Thursday, August 28, 2008

Six questions for following an authentic life

My life purpose, as I understand it, is to love nature. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail allowed me to do that in a deep and profound way. Loving nature is a vague purpose, and not one that is immediately money-making to my eyes. At the same time it is vague, it is also specific. Loving nature is not the same thing as helping others enjoy nature. It's not the same as teaching. It's not about children or raising money or making phone calls. To me, loving nature seems either a solitary undertaking or else a way to raise awareness of its intrinsic value so that others will be compelled not to ruin it with carelessness, ignorance or greed.

An exercise I have asks me to answer 6 questions. Here are a few of the ideas I have come up with, but I think maybe I haven't done a good job of brainstorming. There must be things I've missed.

How could I be paid to inform people about my interest in nature?
  • Write about nature, perhaps travel in nature and write about the experience.
  • Photograph nature but in all honesty, I'm not a good photographer. Maybe there are pictures to take that don't have to be masterpieces?
  • I have a web site about nature, specifically about hiking in Santa Barbara and about wild flowers, but the money it makes is minimal and I'm not sure how to make more money with that site.
  • Make a slide show/presentation about my PCT hike or about hiking or wildflowers and show it to people. I probably wouldn't be paid for this, though.
  • Make a book about wildflowers.
  • Make a book about trails.
  • Work for organizations that raise awareness about the environment.
  • Try to raise awareness on my own, or to slip in awareness-raising into other work not directly related.
How could I be paid to provide a service related to nature?
  • Make web sites for other people geared toward nature. My forte is building, coding but not designing or marketing so I'm not sure how far I could go there.
  • Lead hikes for people. Perhaps corporate team-building hikes would be an example of people willing to pay someone to lead them, so long as following a trail or reaching a summit was enough of a challenge and they didn't expect things like climbing ropes or playing games. Leading backpack trips could be another example. I would have to get over a lot of issues to do that, most importantly the idea that everyone on a backpack trip must be 100% self-sufficient and my belief that you don't go backpacking with just anybody. Showing wildflowers to people in spring is something else I could do.
  • I could work in an outdoors/gear store.
  • I could work in a flower shop or sell organic produce.
  • Habitat restoration. Is that a service?
  • Landscaping maintenance. I have to admit that these last two are probably above my level of physical fitness. I could do them part time, but not all day every day.
How could I be paid to perform this interest for other people?
  • In all honesty, performance is not something I want to do, except for maybe showing slides and talking about my PCT trip.
How could I be paid to create products related to nature?
  • Written word or photos.
  • Someone came up with a great idea to make bags for use when people shop at the farmer's market out of old t-shirts. I could make bags like that and sell them.
How could I be paid to assist people who are focused on this interest?
  • Other than getting some kind of job, I'm not sure.
How could I be paid to learn more about nature?
  • I could go back to school, become a grad student and TA some classes or be a research assistant
I don't have a lot of good ideas. Some are only vaguely good.

Part of the issue of loving nature is that there needs to be time enough for me to do that. An office under fluorescent lights is not nature. I'm reminded of my other goal, which is to be a temporal millionaire. Perhaps the work itself is not so important. Perhaps the time is more important. Work could support my ability to have time to enjoy nature if it was properly scheduled and adequately compensated.

I read something online recently about someone who downshifted from a corporate gig to a part-time gig just so that they could have more time to enjoy life. That kind of validated my desire to do the same. So much of full-time job life is spent supporting it. For example, part of the money you make goes for driving to work, buying lunch, buying suitable clothes, pitching in whenever they have a baby shower or whatever in the office, going out for drinks (looking like a team player), paying for a cellphone, etc. It's not a huge amount, but it's enough to make a dent in your salary so that just the act of working costs you. That's time you could spend not working instead.

I'm not sure what is stopping me from taking the plunge into the part-time workforce. Perhaps it is knowing that I was once so well compensated and having to accept so much less hurts my pride. Maybe it's fear of what others will think, especially if I go and do something I have done before. What if this is perceived as a huge liability on my resume and I'm forever locked out of "the good life"? Maybe I just am not ready to shut the door on all the possibilities I have and commit to just one.

I'm enjoying the time to think about these things. I may be getting closer to an answer. One thing about me is sometimes things take a long time. On my PCT hike it took me over an hour wandering around on the frontage road near Cabazon before I finally figured out how to get to the Indian casino. And the answer was so simple, it should have taken only a few minutes. All I had to do was call a cab. So, I think it is helping to take my time to solve this question.

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