Collecting the tools of a sustainable, self-directed life

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19- This Autonomous Life

Last month on my drive from Texas back to New York, I stopped at my father’s place for a few days. Sitting across from me one morning, he took a slow sip of his coffee, smiled and said, “You know Rae-Rae, you are really something else.”

Laughing, he recounted how his stories about me shocked the locals he served on his recent missions trip to the Philippines. They couldn’t believe the tales of this conservative man’s single daughter traveling the world alone then moving to a small mountain town to build a home in the woods. He was tickled by their reactions because he, too, knew what it was like to be flabbergasted by me. I blushed at his pride.

“With all of your knowledge, talent and experience,” he said, “you could be making a real impact in the world. The sky’s the limit for you.”

And like that, the moment was over. Running my fingers over his words, I was pierced by one: could. With it, his encouragement became twinged with fear of unmet expectation.

Instantly, I felt an old insecurity rise up and ask defensively, Should I be making an impact? Is that even my responsibility?

But I shook it off, thanking my father, instead, for sharing his story—which felt so good to hear.

No matter what, I couldn’t let insecurity distract my vision of being an authentic, connected, beneficial, full and balanced person. And so I reminded my father—and myself—that I write to help others improve their lives and, for now, I hope for tangible impact in the future.

Days after the conversation, I was drawn back to that insecurity. No matter what I could or I should do, I had to be confident in what I’d chosen. I knew that my vision could be expressed through a sustainable lifestyle, but I hadn’t defined “sustainable” for myself.

After researching various theories, I decided that for me, sustainability must address my needs and aspirations, as well as those of justice, humanity, the environment, culture and economy, both now and in the future.

But I’m not there yet. I’m still learning how to maximize my land, camper, money, effort and time. If I focus on building a solid foundation today, I can address the things beyond it tomorrow. This “capacity to be aware of and direct one’s constrictive or expansive possibilities”—which psychologist Kirk Schneider calls centering—helps to keep me focused.

I know that fully realizing the person in my vision will take years—not months. And I know now that it may take just as long to produce “a real impact.” And I’m ok with that.

Sometimes the painful beauty of connection challenges us to practice and define our values. Even in an autonomous life, connection is key. We can’t live sustainably it on our own.

What about you? Where are you in building your autonomous life? How have you dealt with the challenge that connection brings?