Oh, April — the month of spring awakening and stressful test-taking.
Indeed, right now it’s hard to think of much beyond May 4, but that day will come sooner than you think. It’s good to be emotionally prepared, especially for the soon-to-be graduated, as the days after commencement could be a lot more stressful than what is commonly assumed.
The relief of being free from papers and professors will carry you into August at least, but once those back-to-school sales start up, you’ll begin to question your purpose in life in a far deeper and more unsettling way for the very same reason you will be so relieved in May — no more grades.
There will be no more rubrics to judge your success or advancement as a person. Think about it: every year up to now you’ve advanced — leveled up, so to speak — and have had a GPA to prove your contribution to society.
Even if your grades weren’t stellar, you had at least built-in social or athletic milestones to rate your life performance. But no more grades equals no more easy sense of self-worth. From now on you have to earn your confidence through serious self-reflection and conscious action.
Even if your lone goal is money (and the more you make and acquire is your “worth” measuring stick) it’s likely you will still get to a point in life when you are fired, faced with deteriorating health, or just suddenly have a change of heart and are right back in the same disorienting position of not knowing.
There is hope, however. Meet Mike Brown — he is from Hampden (I went to high school with him) and is now living in downtown Boston making a decent salary as an engineer. Back in August, he realized the way he was living was slowly moving farther away from the way he thought he wanted.
“I was becoming a yuppie — above-average income, living downtown, going to work, having dinner, hanging out and going to bed and then going out on the town for fun,” Mike recalls.
He was slowly changing to fit that lifestyle but it wasn’t what he was truly interested in, which is reading and being outdoors. He felt like he was becoming a one-dimensional person. So he had read about lifestyle design and started a blog — theyoungurbanprofessional.com — to document his efforts to complete an open-ended series of 30-day lifestyle experiments.
“Yeah, sure I was raised in a carnivorous family but is that really how I want to be living?” he said. “Jury’s still out but I am figuring out what I want… Do I want to be a vegetarian? How would I know — I’ve never tried it.”
Since he began, Mike has tackled a wide variety of challenges, from living without the landfill — he built a successful, non-smelly worm compost and was able to cut his garbage down to virtually nothing — to doing one act of kindness a day or having a conversation on the T every day.
I was most impressed with the 100-item challenge where he actually cut down his possessions with a few caveats. Hygiene and shared items like his microwave didn’t count because he felt his girlfriend and roommates shouldn’t have to suffer. But he now can tell you exactly how many pairs of pants and shirts he has and doesn’t buy anything unless it’s to replace something else.
Some things were difficult, like a sentimental ukulele, but he realized it was really part of his “image of what I want myself to be good at,” not something he was actually using. That challenge really forced him to take an “analytical look at my life.”
He expounded: “I had been living in Boston for two years and had an overwhelming sense of settling down, acquiring stuff and all this nonsense that I didn’t need. It is really the anti-living in the city mentality. Just because I make money doesn’t mean I have to buy stuff with it.”
What does Mike Brown have to do with sustainability or your future?
A lot. Because changing our habits or taking an active interest in how we live our lives hasn’t been a priority lately. Our priority was the next test, the next game, graduation.
Once you graduate, you’ll have fewer excuses or external ways to measure yourself other than your paycheck, but as Mr. Brown found, that gets old pretty quickly. Doing a 30-day life experiment is cheap, easy and can permanently affect how you choose to live your life. Not all of Mike’s experiments have to do with sustainability, but taking a careful look at the effects of your lifestyle and actively trying to change your habits is the key to changing the path our whole society is on.
I encourage you to check out his entertaining blog. Ask yourself if you have the chutzpah to do your own lifestyle experiments.
Mackenzie Rawcliffe is a graduate student studying international affairs and public administration. She is the production manager for The Maine Campus.