Answering this question means recognizing that we each have a part to play in stewarding a sustainable and socially just world. When you find that place where your joy aligns with something the world needs, you will feel an authentic gladness in your work.
Here are some practices to help you create work that feeds the planet:
Start with a vision quest. Many indigenous cultures hold the vision quest as a sacred element of finding one’s gift so that it can be brought into the community. Typically, the process involves a separation, an initiation, and a return to the community with a gift. Our fast-paced secular society rarely supports taking the time needed to find stillness, reconnect to the earth’s wisdom, and bring this gift into the world. But people who take a sabbatical from joyless work to evaluate their vision, values, and purpose often do find work that aligns with their authentic contribution. While extended travel may not be an option, it is possible for seekers to spend more time in nature or to visit retreat centers to find their vision. Whether you wish to fight a crusade against exploitative lenders, build a school in a war-torn country or just volunteer your time. Even sitting outside with a contemplative question such as, “What is the earth’s calling for me?” can harvest guidance about one’s path.
Discover the sacred gift inside the wound. Our wounds have immense power to transform our lives – and the world. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell believed that the hero’s journey requires living in “the dark belly of the whale.” Transforming wounds into sacred gifts requires a commitment to show up fully for our challenges with an understanding that they are the gateway to an initiatory journey. For example, Christina Pandolfo was passionate about health and wellness. She worked as an occupational therapist and went through a six-year period of chronic headaches, sensitivity to touch, and extreme fatigue. When her grandmother gave her an article about a woman who struggled with gluten, Christina, a pasta lover of Italian ancestry, resonated with it completely. She eliminated gluten from her diet. Her health – and life – transformed. Christina created a blog to help others live a gluten-free lifestyle. By turning toward one’s sacred wound, it is possible to transform it into work that feeds the planet.
Transform complaints to celebration. Many people ultimately discover great joy in doing something to address their biggest complaint about the world. The soul wants to alchemically transform lead into gold. For example, a corporate employee named Linda, upset that low-income kids in urban environments didn’t have access to nature – access that she treasured – decided to lead nature-immersion experiences for youth. How can you transform your complaint into a cause for celebration and work you love doing?
Practice self-care with earth care. Many people consider self-care to consist of personal practices that help them live with greater balance. However, personal sustainability and planetary sustainability are interconnected. Both are necessary ingredients for work that feeds the planet. Ellen Donald, executive director of an environmental nonprofit that works with young people, says: “We’ve become unbalanced in our personal lives, which has translated into an unbalancing of our entire system. Personal sustainability and planetary sustainability are iterations of the same idea: balance. To find this balance personally, identify what’s missing or what is unfulfilled and then create time for it – make it a priority.” Ellen restores her balance and is able to give because of her focus on personal sustainability, including riding her bike to work and eating organic foods. What keeps you sustainable?
Thrive with your tribe. This time on our planet is one of building “beloved community,” in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. Each person has a unique gift and talent to contribute to this “Great Turning,” which Buddhist scholar and Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy describes as the life-sustaining civilization that is emerging on our planet. Imagine it’s 100 years from now, and you are looking back on your contribution. What do you want it to be? How do you want your family, especially your children, to remember you? What about your communities? With that in mind, what’s the one thing – big or small – you feel called to do? How can you create your authentic expression of work that makes a difference?