I love reading. If you know me, you know that I am one of those people who believes that one of the cornerstones of every home – my interior design strategy, if you’d like to get fancy about it all – ought to involve bookshelves and of course, books. In fact, the bookshelves are negotiable, because you can get creative about using other “stuff” to function as “holders and presenters” of books.
I am not one of those people who believe in buying books for decoration alone, however. Books are meant to be read, discussed, given away after several glasses of wine and a passionate discussion about the theme covered in a beloved text, re-read and referred to when the main memory fails and only a waft of recollection remains, along with a clear visual of the design of the book cover, if not the title of the book itself.
I tell you this as a precursor to how I stumble across quotes. In books. And the quote that quite literally stopped me in my tracks on Saturday and that may change my life if it keeps weaseling its way into my brain is this:
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” ― Socrates
One minute I was thoroughly enjoying Michael Finkel’s tale of Christopher Knight’s 20+ years living alone in the woods in his book, “The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit “, and then I was pondering the barrenness of a busy life.
Barrenness. Busy, Life.
Powerful words. And ones that I instantly knew to be true. I can say this as someone who seems to have created an extraordinarily busy life.
I am constantly coming up with new ideas and instead of letting them be, I turn them into projects, push them into the world, force them to live and breathe, and sometimes they survive long enough to continue without me when I abandon them for the next interesting idea. I run four very different “businesses” (all under my name, but all carefully branded with vastly different audiences and offerings) in Austria alone, another in the UK, and a dormant company in South Africa. I organize several events every week to bring people together or to market new projects. I volunteer. I have a couple of retained projects that take up time. I write a few blogs, am learning (endlessly learning) three instruments, speak to my sister every day, deal with family dramas in South Africa and Austria, and have a variety of other hobbies like gardening and sauce-making and sewing that get whatever attention I have at the time.
Oh. And I’m married. To the most amazing and infinitely tolerant man. Who ought to have been at the top of the list with the tag “spending time with my husband”, but who instead seems to appear at the end of this long list of busy “things to do” that I have created for myself. Priorities, right?
The question is: is the busy-ness fulfilling?
Well, that was the question I asked myself.
Sometimes it’s nice to be busy. It’s a bit of a status symbol in today’s busy world. It gives me options –if I don’t like A, not to worry because I can fall back on B or C, and if it all goes to hell in a handcart, that’s okay because I can find ways to be busy again.
In reality, though, as soon as I saw the word “barren” in the same sentence as “busy life”, my tired brain did a little leap.
Because in reality, being busy doesn’t make me happy, although it’s stimulating and exciting and energizing.
Given the choice of being busy or…
…sitting beside the river with a book, my sun hat and a cup of tea, watching the people go by, either alone or with my husband, sharing a bit of eye contact and dipping into my book or exchanging a sentence or two…
Well. I’d choose the latter. Every single time.
Given the choice of trying to market and manage 5-6 businesses, multiple projects and life or…
…choosing only one business, one side project, one hobby and giving them each attention but not so much attention that I spend my waking hours making lists of things to do…
Well, I’d choose the latter, if only I was brave enough to whittle things down.
Becoming aware of the barrenness of a busy life
Perhaps this quote is the much-needed kick-up-the-backside that I’ve needed.
For years I’ve talked about focus, and when my dad died, I decided that I would streamline my life, my work, my plans. This lasted for about two months where I evaluated all my interests in a semi-crisis state! And even more recently, I was thinking about this in terms of social media accounts – what right-minded individual needs 20+ social media accounts that they seldom use?!
Coming across the wise words of Socrates has certainly made me think, but this time, I have decided to act. I’m working on a plan. I hope to update you soon.
In the meanwhile
How’s your life looking? Barren and busy? Just full enough to be fulfilled?
I hope it’s the latter. And if not, I hope that this quote gets you thinking, too.
Although I swore off news for a month, I only lasted 14 days. The good news is that not much in the world has changed, and that I have more time, so I can easily make another attempt starting tomorrow. But that’s another story.
The featured item on the BCC’s website today was:
Trade tariffs: Chorus of condemnation intensifies
Massive US tariffs have come into force as condemnation of the Trump administration’s move intensifies.
