sometimes the optimist needs to see the emptiness in the glass and the pessimist needs to see the fullness.
Give yourself a break
Marry perspective with giving yourself a break, by having a laugh at failures (see the wonderful Sustainable Stand-up) and celebrating achievements. Or take a holiday which combines relaxation with some other kind of activity or learning – music, drawing, bushcraft skills, yoga.
Time off and time out are essential – this is a long-distance path, not a sprint. Recharging your batteries is not self-indulgence, it’s part of the plan.
People recharge their batteries in lots of ways – listening to a great piece of music, going to a show, drawing, meditation, running, cooking a meal for someone, walking in the countryside. And there are things that can just make you feel good about yourself – finally finishing that niggling job around the house, doing a good turn for someone, getting in touch with a relative or old friend.
What are the things that feed your flame?
Open your schedule and book in one thing – even if it’s just 10 minutes’ worth – for each of the next seven days.
Make time-off possible by getting really good at delegating, engaging others in implementing things, and plan for your successor(s).
Inside or outside your organisation, find like-minded fellow travellers to share the journey with.
Talk and listen with these people to help you reflect and learn, and to give each other moral support.
And as you network – formally and informally – build up the kind of listening and coaching skills which mean that the conversations are useful and effective, rather than descending into being superficial or a moan-fest.
My own offering to build resilience, alongside one-to-one coaching, is the seasons of Still Conversations for Sustainability Leaders which let people think aloud, with supportive peers, about the hard questions of sustainability. These have been very special, with a quality of connection which is outside the normal superficial, competitive conversation you get at conferences and other events. More like a mini-retreat.
She is (still) sustainable
I'm also involved in the wonderful She is Sustainable – for women working in sustainability, in particular the version aimed at women with a couple of decades of work under their belts: She is Still Sustainable.
Other options for 'association'
Network with others who are also making change for sustainable development. As well as structured and informal opportunities to share experiences, networks can help when you need to build alliances or find people to give your efforts external credibility. You can find people like this in various ways. These are just some ideas:
Courses and conferences run by IEMA, the Schumacher College, nature retreats for sustainability professionals, or Terra Infirma’s Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group, monthly discussions organised in London by The Crowd.
Look after yourself!
However you do it, please look after yourself. You can't be your best self if you don't.