I read the article and whilst shaking my head at Trump, it occurred to me that perhaps there is an upside to his import penalties. As a fan of transition and of the lovely Rob Hopkins, I am continually taking steps to live a more sustainable life. I am not perfect, it has to be said, but the journey of a lifetime starts with one step and all that, and one of my steps is to not only grow more of my own produce and to reduce my consumption, but also to do what I can to buy products produced or made locally, and failing that, to purchase products from local stores.
We buy vast quantities of “stuff” from US-owned online store like Amazon and E-bay. We use services provided by US companies, like hosting providers and domain companies and payment processors (like PayPal, for example). And with Trump’s tariffs in mind, my intention to buy “local” has been intensified.
Obviously what I contribute to the US economy is peanuts, but I think that I’ll take those peanuts and invest them nearer to home. It’s a bit of a pain, it has to be said – you must know what it’s like transferring 50 websites to a new server, for example. It’s also more expensive. It’s often significantly cheaper to purchase something in the US and have it shipped to Europe than it is to simply buy it in Austria where I live. And sadly, I have to say that it also means opting for poorer service in many cases: I can’t speak for everywhere, but the concept of good service hasn’t really arrived in my part of Austria as far as I can see – often I feel as if I have to apologise for purchasing something or asking for a drink.
But that’s okay. Perhaps I don’t need all the stuff I buy from the US. Perhaps I need to review the services that I use and see if I really need them. If I have to pay more, the upside is that if something goes wrong, I can just pop into the local store and sort it out. And as for poor service in Austria (yet another story and one of my pet irritations here in Innsbruck)… well, maybe I’ll create a course or a seminar. Whether I can live without the instant gratification of buying Kindle books or my beloved Audible remains to be seen.
As I said, it’s a journey and I can only take one step at a time.
Not just “not buying from the US”
Before anyone shakes a finger at me and asks “Why punish the US for their idiot president”, let me say that I plan to extend my grand plans to cover the globe.
I’ll have “circles” of “localness” – I’m usually based in Innsbruck, so for food I want to buy products within a 20km radius. For art and crafts, perhaps I’ll cast my net wider and extend it to 100km or 500km or only to products that are made in a certain radius but sold locally so that I don’t have to travel to far to buy them. I bought a new laptop and camera this year and a new phone in 2016 so I’m in good shape on that front for the next 5+ years, but if my laptop dies, I’ll have to extend my circle because computers have components made in loads of different places and I can’t work without one.
When I home in South Africa, the same would apply – circles.
I haven’t quite worked out the details, but in principle, “Made in Austria” followed by “Made in Neighbouring Countries” followed by “Made in Europe” will be my mantra. “Based in Austria” might also need to be on there, because international businesses with a local presence hire local people who contribute to the local economy and community, and that’s important, too, regardless of whether the company is owned locally or not.
My first step: tomorrow, a trip to Hall to the farmer’s market to see what local produce, beer and crafts are on offer.
And after that? well, I’ll keep you posted.
One of my little challenges in life is juggling all the ideas I have in the air, and part of that means managing all the social media accounts that I set up for all the ideas that I turn into projects or businesses.
Yes, this is a “first world problem”. A “nice-to-have” problem because I can spend a few minutes of my day thinking about this instead of worrying about how to feed myself or my family or how to overcome a devastating disease.
That said, it is a little problem for me. All my accounts for my personal-and-freelance persona, my three business areas, my curated blog, my Innsbruck project and two other networking projects is currently sitting at… Wait for it… 32. That’s right. I have 32 social media accounts for various activities. Who on earth can manage this many accounts? Or create relevant content for this many channels?
Perhaps more to the point is this: who really WANTS to feel the weight of all of these channels lying dormant?
On the one hand, I think that perhaps everything should simply live under my personal social media presences. On the other, I have deliberately created individual brands for three businesses that I run, so brand visibility is useful in these cases. And for the projects that I organise, I don’t necessarily want to be the focus of each project and so it makes sense to keep these separate.
Which is how I’ve ended up with 32 accounts.
The task for today: take a look at all of the channels I’ve created and get rid of any that aren’t useful.
Although I’ve only started this blog recently I realise that in many ways I have always tried to live deliberately, especially when it comes to creating businesses, building communities and turning ideas into events or services. Sure, I’ve been conscious about the ocean and plastic and the environment for a while, but it’s only recently that I’ve decided to really spend more time and energy on these aspects of my life.
One thing that hit me today whilst I was swimming was that living deliberately can be tiring as often as it can be enegising. It can be tiring to constantly make things happen, to spread the word about sustainability, to bring people together, to support entrepreneurs, to create and publicise events.
As I write this I am physically tired. A busy day yesterday where I achieved little other than cooking for 10 people (although there were only 6 of us) and a busy week ahead with every evening booked, two storytelling programmes to complete, and some insecurity about one of the businesses I created for the European market. So it’s possible that this is affecting my perspective today.
But on days like this, I can’t help but wonder: wouldn’t it be easier to go with the flow, to work in a 9-5 “job”, to ignore over-consumption and environmental challenges, to stop fighting the Austrian system, to give up on the idea that one person can make a positive difference.
No doubt I’ll bounce back tomorrow but this is where I’m “at” today.
Very frustrated. Before going swimming today, I packed a couple of Tupperware boxes and my reusable fruit and veggie bags, all ready to go shopping – plastic-free, mind you.
Here’s what I’ve learned. Mpreis near West Shopping Centre seems to be one of the few decent-sized grocery stores in Innsbruck that opens at 7am, but the butcher doesn’t start that early. Which means that if you’re making lasagna, it’s going to come not only covered in plastic, but in a polystyrene container. At this Mpreis (and most others – we have an Mpreis up the road and had another up the road in our previous apartment, so I have some experience of a variety of their stores), you cannot get loose carrots. Ricotta, parmesan and milk all come in plastic containers.
Unfortunately I hadn’t planned to drive around Innsbruck looking for alternatives, so I was a bad person and bought what I needed, doing the best I could with what I had available.
What I’ve learned, however, is that in order to live a reduced-waste (I’m still thinking about zero waste and whether leaving your plastic behind in the shop means that you are really a “zero waste” person) life, I’ll have to become much more strategic about my shopping.
For example, I know that the Interspar in Rum and Dez as well as the Eurospar near Hutterer Park all have lots of loose veggies, including loose carrots and onions etc., as does Fruchthof (Innsbruck’s answer to “Whole Pay Check (sic)” in Boulder). Hörtnagel is a marvellous butcher and along with the Interspars and perhaps the large Mpreis in Rum, I can certainly get meat without plastic. Some of the Interspars, Fruchthof and the Markthalle also have good cheese counters, where I can almost certainly get plastic-free parmesan. Ricotta I am less sure of, although I only use ricotta once or twice a year. Milk would need to come from the Milkomat, of which we have one in Arzl I think.
Where to get nuts and grains in paper instead of plastic, I am not yet sure, but I’ll start taking a camera with me when I shop to document this sort of thing.
For the time being, I shall resort to planning meals more carefully, so that I can go shopping strategically once or twice a week. We’ll see how that goes!
I read a lot of books and articles that talk about Zero Waste living, and at some point I realised that I “thought” that I knew what “zero waste living” meant but that I’d never spent time looking into the “movement” and identifying what this is.
The definition adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is this:
Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.
Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health
So: anything that is one-use only, that ends up in a landfill, that can’t be repurposed, reused or recycled in some way is to be considered waste.
I have a bit of a problem with the zero waste folks and it’s this: going to a shop and leaving your waste behind doesn’t mean that you aren’t generating waste. It simply means that you aren’t taking it home and you’re not seeing that what you purchase is generating waste that ends up in the landfill.
I also find it interesting to see how many of the folks in the zero waste community boast about how they get rid of their Tupperware etc., which is mutli-use plastic, on which we have already spent significant resources (oil, transport etc.) – why get rid of these in favour of glass jars? Is this part of being zero waste or more of a lifestyle choice not to use plastic at all? I’m a big refiller of things. I keep jars from gherkins and pesto and use them instead of mason jars and that works for us. But I also keep the Fairy liquid plastic squirty bottle and refill it when it empties. The bottle that I use is years old. Ditto the window cleaning plastic bottle that we refill with our own vinegar cleaner. And so on. Is there a time when these containers may need to be recycled? Yes. But does it make me more virtuous to throw them out now, when they have dozens of years of use in them? Not to me.
A short post to get my thoughts “on paper” for future ponderings!